It's 16 weeks out from the Kentucky Derby, and the heat on my forehead is an early case of "Derby fever." Now, as soon as a nice-looking 3-year-old wins a race, a mad dash to make a Kentucky Derby futures book bet lowers its odds to an unpalatable number.
Take Saturday's results, for example. Out of Bounds wins the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, and he gets hammered down to 30-1. Alpha cruises in the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct, and now he's 25-1. Discreet Dancer crushes in a Gulfstream allowance race and -- gulp! -- he's down to 20-1.
Smart people set the futures odds at Wynn Las Vegas, Leroy's and the LVH, formerly the Las Vegas Hilton. They are not trying to insult your intelligence. What they're saying is they have enough exposure on a horse, so either take a bad number or bet another animal.
No one gives anything away in Las Vegas. The juicy odds went to those at the front of the line. The best time for a futures book bet is before a key race or before the herd gets wind of a hot horse.
The dynamics of futures book betting was altered when Churchill Downs began allowing 20 betting interests in the Derby. In a full field, only three or four horses will have single-digit odds. The rest will be 10-1 on up.
Thus, it's silly to accept low odds on a horse today that is a stone bruise or cough away from going off the Derby trail.
I suggest you first stop by the Wynn, Leroy's and LVH race books to pick up their Derby futures sheets. How else can you shop for price? If you're outside Las Vegas, go to Dave Tuley's viewfromvegas.com website. In his race book notes, you can download the same sheets.
John Avello at Wynn lists more than 325 3-year-olds. Dan Shapiro of Leroy's has more than 200. If a horse you like is not listed, they will quote you a price on the spot.
The top horse currently is Union Rags at 12-1. No disrespect to Union Rags, but any 3-year-old right now is at least 12-1 just to make the Derby starting gate.
I took a flier at 100-1 on a colt named Exfactor. He won the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill last summer for trainer Bernie Flint. Exfactor returned off a long vacation to win the Sugar Bowl Stakes on Dec. 17 at Fair Grounds. His next start will be in the Lecomte at Fair Grounds on Jan. 21.
■ JOCKEYS HURT -- Champion jockey Garrett Gomez suffered a fractured left heel Sunday in a prerace accident at Santa Anita. He could miss as much as two months of racing. On the same day, Fair Grounds leading rider Rosie Napravnik sustained bruised ankles when she was thrown from her mount prerace.
Small wonder why jockeys' health insurance is so expensive.
Richard Eng's horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.