It has been a spring of surprises and controversy, many of which have occurred in running and racing.
The Kentucky Derby – whew. There was a schmozz. All those months of ever-changing “sleeper” odds and the Bob Baffert trifecta dream, washed away in a flood of rain and tumult over whether the Thoroughbred who crossed the finish line first actually won in Louisville.
Meanwhile, in Olympic and amateur running, some – not all – feminists are producing a backlash against the IOC and various local organizations’ standards for testosterone levels among gender-transitional athletes. If nothing else is a positive out of that, at least it’s putting track meets in headlines for once.
The National Hunt circuit has been the scene of slow-burn surprise and paradigm-shifts over the past 2 years as the magnificent horse Tiger Roll shattered superstitions about young Thoroughbreds and defending Grand National champions in a single extended blaze of glory. Yet the race should have been more controversial in hindsight, as another animal died trying to make one of Aintree’s difficult jumps. (Track enthusiasts blithely quote safety-statistics and generally deflect from, I don’t know, the idea of just making the jumps safer so that the tragedies don’t happen anymore.)
NASCAR and Formula One competitions thrive on controversy. Jimmie Johnson’s Daytona 500 win in February occurred amongst a demolition derby of crashing cars, leading to cries that the victor’s triumph was tainted in the Great American Race for the 2nd season in a row.
There is less hate mail arriving at the doors of open-engine racers. It’s a more worldly sport and less of a vroom-vroom version of SEC football.
Furthermore, the 103rd Indianapolis 500 hasn’t produced a bitter, knock-down, drag-out controversy. Not yet anyway. It helps that the race on May 26th hasn’t happened yet, and that race officials have worked with Indianapolis Motor Speedway to produce a series of changes to improve competitiveness and race quality. A new set of tires and a sealant added to the track are thought (or hoped) to create the best racing conditions for the current Dallara IR-18 models, and to give the drivers with the highest skill level and an effective team strategy a better chance to succeed.
That’s all terrific. But what isn’t terrific is when superstars miss out on the race, and so this is where the story of Memorial Day weekend gets a little gloomier. At least if your name is Fernando Alonso.
You can say that the Indy racers are often free of the petty squabbles, fist-fights, wild fan discontent, and other displays of tomfoolery that plague NASCAR.
But you can’t say it’s not full of surprises. Not after the 2019 qualifying runs.
Surprise in Qualifying Causes Bookmakers to Jump
Alonso, a Formula 1 world champion, has shocked racing fans by failing to qualify at the Indy 500’s new integrated “Bump Day” racing session. The celebrated driver’s average speed of 227.353 mph fell just short of this season’s lowest-rated qualifiers. It was a gut-wrenching blow, not only for fans of European racing, but for the McLaren team, which had been planning a much-anticipated return to Indiana.
Fernando is also to be commended for refusing to take part in the race despite some last-ditch under-the-table efforts by the racing team.
The news has caused bookmakers at betting sites to halt Indy 500 “futures” markets in their tracks. Those odds on the Memorial Day weekend race which are posted at betting sites over the next 24 hours are subject to rapid change, so where can we find an anchor in the storm?
I’ve researched some “consensus” Vegas odds from an old-fashioned source that should serve as a template for the “settled” post-qualifying odds you’ll find for the Indy 500 around the web.
If we find a racer who looks hot coming into the event and their odds wind up longer at MyBookie or Sportsbetting.ag, then you already know it’s a good bet. If the odds are shorter? Well, that means a lot of other gamblers had the same tip…or that they’re all reading LegitGamblingSites.com.
Here’s a quick look at 10 of the shortest-odds competitors left vying for #1 in the absence of a pre-qualifying favorite.
Be patient – the best lines might take a while to fall into place for the race on a Sunday of stars, stripes, barbecues and beer.
Will Power (+700)
Formula One’s top dog may have been a favorite, but certainly not the favorite for the Indy 500 as futures handles piled-up this spring.
Defending champion Will Power will start 6th in this year’s edition of the race. The 2014 IndyCar Series champion, Power has over 30 IndyCar series wins in his lengthy career. By 2015, he was deemed the most prestigious street-course race winner with 19 wins in the series.
