Another Derby Bet for McIngvale

Jim McIngvale | Patty Wolfe


After placing a losing win bet of more than $2 million on Essential Quality (Tapit) in last year's GI Kentucky Derby, Jim “Mattress Mack” is coming back for more. McIngvale said that he is planning to bet between $3 million and $4 million this year on the race favorite. McIngvale has often linked huge bets on sporting events such as the World Series, the NCAA tournament, the Super Bowl and the Derby to promotions at his Gallery Furniture stores in Houston. If the favorite wins the Derby, McIngvale will issue a refund to anyone spending $3,000 or more in his stores. He plays the odds so that if he wins the bet he makes enough from the wager to cover the cost of giving away so much free furniture. And if the wager loses, the profits from his furniture sales should cover the cost of the losing bet.

After a string of losers, McIngale won $8.8 million earlier this month betting on Kansas to win the NCAA basketball championship.

With his previous bets, customers only qualified if they bought mattresses. This year, McIngvale has added other types of furniture to the promotion, the reason why he will exceed the amount he bet last year.

“I am going to have some fun and gamble a bit,” he said. “This should be a fun Kentucky Derby.”

McIngvale said the entire bet will be made on-track at Churchill Downs. That guarantees that the highest percentage possible will go back to purses.

“I'll be at Churchill all day,” he said. “It's very important to bet on track so the most money goes back to the Kentucky horsemen. I am a Kentucky horseman, so I don't making racing bets offshore or in Nevada. I always bet on track so the track can make the most money and can give back the most money to horsemen in purses.”

In the weeks leading up to the 2021 Derby, McIngvale knew who he was going to bet on. Essential Quality was an obvious favorite and went off at odds of 2.90-1. He finished fourth. It's a different Derby this year with no clear-cut favorite. The longest price for a favorite in Derby history was 6.30-1, the price on Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike) in the 2010 Derby. This year's favorite could drift into the 5-1, 6-1 area.

“To have that high of a price on the favorite is great for someone like me,” McIngvale said. “I'm used to hedging off these sports bets where my odds might be $1.50 against $1. If the favorite is 4-1 or 5-1 that's a tremendous buffer when it comes to having to pay back the customers if the horse wins. Last year, I bet almost $25% of the total win amount on the favorite. This is a wide open year. It's a good opportunity for the promotion, to get the favorite at a good price and get a good return if the favorite wins. It's good odds for the customers.”

Understanding that his win bet alone could greatly deflate the price on the favorite, McIngvale said he will spread some of the money out in the exacta pool, using all other 19 starters on top of the favorite.

But who will be the lowest priced horse in the Derby field? With no clear answer to that question, it's possible that the role of who will be the favorite may not be decided until a few minutes to post. What then?

“Who will be the favorite? That's the $64,000 question,” McIngvale said. “I'll take a look at the Oaks-Derby daily double and use that as a guide. A lot of the sharper money is in that pool. Throughout the day, I'll be feeding money in on the horse I believe will be the favorite. I just have to make sure I am on the favorite when the bell goes off and they leave the starting gate.”

McIngvale will have mixed feelings if the favorite wins the Derby because that will mean that Smile Happy (Runhappy) did not win. McIngvale has promoted Runhappy non-stop since he entered stud and knows that if he adds a Derby winner to his credentials it would boost his value as a sire. When asked who he will be rooting for if Smile Happy, who figures to be seventh or eighth choice in the betting, and the Derby favorite hook up in the stretch, McIngvale said “a dead-heat.”

“I could just put all the money on Smile Happy and that might make him the favorite,” McIngvale said. “I have a fiduciary responsibility to the customers to bet on the favorite. It wouldn't be the best deal for them if I bet on Smile Happy.”

As a side bet, McIngvale said he will be betting between $50,000 and $200,000 to win on Smile Happy.

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