As I made my way out to Keeneland to bet Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Feb. 10, I couldn't help but think about what a guilty pleasure it is. In between thoughts of cashing a huge ticket on May 3, I tried to fight off all the reasons why I should not "waste" money on this ultimate longshot of a wager. Buying diapers and formula for my six-month old son, surprising my wife with a nice Valentine's Day gift, and getting the car a much-needed tune-up all seemed like rational reasons to turn around. Because let's be honest, in most cases, the Future Wager is the ultimate sucker bet.
The reasons not to bet the Future Wager are many. 1 - The Derby is three months away and most of the horses won't even reach the starting gate, either because they get injured or are not good enough (Last year only 10 of the 23 made it). 2 - Many times the Derby winner pays out better odds on race day than were offered in the first leg of the Future Wager (That has happened four of the nine years - Giacomo, Smarty Jones, War Emblem, Charismatic). 3 - More than any year in history, there are several horses who have made most or all of their starts on a synthetic surface, making it very difficult to handicap in February how they will handle the dirt at Churchill Downs in May.
Of course, all of those sane reasons did not stop me from proceeding to Keeneland. In the end, I placed my bets for the same reason that I wager on races every week: Because it's fun.
I do have one hard and fast rule that I will not break when placing a Future Wager: Do not bet a horse that is less than 20-1. Because of the reasons mentioned above, plunking down cash on one of the favorites makes little sense to me. Even though it is hard not be impressed by Pyro (5-1), War Pass (6-1) and even Court Vision (15-1), the value is not there for those horses. And needless to say, it's not there for a "field" bet either, which to me, at odds of 3-1, is a ridiculous wager.
Because it is value that I am after, I waited until late on Sunday to place my wagers, so that I was almost gaurenteed to get more than my required 20-1 odds. In the end, I decided on three:
1 - Anak Nakal: The lesser known of Nick Zito's Derby contenders, the Victory Gallop colt is bred to run all day. When I spoke with Zito last month he could not say enough good things about this guy, who was professional-looking in his Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) win Nov. 24. Because he has not raced in more than two and a half months, his value could be at an all-time high. If he wins the Feb. 24 Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at Gulfstream, you can be sure you won't get 33-1 on him in Pool 2, and most likely not on Derby day either.
2 - Z Humor: The same can be said about this Distorted Humor colt, who is likely to face Monba, Court Vision and Anak Nakal in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II). If he pulls the upset, his 45-1 odds will certainly plummet. Even though he was beaten by War Pass and Pyro in in the Champagne (gr. I), I liked his determination down the stretch, just as he showed in his Delta Jackpot (gr. III) dead heat victory Dec. 7. This colt may turn out to be the best in the barn of Bill Mott, Churchill Downs' all-time leading winner who is bound to win a Derby one of these years.
3 - Cowboy Cal - A bit of a risk because he has done his best running on grass, but the Giant's Causeway colt has trained super on dirt and there is no questioning his talent. He will get his next challenge Feb. 16 when he faces, among others, Cannonball, in the Hallandale Beach at Gulfstream. At odds of 26-1, he was worth a shot in Pool 1.
I laid down $25 on each one. Was there better value somewhere out there? You tell me.