HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., February 14, 2012—Despite some niggling flaws, the Kentucky Derby Futures Pool continues to grow in popularity, one of the few positive betting trends the sport has to offer. I suspect mostly because it’s fun.

It wasn’t by a huge amount, but handle of $631,000, including $137,000 in exactas, was the highest in the wager’s 14-year history. The other record set was for lowest payout established on #24 “All Other Three-Year-Olds,” at 3-2.

The previous Pool 1 low was set by 9-5 Smarty Jones eight years ago. That only goes to show that a really good horse still might be obscured from view even as we reach mid-February.

Not surprisingly, Union Rags was the lowest individual price at 7-1, although unbeaten Holy Bull winner Algorithms briefly flirted with the distinction—or curse, depending on one’s point of view.

A little surprising was that El Padrino, given extraordinary wet track form, was a short- priced 16-1 third favorite. Not too surprising was the fact that juvenile champion Hansen ranked 12th at 26-1.

Hansen, presumably based on a perception of distance limitations, as well as Liaison and Rousing Sermon, at 56-1 and 71-1 respectively, were punished by bettors for their recent defeats. At least in Hansen’s case, he gave a good account of himself.

Pool 2 will be conducted from March 2-4 after six more graded preps have been run, including the usually significant Risen Star and Fountain of Youth.

El Padrino is expected to race next in the Risen Star. The Fountain of Youth, where Union Rags is expected to debut, is also next up for undefeated Algorithms and Discreet Dancer. Expect the scores to really change next month.

Bushwacked

In case anyone failed to notice, there was another masterful training performance turned in at Gulfstream Park as part of the Donn Handicap undercard.

Going into the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, six-year-old Get Stormy was the most accomplished member of the cast. And he emerged the same way, his victory extending his lifetime slate to (27) 11-4-3 and pushing his earnings to nearly $1.5 million.

The victory was the third Grade 1 of his career and trainer Tom Bush, the man who conditioned the veteran to the minute, will point the turf specialist for his fourth by trying to repeat in Keeneland’s Maker’s Mark Mile in April.

“He settled into a great stride and handled the [soft] ground beautifully,” said jockey Ramon Dominguez. When I called on him he just kept going.”

No doubt the extremely soft pace helped.

“He’s a special horse and got a special ride today, it was not a surprise” said Bush. As for his two Breeders’ Cup disappointments, they “are still a mystery. But maybe we’ll get him on that firm turf at Santa Anita later this year and he’ll like the firm ground out there.”

When and if he gets there, expect Bush to have him ready.

The Politics of Race Riding

It may turn out that Algorithms can run rings around Union Rags, or Discreet Dancer, or Gemologist, and El Padrino, too. But wherever Javier Castellano landed, he was odds-on to sit aboard a Todd Pletcher-trained animal.

Racing is a numbers game. If Union Rags didn’t make the Derby and it turned out to be late in the game, the choice of prime contenders would be gone. Since one man trains four serious contenders, Castellano would have several quality just-in-case options.

Of greater consequence, however, is that Pletcher is one of Castellano’s best clients and rides many good horses for him. If you’re a jockey who enjoys winning stakes, you don’t burn a bridge on the road that leads to the Pletcher barn.

Super-agent Matt Muzikar said all the appropriate things vis a vis Union Rags, his trainer, Michael Matz, and the Wyeth’s before giving his reasons for choosing Algorithms for the Fountain of Youth. As difficult as the decision appeared given the talent involved, in the end it was more of a no-brainer than anything else.

Big Doings at the Big A

Here’s something that passes for news in New York these days. Starting today, trifecta wagering will be accepted on all races with as few as five betting interests. Cutting edge stuff, I know.

Forgetting for a moment that with this, the NYRA, with the blessing of the State Racing and Wagering Board, is opening an additional avenue to a high takeout wager.

Guess those VLT purse increases haven’t led to significantly larger fields this winter as promised; never mind the notion of an improved product.

No one is blaming racetracks for looking to increase revenues; far from it. But wouldn’t that be better served by, say, allowing superfecta wagering in fields with coupled entries?

I know I’ve written this in the past but trust me: If players are smart enough to count to four in the case of coupled entries finishing in money positions in trifecta races, I’m confident they can make it all the way to five in the superfecta pool.

So many big-field superfecta wagering opportunities are lost due to this sophomoric rule, especially in highly competitive turf races.

I suppose we all will wait a little longer before the installation of the popular 50-Cent Pick 5. And I won’t hold my breath it will include a 15% takeout and consolation 4-of-5 payout, no matter how popular it seems to be everywhere else.

Don’t you just hate it when some policies are fan friendly and make sense?