Turning a toothpick into a lumber yard

My good friend Ralph Siraco likes to say “horseplayers try to turn a toothpick into a lumber yard” when betting on horse racing. The angle being it’s a gambling game where you can bet a little with a chance to win a lot.

A popular way of doing that is betting on futures and no bookmaker, or race book, does it any better than John Avello at Wynn Las Vegas.

Avello has the following horse racing future books bets on the board:

— Odds to win the 2014 Eclipse Award Horse of the Year;

— Odds to win the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic;

— Odds to win the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Distaff;

— Which month will the 2015 Kentucky Derby winner run its first race?

— Over or under 20½ points to make the 2015 Kentucky Derby field.

A book bet means it’s you against the casino. If you believe you have an edge, Avello is inviting you to take your best shot.

California Chrome (10/11) is the current favorite in the Horse of the Year pool. “He is the clear cut choice,” said Avello. “But if another horse, like Shared Belief (10/1), can win their next two starts including the Breeders’ Cup, that could all change.”

Shared Belief (3/1) is the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic pool over Palace Malice (7/2). “I’ve seen nothing negative about him,” added Avello. “I started him at 20/1, so he’s shortened up quite a bit.”

Avello mentioned two horses to keep an eye on. “Wicked Strong (20/1) moved a little too quick in the Travers and Australia (15/1), if he comes from Europe, is a monster.”

The Distaff chalk is Untapable (2/1), but Avello likes Close Hatches (3/1) who he says has been “remarkable” while undefeated this season. He also noted that Beholder (4/1), who won the Distaff last year, “loves Santa Anita” and is pointing to defend her title.

Three months have taken the most action to debut the 2015 Kentucky Derby winner: November (7/1), December (10/1) and January (18/1). January had opened at 50/1. In theory, what that means is we may not have seen the future Derby winner race yet.

To me, that makes sense because the preponderance of Derby points is earned in a horse’s 3-year-old season.

Avello has taken good action already on the Derby points pool, but the pool many horseplayers salivate over is “Who will win the 2015 Kentucky Derby.”

“I should have the Derby futures up in about two weeks,” said Avello. Remember that the first ones in line get the best odds. And if a horse you like is not listed, just ask Avello. More than likely he’ll offer you a price.

DURKIN’S LAST DAY — New York Racing Association track announcer Tom Durkin will call his last horse race on Sunday at Saratoga. It’ll be interesting to see how he, and the fans on-track, handles what figures to be a most emotional day for him.

SAM’S TOWN QUALIFIER — Sam’s Town will host a one day qualifier on Monday. The winner will earn a cash prize plus a free entry into the 2015 Horseplayer World Series. The next two finishers will also earn cash plus a free qualifier to this year’s Fall Classic. The entry fee is $200.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.