Friday, May 2, 2014 | 4:20 p.m.
Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby morning lines
- No. 1 Vicar's In Trouble: 20-to-1
- No. 2 Harry's Holiday: 50-to-1
- No. 3 Uncle Sigh: 30-to-1
- No. 4 Danza: 8-to-1
- No. 5 California Chrome: 5-to-2
- No. 6 Samraat: 5-to-1
- No. 7 We Miss Artie: 50-to-1
- No. 8 General A Rod: 15-to-1
- No. 9 Vinceremos: 30-to-1
- No. 10 Wildcat Red: 15-to-1
- No. 11 Hoppertunity: Scratched
- No. 12 Dance With Fate 20-to-1
- No. 13 Chitu: 20-to-1
- No. 14 Medal Count: 20-to-1
- No. 15 Tapiture: 12-to-1
- No. 16 Intense Holiday: 8-to-1
- No. 17 Commanding Curve: 50-to-1
- No. 18 Candy Boy 18-to-1
- No. 19 Ride On Curlin 15-to-1
- No. 20 Wicked Strong 6-to-1
- Keefer's pick: 1st: Dance With Fate; 2nd: Tapiture; 3rd: California Chrome 4th: Samraat
A glut of fans across the country will spend the fastest two minutes in sports rooting for California Chrome this afternoon.
The prohibitive favorite in the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome will attract more action to win the race than any other horse in the field. The most lucrative of those bets reside not at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., but in Las Vegas, or at the least originated here.
All the way back in September, Wynn Las Vegas posted its future odds to win the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Wynn offered California Chrome at 300-to-1 back then.
“There are a few tickets out there at that price,” said Johnny Avello, executive director of the Wynn race and sports book. “That’s not where the bulk of them are, but he’s a loser for us.”
California Chrome was one of 150 horses Avello initially opened odds on to win the Kentucky Derby eight months ago. Four others — Danza, Candy Boy, Dance With Fate and Tapiture — advanced all the way to the Derby.
But California Chrome is the lone horse that could hand the Wynn a significant loss. Avello moved the California colt’s odds down aggressively as he won four straight races from December to April, but the action kept coming.
California Chrome ultimately went off at 12-to-5 when Avello closed the odds Friday morning. William Hill sports books, the other major Kentucky Derby future-book proprietor in town, had to respond more drastically.
The price on California Chrome fell to 2-to-1 at William Hill after attracting three times as many wagers as any other horse.
“I don’t know much about horse racing,” Nick Bogdanovich, William Hill’s director of bookmaking, admitted last week. “But I know California Chrome is commanding a crazy amount of action.”
It’s about time the top of the biggest horse race of the year had a different narrative. For the last several years, the two most popular words ahead of the Run for the Roses weren’t a horse’s name but rather “wide open.”
Last year’s race resulted in the favorite, Orb at 7-to-2, prevailing for the first time since Big Brown in 2008. With California Chrome at 5-to-2 on the Churchill Downs morning line, this year’s race brings the shortest favorite since Big Brown was at 2-to-1 six years ago.
“To me, a favorite in the Kentucky Derby is around 4-to-1 and this horse is going off at a lot less,” Avello said. “Is it deserved? I guess so. You look at his races in California, and they’ve been phenomenal.”
The knock on California Chrome, if one must exist, is that he’s never been outside the Golden State. He didn’t even arrive in Kentucky until Monday, abnormally late for a Derby horse.
A California-bred horse hasn’t won the Kentucky Derby since 1962. Only three have ever pulled off the feat. California Chrome’s trainer, 77-year-old Art Sherman, was on the team for one of them as he was 1955 winner Silks’ practice rider.
“If he had some races at a different track, then there would be no question,” Avello said. “If he would have won somewhere else, there could have been even more action on him.”
Avello cautions against overlooking the rest of the field because of California Chrome. He considers four other horses just as likely as California Chrome to cross the finish line first.
They are No. 20 Wicked Strong at 6-to-1, No. 5 Samraat at 5-to-1, No. 16 Intense Holiday at 8-to-1 and No. 15 Tapiture at 15-to-1. Avello praised the way renowned trainer Todd Pletcher’s No. 4 horse Danza, 8-to-1 ran in the Arkansas Derby.
A small step forward could result in Danza smoking the field. Avello thinks another California horse, No. 18 Candy Boy at 18-to-1, figures to hit the ticket and loves the way a Florida contender, No. 10 Wildcat Red at 15-to-1, thrives off competition.
No. 14 Medal Count’s late speed could enable him to chase down the pack after the final turn. Like every Kentucky Derby, it’s a deep field of talented thoroughbreds.
That’s what makes the event enjoyable for casual observers.
“I think you take three or four horses and box them,” Avello advised to anyone who’s not a regular horse bettor. “It’s going to cost $24, which isn’t going to hurt anyone. I’m not ever going to bet based on names or numbers, but you can throw out the rules in this race. You don’t need to know anything about handicapping for this race. It’s like the Super Bowl. People just want to be a part of the excitement, so pick a few horses for whatever reason you like and the exacta could come back monster-paying.”
Last year’s exacta payout was awfully fruitful. Orb may have won as the favorite, but 50-to-1 shot Golden Soul trotted right behind him to make a $2 exacta cash for $981.
Regardless of which horse places, the largest percentage of people will rejoice if California Chrome becomes the second straight favorite to succeed. Las Vegas bookmakers will not be among the group.
“People wanted to bet him all the way up to the race,” Avello said. “There are a couple other horses where we come out about even, but he’s the one we really have to root against.”