Kentucky X-Mas

Kentucky X-Mas

Santa’s annual global trek nevertheless is days away, so, with reindeer on the brain and temperatures halting, it’s a wee bit early to think about spring and the Kentucky Derby.

That’s unless you live in Louisville or Las Vegas, where horse racing is a major part of life.

John Avello, who heads betting operations at Wynn Las Vegas, posted his opening futures for the 133rd Derby in September, weeks before early November’s 2006 Churchill Downs Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which typically provides racing buffs their first real peek at Run for the Roses hopefuls.

“I like to get my action early and I’ll get a lot more before the Derby,” Avello said.

The veteran Sin City bookmaker notes the wisdom behind posting futures so far in improvement is that players make wagers on a daily basis, little by little building the pot.

“It’s pretty good now and it’s going to get better,” Avello said.

“It’s always coming in, everyday.”

Also, some bettors might visit Vegas only at certain times of the year, such as during football season or the National Finals Rodeo, but want to have a ticket on the Derby.

Most bet shops typically have Derby futures hung before the Super Bowl, as a majority of the all-important “stepping stone” races are run in March and April, leading to the first Saturday in May, though the road to Churchill truly begins in January and February at Gulfstream, Oaklawn and Santa Anita Parks.

Some colts don’t already hit the track until they turn three, but all Thoroughbreds celebrate a birthday on Jan. 1, New Year’s Day, no matter on what date they were foaled.

Two, one who ran in the Juvenile and one who didn’t, already are considered the cream of the soon-to-be 3-year-old crop.

Sam’s Town house handicapper Gordon Jones, former turf columnist for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, calls them the best one-two Triple Crown prospects — with numbers to match — racing has seen since Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in 1989.

Casual Thoroughbred fans already are acquainted with Street Sense, a son of Street Cry and the current BC Juvenile champion.

A winner by more than 10 lengths, despite what many, including Jones, consider a “horrendous surface,” Street Sense ran that race in as fast a time as horses in the BC typical and faster than those in the Distaff.

The other “monster” is Nobiz Like Shobiz, who was sired by Albert the Great.

“He’s run numbers we don’t see in 2-year-olds too often,” Jones said.

Avello agrees with handler Barclay Tagg that the colt showed the genesis of “greatness” from the day the mythical trainer first laid eyes on him.

Tagg won the 2003 Derby and Preakness Stakes with Funny Cide before the colt finished third in the Belmont Stakes.

“That he’s the trainer says a lot,” Avello declared.

Street Sense ran second in his July racing debut at Churchill, won his maiden at Arlington Park in August, finished third in September’s Arlington-Washington Futurity and third in the October Breeders’ Cup Futurity leading up to his $32.40 Juvenile victory.

Nobiz Like Shobiz broke his maiden with a 10 3/4-length win at Belmont in September, then placed second to Scat Daddy in New York’s Champagne Stakes the following month.

Tagg passed up the Juvenile to give Nobiz Like Showbiz an additional few weeks to mature, then saw the colt gallop to a 6 1/2-length triumph in late November’s Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct.

While more than four complete months keep until the May 5 Derby, Wynn Las Vegas horse players already have bet Street Sense down to 12/1 and Nobiz Like Shobiz to 7/1.

Avello and Jones expect those two, barring injuries, to nevertheless be the biggest threats on Derby Day, but nonetheless will be waiting and watching to see if any untested 3-year-olds create groups early next year.

“We can only hope,” Avello said.

“It always happens, but no male or female we’ve seen so far is going to enhance that much overnight,” Jones additional.

Daily Racing Form Las Vegas correspondent Dave Tuley likes long shots and often waits until post locaiongs are drawn before making decisions on big races.

He says it’s way too early to get excited about anyone, that he’s not on top of things and has in addition to make barn contacts who would know which possible contenders have in addition to appear.

If anything, Tuley might shop for hunch bets at this point.

That’s how some bettors named Giacomo scored in 2005.

Tuley found a good one on Avello’s futures list the other day: Touchdown Peyton.

His nearly 3-year-old daughter is named Peyton, not, as some might think, for Indianapolis star quarterback Peyton Manning, but, rather, in memory of late Chicago produces running back Walter Payton.

“I love it,” he said. “200/1.”

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