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December 16, 2017

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Vegas books hope Kentucky Derby favorites come up short for another year

Bettors banked on Orb, Verrazano and Goldencents for months leading up to race



Kentucky Derby entrant Verrazano gets a bath after a morning workout at Churchill Downs on Friday, May 3, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. Saturday will be the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Churchill Downs morning-line Kentucky Derby odds

  • No. 1 Black Onyx — Scratched
  • No. 2 Oxbow — 30-to-1
  • No. 3 Revolutionary — 10-to-1
  • No. 4 Golden Soul — 50-to-1
  • No. 5 Normandy Invasion — 12-to-1
  • No. 6 Mylute — 15-to-1
  • No. 7 Giant Finish — 50-to-1
  • No. 8 Goldencents — 5-to-1
  • No. 9 Overanalyze — 15-to-1
  • No. 10 Palace Malice — 20-to-1
  • No. 11 Lines Of Battle — 30-to-1
  • No. 12 Itsmyluckyday — 15-to-1
  • No. 13 Falling Sky — 50-to-1
  • No. 14 Verrazano — 4-to-1
  • No. 15 Charming Kitten — 20-to-1
  • No. 16 Orb — 7-to-2
  • No. 17 Will Take Change — 20-to-1
  • No. 18 Frac Daddy — 50-to-1
  • No. 19 Java's War — 15-to-1
  • No. 20 Vyjack — 15-to-1

Gamblers haven’t raced to jockey for position in payout lines at Las Vegas sports books after the Kentucky Derby in recent years.

There just hasn’t been a stable of winning tickets, not with the five-year drought since one of the morning-line favorites won horse racing’s biggest event. The average odds of the past four winners are 27-to-1.

Local books would like to see the unpredictability continue in the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby, with an approximate 3:26 post time this afternoon. The three favorites in this year’s race — Orb, Verrazano and Goldencents — would bring a losing result to several casinos that started booking future bets on the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner last year.

“Those horses have just been bet a lot,” said John Avello, race and sports book director at Wynn Las Vegas. “So many people were betting Orb. I took a big bet on Orb at 6-to-1 just three weeks ago.”

Orb, out of the No. 16 post, is down to a 7-to-2 favorite on the Churchill Downs morning line. No. 14 Verrazano follows at 4-to-1, with No. 8 Goldencents at 5-to-1.

Orb and Verrazano were an unlikely duo to rest atop betting boards, at least when looking back to October when oddsmakers began posting numbers on potential Kentucky Derby entrants. Neither Wynn nor William Hill sports books — which offer the two largest Kentucky Derby future books — listed the two among the more than 150 horses in the initial group that were assigned odds.

It’s quite the change for William Hill horse racing overseer Dan Shapiro, who tagged the morning-line favorite seven months ahead of time in two of the past three Kentucky Derbys.

“This year, you had a lot more late-developing horses,” Shapiro said. “The last few years, it seemed like you had more horses that were on the radar as good 2-year-olds that ran the Breeder’s Cup and made it into the Derby.”

Verrazano has won all four of his races but didn’t debut until January. The most highly touted entry out of five horses from renowned trainer Todd Pletcher this year could become the first colt since Apollo in 1892 to win the Kentucky Derby without ever running as a 2-year-old.

Orb started as a 2-year-old but failed to place in three straight races. Orb is riding a four-race win streak, though, behind the direction of Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who has never won a Kentucky Derby.

It’s worth noting that John Velasquez, 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, was the jockey for both Orb and Verrazano earlier this year. He chose to ride Verrazano for the Derby.

But the unforeseen field extends beyond those two. Avello said about 10 horses from the first group to receive odds, on average, advance to the Kentucky Derby. This year, there are only seven.

“That usually bodes well, the least amount of horses on the initial list the better for the house,” Avello said. “But I can tell you that’s not the case this year. A lot of horses are a loser for us.”

After Orb broke through with a victory at Aqueduct last year, William Hill added the colt to its futures list at odds of 150-to-1. Action built as Orb showed late speed in winning both the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth stakes races.

Verrazano opened at 125-to-1 earlier this year and didn’t stay at that price for long.

Goldencents was arguably the lone horse that sustained Vegas hype from October all the way through Kentucky Derby week. William Hill opened Goldencents, partially owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, as the third favorite at 50-to-1 seven months ago.

Click to enlarge photo

Doug O'Neill, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another, displays his winnings after cashing a 200-to-1 future bet on the horse at Primm Valley Casino in Primm, Nev. Monday, June 25, 2012. O'Neill won $20,000 for his $100 bet, which he made in February, that the horse would win the Kentucky Derby. At left is Mark Verge, CEO of Santa Anita Park racetrack.

Goldencents garnered immediate betting interest, somewhat reminiscent of I’ll Have Another, who won the Derby last year after opening at 200-to-1. Those horses share another common bond: Southern California-based Doug O’Neill trains both of them.

“If Doug O’Neill happens to win the race for the second year in a row,” Shapiro said, “we’re going to take a bath again.”

Shapiro likes three horses in the race that would make William Hill a winner — No. 5 Normandy Invasion at 12-to-1, No. 9 Overanalyze at 15-to-1 and No. 12 Itsmyluckyday at 15-to-1.

Normandy Invasion and Itsmyluckyday are negative results at Wynn, but Avello can root for No. 3 Revolutionary, another one of Pletcher’s horses, and thinks he has a chance.

“There are three or four horses that don’t deserve to be here, period, and another eight or nine that I just don’t see doing much damage,” Avello said. “But you know how this race goes. We always see surprises. It could happen.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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