This past Saturday Churchill Downs completed its first futures pool for the 2014 Kentucky Derby. If your thinking that it's too early to make a serious bet on the 2014 Kentucky Derby, your not alone. The increasingly fragile nature of the thoroughbred has made even betting a race outside of a minute to post time risky. To make any type of serious bet on a horse whose odds aren't over 100-1 is nothing short of delusional. Consider that in 2008 probable Derby favorite I Want Revenge, was scratched a day before running in the Derby. Or that in 2007, Street Sense became the only Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ to go on to win the Derby. And of course who could forget the bizarre set of circumstances that caused I'll Have Another to be scratched the day before he could have made history in the Belmont Stakes.
So it goes without saying that most of the bets last weekend were probably modest stabs in the dark; horse players either wanting to see how their hunch turns out, or mostly just for bragging rights to say you 'had it'. It could be argued that most of the futures pools are just that; betting pools that have more to do with stroking the ego, rather than making a lucrative score.
However there are manny serious handicappers who have crafted a systematic approach to the bet. Each year there are three rounds of betting, one is around early February, the next is in March and the third one is usually on the last big Saturday of the prep season in early Apri. That Saturday features the pinnacle Grade 1 preps like the Florida, Santa Anita and Louisiana Derby.
Naturally the first and second pools are taken with reserved enthusiasm; a lot of wise guy angles ranging anywhere from workout patterns, and trip handicapping, to analyzing breeding progeny. The third pool is more concentrated and focused; an astute handicapper can really capitalize on finding discrepancies in the odds on a handful of horses that are likely to make the race. With the rare exception of a single overwhelming favorite going off at odds on, the twenty horse race is usually is a wide open betting affair. This makes the third pool beneficial because its close enough to the race to give a good indication of the post time odds, but far enough to get inflated value. This inflated value can be used on the day of the Derby to fatten up returns, if your opinion is right.
Every futures pool has 23 betting interests of specific horses, the 24th option is to chose 'the field'. It's a bet against the 23 entries, in market terms its basically 'shorting the stock'. For logical reasons the odds for betting the field increase the closer it gets to the Derby. The first pool in February is somewhere around 7-5, 9-5. By the third and final pool, with most qualifiers already in sight, it become difficult to justify a 'field' bet, therefore the odds close at around 8-1. That being said, it's tough to justify any kind of bet on the field as your still digesting Thanksgiving dinner.
However this year a funny thing happened, the field bet closed at a rather healthy 4-5. If you were to ask anyone who was at the track on Saturday before the betting closed they would have thought easily the price for taking the field would be 2-5 at best. Much to everyone's surprise the bet closed at 4-5, of course it doesn't seem like much considering that you could get 4-1 on the favorite that day, but with the amount of variables involved in getting a horse into the starting gate that day (never mind winning), getting 80% on your investment is practically a gold mine.
Just to give you an idea of how good of a bet that is consider if you and your friend each bet $1000 on this last pool. You bet on 12 of the 23 entries, spreading out your money on varying bets, $200 on a 25-1 shot, $50 on a 200-1 shot. Your friend puts it all on 'the field'.
The day of the Derby, if 6 of your 12 horses just make it to the starting gate, there's no one who can't tell you your not a genius. Truly an accomplishment worthy of cashing a ticket, and certainly one to pat yourself on the back for. But here's the thing, one of your six horses has to win for you to cash the bet. All that your friend has to do is route for any one of the other 14 to beat you and he just made the easiest $800 of his life.