His numbers have provided a guideline to bettors for most of the past half-century. But that does not mean that Mike Battaglia buys everything that he writes on his morning line.
That certainly applies to this weekend’s unprecedented sixth pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW). There is every reason to expect that Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law will be the outright favorite again. But will he be as short as he was last month in Pool 5, when he closed at odds of plus-220?
“He was a crazy 2-1 last time,” Battaglia said. “I know that the Derby is in September and not in May. But I went back almost 30 years, and I can only find two horses that have gone off less than 2-1 in the Kentucky Derby. Here they bet three months in advance and made a horse 2-1. That one blew my mind.”
Those last two times were Arazi (9-10) in 1992 and Point Given (9-5) in 2001. Neither finished in the money. So betting that an impressive, last-out winner is a sure thing in the Kentucky Derby is anything but.
Even if the brakes are not slammed on the Tiz the Law bandwagon, Battaglia believes that the foot will be taken off the wagering accelerator this weekend. He made trainer Barclay Tagg’s three-time Grade 1 winner a 5-2 morning-line favorite for the pool that opens Friday at noon and closes Sunday at 6 p.m. EDT.
“I just can’t believe the people can bet down a horse that much when you’re going to have a 20-horse field,” Battaglia said Wednesday. “Why would you take 2-1 two months in advance unless you thought he was going to be even money in the Derby?”
Battaglia made fast-rising Art Collector (9-2) the second choice after an impressive victory in last weekend’s Blue Grass Stakes (G2). California-based Honor A. P. (5-1) and Uncle Chuck (10-1) are next as is the biggest wild card in this weekend’s betting. Authentic (10-1) figures to make the biggest move from his morning line after he races as the likely favorite in the Haskell Stakes (G1) on Saturday at Monmouth Park.
“If he [Authentic] wins impressively his Derby odds will go down,” Battaglia said. “If he runs a dull race they will go up. I’m not trying to handicap the Haskell. I’m saying right now he looks 10-1.”
Authentic also serves as a warning to casual bettors who would be well served waiting to see what he does on the Jersey Shore before making a wager. Anyone betting on Uncle Chuck early in last month’s pool learned the hard way. He went from 20-1 to 13-1 in the last two hours of betting.
At the same time, Rushie was ignored by KDFW players last month, closing at odds of 104-1. After his third-place finish to Art Collector in the Blue Grass, Battaglia makes him 30-1 this weekend.
“I thought he was going to win the Blue Grass. I’ve got so much respect for Michael McCarthy. I think he’s so good. Look at the way his filly won the Ashland (G1).”
That was Speech (8-1), the third choice behind undefeated Acorn (G1) winner Gamine (9-5) and Blue Grass runner-up Swiss Skydiver (3-1) in this weekend’s Kentucky Oaks Future Wager, the only one scheduled this summer before the race is run Sept. 4.
“I think it’s Gamine, Swiss Skydiver and then everybody else,” Battaglia said.
“Speech did impress me. I think the money will show up on her, and she will be a solid third choice in there, even though she was beaten by Swiss Skydiver pretty easily earlier this year. Even though I think she’s the one that’s moving up, the top two in the fillies kind of stick out.”
One of the biggest questions about the fillies was apparently answered Sunday. Trainer Kenny McPeek said that Swiss Skydiver’s Blue Grass foray against the males would be her last for a while and that she would be re-aimed for the Oaks. Battaglia wondered if she would be the last one to crash the boys’ club.
“[Bob] Baffert is not going to have the favorite in the Derby this year unless he runs Gamine,” Battaglia said with a laugh. “He hasn’t said anything about doing that. I’m not sure she’d be the favorite anyway. But if he just put her in the Shared Belief Stakes out there (at Del Mar) and won it and won it impressively, she’s already got the biggest Beyer (110). That’s in the back of my mind.”
So is the fact that he has never been asked to write an Oaks or a Derby line in the middle of summer. And he is not done with the futures. There is yet one more KDFW early next month, the same weekend as Derby qualifying points will be attached to the 1 1/4-mile Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. “Everything is just out of whack,” said Battaglia, who come September will be writing his 46th consecutive Kentucky Derby morning line. “You just go with the flow. You’ve got the first five pools to go back and look at. And you got a little bit better idea of the horses when you’re running in September. You don’t look at it like a normal Derby.”