By Bill Finley
Owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale is planning to bet at least $2 million to win on Essential Quality (Tapit) in Saturday's GI Kentucky Derby as a hedge to cover the costs of a furniture promotion underway at his Gallery Furniture stores. It is believed that McIngvale's bet will be the largest ever placed on the Derby or any U.S. horse race.
McIngvale has already launched the “Kentucky Derby Fave Wins, You Win” promotion. Anyone buying a mattress that costs $3,000 or more will receive a 100% refund if the favorite wins the race. Costumers will also have the option of receiving a store credit of 150% of the price paid for the mattress. McIngvale won't know until Saturday exactly how many mattresses his stores will have sold in relation to the promotion but says it will likely be around “a couple thousand.”
Once he has determined how many mattresses have been sold, McIngvale will bet enough on Essential Quality to cover the losses incurred by the promotion. He says he will bet at least $2 million and could bet as much as $4 million.
“The favorite has won the Derby six out of the last seven times and if that happens this year the people who bought the mattresses will get 100% of their money back,” he said. “We have gotten a lot of response so far and expect a lot more response over the next five days.”
It is expected that Essential Quality will go off at about 5-2. At that price, a $2-million win bet will return a profit of
$5 million, which will pay for an awful lot of mattresses.
“In this day and age of Amazon, we bricks and mortar guys have to do something to be different, something to stand out,” he said.
In 2019, the last time the race was run on the first Saturday in May, there was $41.8 million in the win pool. A $2-million bet would account for about 5% of the pool, more than enough to lower the odds on Essential Quality. The race favorite that year, Improbable (City Zip), had $6.9 million wagered on him to win. He went off at 4-1.
“I'm going to wire the money into Churchill, probably on Thursday,” McIngvale said. “When it gets closer to the race I will figure out how many mattresses we have sold, add up the total, and then I'll figure out how much to bet on the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. It's going to be great for the other people too because it will make the other 19 horses a better value than they would be if I hadn't made a big bet.
“I'm better off if the horse wins, by a 10-1 margin because people will tell all their friends about this and the word of mouth publicity if he wins will be off the charts. The good thing about horse racing is you can bet as much as you want to because it is pari-mutuel wagering and the Derby is a race with huge handle.”
McIngvale is confident Essential Quality can get the job done.
“He's won all his races, was the champion 2-year-old and is by Tapit, the best sire in the country,” McIngvale said. “So you have to like the horse. There's nothing not to like about him.”
McIngvale is used to making huge wagers, many of which he ties in with store promotions. He made a huge, losing bet on the Houston Astros to win the 2019 World Series. Earlier this year, he successfully bet $3.5 million on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to cover the spread in the Super Bowl. Does he still get nervous when betting that much?
“I'm more nervous watching one of my horses run in a $10,000 claimer,” he said. “I don't get nervous doing this. To me, it's fun and exciting and it's exciting for the customers.”