Updated April 30, 2021 - 10:44 am
Nevada horseplayers received good news at the 11th hour, with the state Gaming Control Board granting racebooks the ability to take bets on more races from Churchill Downs, not just the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
In a notice to licensees Wednesday afternoon, board Chairman J. Brin Gibson granted approval for licensed racebooks to use the nationally televised broadcasts on the NBC and the NBC Sports Network to determine the winners and payouts on six graded stakes races on Friday and seven on Saturday, with one caveat.
The races “must be shown live and in their entirety” in order for the betting to occur. If it is not, then all wagers on that race must be refunded to patrons and no other sources may be used to determine winners or payouts for the race.”
A commercial break after the horses cross the finish line – a frequent practice in commercial horse racing telecasts – would not violate that requirement if the results were posted afterward, a spokesman for the gaming board said.
The good news is that while Nevada horseplayers still will be limited in their wagering options, they at least will have a broader menu to choose from than last year.
And it’s possible the news could get better. I was told late Thursday that the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association and Churchill Downs Inc. were in discussions about a deal that would end the 18-month contract dispute that has kept Nevadans and visitors from wagering on races from Churchill Downs and the other tracks owned or controlled by the company.
If a resolution does not come through, though, know this: Local racebooks may handle the additional races in different ways, which might factor in your decision on where to play.
The South Point, Rampart Casino and all Station Casinos, for instance, are planning to offer win, place and show wagers at full track odds on all of the available Churchill Downs races, including daily doubles, exactas, trifectas and pick 3s where appropriate. But house rules will apply to all wagers. That means two-horse wagers will have a maximum payout of 150-1 and three-horse wagers will be capped 500-1.
Station racebooks also will offer a $10,000 twin quinella on Friday and $20,000 twin Q on Saturday.
The Circa sportsbook, which ordinarily doesn’t offer wagering on horse racing, will offer a different betting experience, with win betting only on the Derby, but at fixed odds. So if you jump in early and get a horse at 4-1 that eventually goes off at 5-2, you’ll still collect $10. It also will offer as many as 10 head-to-head matchups between entrants in the race, said Jeffrey Benson, sports book and operations manager.
Boyd Gaming, MGM Resorts and the Westgate did not respond to requests for details on their wagering menus by deadline.
By now, I almost can hear you screaming, “Enough already about where to bet. Whodaya like?”
The Oaks is a tough race, with little daylight between the main contenders. So I’ll use long shot Pass the Champagne, 15-1 on the morning line to try to set up a potentially lucrative Oaks-Derby double. (You’ll remember that I am planning on driving to Arizona if the dispute is not settled in order to have a full wagering menu at my disposal.)
In exactas, trifectas and superfectas (remember, I’m in Arizona), I’ll mix in logical contenders Hot Rod Charlie, Known Agenda and Highly Motivated with the top two.
I’ll also include a few bombs, particularly in 10-cent superfectas. They will include Midnight Bourbon, Mandaloun, O Bezos and a horse I guarantee you no one else touting — Helium.
Ellis Starr’s Kentucky Derby analysis
As has become customary, I will delineate six horses that have the bulk of the probability to win the Kentucky Derby. Some will have a larger chance to win than others, but some of those with a lesser chance may offer a lot more return for the risk when betting and are certainly not out of the question. For this year’s Derby the top six win contenders, in slight preference order, are Rock Your World, Known Agenda, Essential Quality, Highly Motivated, King Fury and Super Stock.
Rock Your World was bred to adore both turf and dirt. He started his career on the grass, winning with maturity from off the pace in his debut on New Year’s Day then going into a stakes race in his next start and winning even more powerfully. Trainer John Sadler has stated, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, the reason for this was to avoid all the fantastically bred 3-year-old colts trained by Bob Baffert, which quickly becomes talked about as Derby contenders early in the year. In any event, Rock Your World transitioned to dirt for the third start of his career in the Santa Anita Derby and it was a career-best effort in which he earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure. That’s not yet in range of the top contenders in the Derby field, for example Essential Quality (109) and Known Agenda (112), but considering Rock Your World has raced two or three fewer times than those horses, it is very likely he can run even faster than he has to date. In the Santa Anita Derby, Rock Your World led from the start and widened in the last quarter mile, but he does not need the lead to win as evidenced by his off-the-pace rallies in the first two starts of his career. Since the Santa Anita Derby, Rock Your World has put in two sensational five-eighths of a mile workouts in preparation for the race so there can be no doubt he’s in tip-top condition. Add to that he has a physical presence, as when getting off the van at Churchill Downs earlier this week and noisily announcing “I’m Here” to anyone who was within earshot. Last, and definitely not least, it must be noted that after he crossed the finish line in the Santa Anita Derby, Rock Your World was not eased up as most horses are. Instead, he was ridden further as if the race was longer in order to remind him of his next task in this mile and one-quarter test that is the Kentucky Derby.
