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December 18, 2014

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Kentucky Derby takes center stage in Las Vegas

A preview of horse racing’s momentous weekend

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Exercise rider Peter Brette takes Kentucky Derby entrant Union Rags for a workout at Churchill Downs Wednesday, May 2, 2012, in Louisville, Ky.

Churchill Downs morning-line Kentucky Derby odds

  • No. 1 Daddy Long Legs — 30-to-1
  • No. 2 Optimizer — 50-to-1
  • No. 3 Take Charge — 15-to-1
  • No. 4 Union Rags — 9-to-2
  • No. 5 Dullahan — 8-to-1
  • No. 6 Bodemeister — 4-to-1
  • No. 7 Rousing Sermon — 50-to-1
  • No. 8 Creative Cause — 12-to-1
  • No. 9 Trinniberg — 50-to-1
  • No. 10 Daddy Nose Best — 15-to-1
  • No. 11 Alpha — 15-to-1
  • No. 12 Prospective — 30-to-1
  • No. 13 Went The Day Well — 20-to-1
  • No. 14 Hansen — 10-to-1
  • No. 15 Gemologist — 6-to-1
  • No. 16 El Padrino — 20-to-1
  • No. 17 Done Talking — 50-to-1
  • No. 18 Sabercat — 30-to-1
  • No. 19 I'll Have Another — 12-to-1
  • No. 20 Liaison — 50-to-1

They’re called race and sports books for a reason.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget the “race” part, what with the panorama of football jerseys on weekends in the fall and the maniacal yelling at the end of NBA Playoff games.

Horse racing often gets overlooked in Las Vegas, but not this weekend. The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby from Churchill Downs is the prime attraction for casinos Saturday afternoon.

“Derby week is always going to be a big one here,” said Dan Shapiro, who oversees racing for Lucky’s Race and Sports Books. “The handle is great. Saturday will be our biggest (racing) day of the year, but it carries over all week.”

Lucky’s — which runs books at The D Las Vegas, the Riviera, the Plaza and Terrible’s — is annually one of the first shops in town to put out future odds on the Kentucky Derby. They posted numbers for 100 prospective horses six months ago, and Shapiro reports action is up from the past couple years.

One reason for the increased interest is the star power in this year’s race. The two favorites, Bodemeister out of the No. 6 post and Union Rags out of the No. 4 post, have immense potential and could conceivably challenge for the Triple Crown.

“We’re going to be rooting against Union Rags for sure,” Shapiro said. “Back in October, we opened Union Rags and Creative Cause as co-favorites at 30-to-1. Here it is in early May and they are both in the race. Those two are going to be losers for us.”

The popularity of Union Rags comes as no surprise. The colt won his first three races and has never finished outside of the trifecta.

Michael Matz, who famously won the 2006 Kentucky Derby with Barbaro, trains Union Rags.

“I’ve had one great horse in Barbaro, and I think I might have a second one,” Matz told the Associated Press. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great feeling. It’s been six years since I came back where I think I have a chance, and that’s what we work for.”

Another horse in the field, however, is more comparable to Barbaro. Gemologist, who drew the coveted No. 15 post, is a perfect 5-0 entering the Kentucky Derby — the same undefeated record Barbaro held six years ago.

Renowned trainer Todd Pletcher led Gemologist into the race.

“He’s probably the best trainer in the country,” Shapiro said. “And I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Gemologist yet. He’s got a lot of things going for him.”

Pletcher won his first Kentucky Derby two years ago, when Super Saver came on strong to beat the rest of the field as a 15-to-1 shot. The average price of the last three Kentucky Derby winners is 30-to-1.

Vegas casinos have fared well on the Kentucky Derby since 2009.

“In general, the long shots have been good for us,” Shapiro said. “A lot of times, when the favorites are around all season — like Union Rags and Creative Cause — you build up exposure on them. It really depends, but this year, we’re going to be rooting for another long shot.”

The third horse Shapiro doesn’t want to win is Hansen. Bettors started backing Hansen almost as soon as the white horse won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.

Hansen’s lively owner, Kendall Hansen, who made headlines for wanting to paint the horse’s tail blue at a recent stakes race, pumped his fist in celebration when he drew the No. 14 post Wednesday over the dreaded No. 1 hole.

The No. 14 post is the last starting position of the first gate, giving a horse more room to operate. Hansen’s odds would have increased on the rail, but he’s the fifth favorite at 10-to-1 in his current spot.

“I really wanted 14 or 15 to get the gap there, so you have less of a chance of getting pinned back at the beginning of the race,” Hansen said after the draw on live television. “I’m extremely excited with 14 here.”

Shapiro's recommendation for recreational bettors looking to gamble on the fastest two minutes in sports is to pick three or four horses and throwing in an exacta box.

He likes Gemologist and sees value on Daddy Nose Best at 15-to-1 odds. The bookmaker in Shapiro would approve of that result.

Both of those horses are winners in Lucky’s future books.

“So far, the buzz has been pretty good,” Shapiro said. “We’ve gotten a lot of calls wanting reservations or places to sit across our properties. There’s a lot of good signs.”

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

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