The greater good news is that the 2021 Kentucky Derby 2021 still looks like it will be an appropriately tough race, starring a fetching, crowded and delightfully talented Triple Crown Class of ’21. Essential Quality is still the top favorite, and Rock Your World, Highly Motivated, Known Agenda, and, possibly, Midnight Bourbon are gunning for him. The weather is slated to be splendid, and the track will be fast. In a hopeful sign for the late spring and summer meetings across the country, Churchill Downs is allowing a percentage of their ordinarily clamorous, huge crowd to watch the race from reserved seats. The Kentucky Derby is, for all intents and purposes, back. It’s a bright spot, and we’re grateful for it.
Enter Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale. Seven hundred miles south of Louisville, down on the Gulf, Houston mattress magnate and furniture store owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale needed a tie-in to promote a big sale. He’s a player, and a rather well known business figure in Houston, but his business is a good one. Mattress Mack decided that, this spring, he would put his mattress promotion in the hands of the already brightly challenged Essential Quality.
Mattress Mack’s super-quirky promotional promise to his customers dropped on April 28, and ran thusly:
Anybody spending $3000 and up on their next mattress would get it for free, as long as the Kentucky Derby favorite won. Got that? No tricks. But! You do have to order the mattress from Gallery Furniture, Mattress Mack’s store, and the thing has to cost more than $3000, and it all has to happen before Churchill Downs’ scarlet-jacketed buglers crank up their fanfare to get the horses to the track.
To cover his prospective outlay, and not least, to make a splash of news as he is known in Houston for doing, Mattress Mack also announced that he’d be betting between $2 million and $4 million on said favorite, Essential Quality. No problem with that, Mattress Mack has the $4 mil lying around — he lost some $13 million on baseball bets last year, and on the bright side, he’s an owner. Charitably, he told the gambling site America’s Best Racing that he would wire the money to Churchill Downs at midweek this week, and place his bet at the track because it would do the most good for horses and for the sport in Kentucky. He’s right about that.
Naturally, given the way any big race at any track in America works, Mattress Mack doesn’t have to place his massive bet until the the window, virtual and/or actual, closes before the race. By that point in time, he will also have a pretty fair idea how many mattresses costing $3000 and up he will be delivering down home in Houston.
But whether it’s $2 million or $4 million, the amount of money he shoves through the window will, definitely, drive the odds down on Essential Quality and spin off a few other tornadoes of chaos on the tote, as players flee Essential Quality for other, more remunerative contenders.
In other words, in the second Mattress Mack places his bet, he can look forward to watching his payout shrink until the horses are in the gate. Mr. McIngvale is, also, the owner of Runhappy, currently standing at stud in Kentucky, so he’s not exactly a newbie at any of this, and he’s got plenty of reasons to drop on up to Louisville — and to Lexington, where Runhappy is.
But the slick waterslide down that Essiential Quality’s odds will take is presumably why McIngvale has said that that his bet has to be sort of elastic, between two and four million, which, any way we cut it, is quite a spread to have to contemplate parting with for a bet on the nose. Again: He literally won’t know how much he’s going to reduce his payout by placing his bet until the second he does it. That’s a player.
At least, in his conversation with an America’s Best Racing reporter, Mattress Mack seems aware of the highly fraught nature of his bet.
Here’s what he said: “Obviously, if I bet $2 million on Friday (when the pool for the Saturday feature is small), the odds will go down to 1-9. I’m trying to provide value on these other horses for bettors to get odds more normalized on Essential Quality.”
Well, sort of. With his bet rolling in, by definition, there are no “normalized” odds on Essential Quality to be had, and certainly not at the track. Although he seems to have said to that reporter that he would be putting his bet down late, he was at the track today, Friday.
Of course, for the select pool of Mattress Mack’s customers and not least, for Mattress Mack, Essential Quality still has to pull off his main job, and that is to win the Kentucky Derby. No small feat.
Aside from the fact that the whole scenario would make a hell of a movie script, it’s not something that has ever happened at the Kentucky Derby.
Mattress Mack’s spring mattress promotion aside, to help us and perhaps even to help Mattress Mack assess Essential Quality’s vulnerabilities against this very talented 2021 Derby field, we’re bringing in our trusted Kentucky horseman and owner who has been so generous to us in Triple Crown seasons past, the Bluegrass Wise Man. Though a lifelong horseman , the Bluegrass Wise Man has no horses running in this year’s Derby. Before we get to the Wise Man, first, a refresher on the post positions and morning line. Obviously, we’ll all be following the live odds as post time draws near tomorrow.
Update: Live Churchill odds on Essential Quality dropped to 4-5 on Friday, 30 April— in other words, at some point during the lively Kentucky Oaks day’s betting — before coming back up to 6-5. According to unconfirmed reports out of Louisville, Mr. McIngvale has made what’s portentously being described in Kentucky as his “first bet. “
In other news, trainer Ken McPeek announced that King Fury (post position 16, 20-1) has been scratched as of April 30 after developing a fever and exhibiting an elevated white count. This will bring in all the horses outside of him in the gate by one stall, and the program numbers will remain the same.
(Post Postion, Horse, Morning Line)
1) Known Agenda, 6-1
2) Like the King, 50-1
3) Brooklyn Strong, 50-1
4) Keepmeinmind, 50-1
5) Sainthood, 50-1
6) O Besos, 20-1
7) Mandaloun, 15-1
8) Medina Spirit, 15-1
9) Hot Rod Charlie, 8-1
10) Midnight Bourbon, 20-1
11) Dynamic One, 20-1
12) Helium, 50-1
13) Hidden Stash, 50-1
14) Essential Quality, 2-1
15) Rock Your World, 5-1
16) King Fury, 20-1 (SCRATCH)
17) Highly Motivated, 10-1
18) Super Stock, 30-1
19) Soup And Sandwich, 30-1
20) Bourbonic, 30-1
(Source: Churchill Downs, 4/30/2021)
With no further ado, the Bluegrass Wise Man.
So, you’re going with Mr. McIngvale on this one. Five million on the nose.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Hey, it’s Derby 147. We’re back. Let’s just say, my exotics tomorrow will be looking slightly different from Mr. McIngvale’s ticket. Kidding aside, it’s the Derby, the windows are open, Mattress Mack owns Runhappy. He can do anything he wants that’s legal, and this is legal. And, he’s right, low as the odds will go, some of that money will stay in Kentucky and will go to the horses and the industry. The publicity alone will be fun, and worth something, I’m not sure what, exactly, but I don’t mean just to the furniture store in Houston. Part of the sport, you know? People make plays. Kudos to Churchill Downs for taking it, whatever it is now or will be tomorrow.
What does King Fury’s scratch do?
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Funny, ain’t it? They all move in, of course, so now we have the top three horses breaking right next to each other, as if there weren’t enough pressure on Essential Quality already. But allow me to remind you that nobody’s told the horses that. All they wanna do is run. They don’t know they’re in a race with Highly Motivated or whoever, they just know that when they’re in it, that horse next to them is the one they wanna beat. Get me? Anything can happen, but anything could have happened with King Fury in there separating Essential Quality and Rock Your World. Is Rock Your World feeling his oats? Yep. But all any of ’em want is a good clean break and a race is feeling his oats,