Power met the 102nd checkered flag comfortably in a race with far less carnage than the subject of our last highlight clip.
Simon Pagenaud (+700)
Pole winner for the Indy 500, Pagenaud is beaming with confidence. The Frenchman is coming off a winless season, but he’s got Team Penske on his side.
The 2016 IndyCar champion is also coming off a career-best 6th-place finish in 2018.
Josef Newgarden (+800)
The driver from Hendersonville, Tennessee will start 8th at the Indy 500. Another former IndyCar Series champion for Team Penske, Newgarden narrowly missed his maiden career win at the Indy 500 while finishing 3rd in 2016.
He has not matched that level of success driving for Team Penske, showing that the marquee teams and pit crews of the Indy circuit are not a cure-all in every circumstance.
Alexander Rossi (+800)
A former Indy 500 champion, Rossi has excelled in the race, finishing in the top-10 in all 3 appearances. He will start 9th in his quest for another prestigious win.
The 27-year old from Nevada City, California returned to the United States after a stint in Formula One in Europe. He has accumulated 6 wins in his brief IndyCar Series career, and narrowly missed the championship in 2018.
I’m liking this pick a whole lot at 8-to-1.
Ed Carpenter (+800)
The stepson of Indy Racing founder Tony George narrowly missed the Pole Position on Bump Day. (I only capitalize “Pole Position” as an ode to Atari.)
A 38-year old driver from Paris, Illinois, Carpenter finished a career-best 2nd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year.
Scott Dixon (+1200)
The 38-year-old New Zealander races for Chip Ganassi Racing, and has made the company proud by continuing a glorious career in the IndyCar Series.
A 5-time series champion (2003, 2008, 2013, 2015, 2018) with 43 career wins in his illustrious career, Dixon will start 18th in this year’s Indy 500 and will try to capture his 2nd win.
There’s a reason to tout Dixon at 12-to-1 other than past success in the event. The veteran enjoys the services of a lightning-quick pit crew nicknamed “The Wolfpack.” Wolfpack members are running out of room in their trophy cases for Firestone Pit Performance Award accolades, and have been instrumental in the team’s triumphs with Dixon at the helm.
Colton Herta (+1200)
The 19-year-old youngster for Harding Steinbrenner Racing became the youngest winner in IndyCar Series history with his win at the March 24th IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas.
Starting from the 5th position, Herta will try to become the youngest Indy 500 champion in history.
Spencer Pigot (+1200)
A developing 25-year-old racer, Pigot will start 3rd after some hot laps in qualifying, but he has struggled in his last 3 attempts at the Indy 500 with a best-finish of 18th coming in 2017.
The former Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Champion has 1 career IndyCar Series podium.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (+2000)
The veteran Hunter-Reay has produced a terrific 16-win career…which includes the 2014 Indy 500. Criticized for his form and engines, Hunter-Reay returned to the top 10 in the 102nd race last season.
Hunter-Reay was king of the IndyCar Series in 2012 when he captured his only career series championship. He will start this year’s race from 22nd driving for Andretti Autosport.
Speaking of Andretti…
Marco Andretti (+2000)
Grandson of legendary Mario Andretti, Marco still looks to win his maiden career Indy 500. Andretti will start from the 10th position, but his modest qualifying runs fool absolutely no one – the talented and versatile driver has finished in the top 5 several times.
He hasn’t won a race on the elite American circuit since 2011, however.
Is Marco hexed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway like his father before him?
103rd Indianapolis 500: The 2 Best Futures Picks
All due respect to Ed Carpenter, but his odds are a mirage at (+800). Don’t go there until his line-to-win is twice as long at your betting site.
Meanwhile, I learned not to gamble on an Andretti in Indianapolis a long time ago.
Alexander Rossi is a terrific pick to win based on his skill-set. Scott Dixon is also an excellent choice, based on his excellent pit crew and competitive edge…as well as a nice 12-to-1 payoff if things don’t change throughout the week of betting action.