Known Agenda has been a new horse — a phenomenal horse — since blinkers were added one race before last. He won the first race in the new equipment by 11 lengths with a 103 (stakes quality) Equibase speed figure though it wasn’t a stakes race. Then one month later in the Florida Derby, Known Agenda showed a quick burst of speed with a quarter mile to go when moving from fourth, 2 1/2 lengths behind, to lead entering the stretch. That effort earned a career-best 112 figure which is the best in the field, and his pattern for improvement can continue. Historically, that is the type of burst of speed that wins the Kentucky Derby. This is because it’s critical to go past a number of horses quickly before many of them will be able to react. At that point in the Derby, there’s not usually a lot of passing as many horses have hit the proverbial wall human runners know about very well. The rail draw has historically been problematic in the Derby, and so it might be for Known Agenda, but given 2020 North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. knows him so well after those two wins, I suspect they may be able to hold mid-pace position in the early stages in spite of a number of horses coming closer to the rail to save ground. If that happens and Known Agenda gets a ground saving trip without losing too many positions out of the gate, and if able to repeat the acceleration he showed with a quarter mile to run in the Florida Derby, he could win Kentucky Derby 147.
It is difficult to disregard any undefeated horse, especially one like Essential Quality. He won the Breeders’ Futurity last fall in only the second start of his career, then won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and has won both starts as a 3-year-old. The pattern is unmistakable for an improving athlete, with Equibase figures of 88-95-101 and 105 before a new career-best 109 in the Blue Grass Stakes. In the Blue Grass, Essential Quality looked like he would not get by Highly Motivated¸ who had led from the start, but as the finish line drew near his determination took over and he prevailed by a neck. As he is making his third start following nearly four months off, Essential Quality likely has more improving to do and if he peaks in the Kentucky Derby as is certainly possible he could become the 10th horse to exit the Derby undefeated.
Highly Motivated did everything right in the Blue Grass except come out on top in the photo and there is nothing to be ashamed of in finishing a head behind undefeated Essential Quality. After improving throughout his 2-year-old campaign with 87, 89 and 104 figures including winning the Nyquist Stakes in his last start of 2020, Highly Motivated took four months off to grow up. Returning to finish third in the Gotham Stakes in March with a 102 figure, Highly Motivated went to the front from the start in the Blue Grass and kept Essential Quality at bay until the final strides, improving to a career-best 108 figure, not to be trifled with when compared to the other top contenders in this field. Although not showing the explosive kick at the quarter pole similar to Known Agenda, it must be noted that both Highly Motivated and Essential Quality both quickened their stride with about a quarter of a mile to run in the race and opened up many lengths on the rest of the field. This leads me to believe that in the 20 horse Kentucky Derby field, Highly Motivated may be able to change gears nicely at the critical stage of the race and have a say in the outcome.
King Fury and Super Stock are both likely to be longshots (20 to 1 or more) and although both have less chance to succeed as compared to the four horses previously mentioned, I for one would be kicking myself if I did not at least have a small wager to win on both of them.
King Fury won the first and third races of his career last year. Both happened to be at Churchill Downs and the latter of the pair came in the Street Sense Stakes. Following poor seventh and fifth place efforts in stakes to end 2020, King Fury was given a good deal of time off, four and one-half months to be exact. Returning just three weeks ago in the Lexington Stakes, King Fury closed from eighth of nine like a flash to make the lead at the top of the stretch and open up to win easily. The 103 Equibase figure is the same as Rock Your World earned in the Santa Anita Derby and definitely can be improved upon in the colt’s second start off the long layoff. As a son of Curlin (the same sire as Known Agenda), who himself finished third in the 2007 Derby and who has sired the most winners at this 10 furlong distance of any sire of an entrant in this year’s race, there is little doubt King Fury should be able to run the distance successfully.
Super Stock put it all together for the 12 to 1 upset in the Arkansas Derby last month, earning a career-best 106 figure which puts him in the top group of win contenders. He had finished fourth in the Rebel Stakes one month earlier, but that followed four and one-half months off and he may not have been fully cranked up. Having finished third behind Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Futurity last fall and second behind King Fury in the Street Sense Stakes in October and now back in top form with room to improve, Super Stock should not be ruled out as a contender to post the upset in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
The rest of the Kentucky Derby field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: Brooklyn Strong (99); Bourbonic (100); Dynamic One (100); Hidden Stash (93); Helium (94); Hot Rod Charlie (99); Keepmeinmind (98); Like the King (95); Mandaloun (97); Medina Spirit (100); Midnight Bourbon (96); O Besos (96); Sainthood (93); and Soup and Sandwich (108).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.
Derby handicapping seminars
5:30 p.m. Friday at Sunset Station in Henderson, featuring ex-ESPN racing analyst Hank “The Hammer” Goldberg; former Review-Journal handicapper Richard Eng; Jerry Jacovitz, creator of Jerry J’s Power Page; Station Casinos Race and Sportbook director Chuck Esposito; and sports radio host Brian Blessing.
6 p.m. Friday at Rampart Casino in Summerlin, featuring longtime Southern California handicapper Bob Ike and Rampart race and sportsbook manager Duane Colluci. The seminar will be livestreamed on Rampart’s Facebook page.
6 p.m. Friday, South Point south of the Strip, featuring horse owner and public handicapper Jon Lindo; John Hardoon with the Ragozin Sheets; and hosted by Ralph Siraco, of Race Day Las Vegas on KSHP-AM.