A common refrain among sports fans—especially those in the 30-and-under crowd—is that boxing and horse racing are deader than Kate Gosselin’s dancing career. Not true. And if you believe otherwise, just stroll into a local sports book on the afternoon of May 1 and stick around for a few hours. I can promise that you’ll see standing room-only crowds for the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby, followed by an influx of fight fans looking to get down on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Shane Mosley mega-fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
To further prove both sports are alive and well, I’m devoting this week’s column to the Derby and the Mayweather-Mosley bout. Hey, it’s either that or an in-depth breakdown of the finalists on American Idol and Dancing With the Stars—or even worse: soccer! (And for those keeping score, my bankroll sits at $5,455.)
And Away They Go: At press time, the full field for this year’s Derby—which is expected to include 20 horses—hadn’t been finalized, and as such post positions and early-race odds were unknown. But here’s one thing that is known: Three of the five greatest long shots to win the Derby have come in the last 10 years. That includes Mine That Bird, a 50-to-1 prayer that hit the wire last year to become the second-biggest long shot ever to win the Run for the Roses.
Throw in Thunder Gulch in 1995, and four of the nine biggest underdog winners in Derby history have occurred in the last 15 years. That’s a noteworthy trend right there. So is this: Only three times in the last 30 years has the morning-line favorite won the Derby.
It’s highly unlikely we’ll see another huge upset this year, so I would concentrate on the horses that range from 6-to-1 to 15-to-1 odds. Since pre-race favorite Eskendereya already has been scratched because of a leg injury, there likely will be a cluster of competitors that fall into that odds range, so in an addition to making a few strategic $2 wagers (to win, place and/or show), an option would be to pair up some of the horses in an exacta box and go for the big payday. (An exacta-box wager is similar to a two-team sports parlay in that you’re picking the first- and second-place finishers—in either order—with a significant payout if you hit it).
Because so much changes in the days and hours leading up to the race, it’s wise to read as much pre-race info as possible to get a feel for how practice sessions went, as well as the track conditions.
$100 (to win $200) on Shane Mosley (+200) over Floyd Mayweather Jr. $25 (to win $200) on Mosley (8-to-1) to knock out Mayweather: There is no denying Mayweather has tremendous skills, and he’s undeniably one of the best defensive fighters of all time. Those brilliant defensive skills have allowed Pretty Boy Floyd to keep his face looking, well, so pretty 40 fights into his pro career. But one reason Mayweather has barely been touched is that most of his opponents are afraid to press the action.
Mosley will not be so timid. He is usually the aggressor when he steps into the ring, and even at age 38, he packs a fierce punch. Just ask Antonio Margarito, who went into his fight against Mosley 15 months ago ranked among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world—only to stumble out of the ring after Mosley floored him in the eighth round and finished him off in the ninth.
It was arguably Mosley’s most impressive performance ever, and remember that this is a guy who beat Oscar De La Hoya twice in De La Hoya’s prime. Mosley is smart enough to know he can’t get into a sparring match with Mayweather and expect to win, so he will press the action and force Mayweather to do something he doesn’t ordinarily like to do when he gets in the ring: actually fight.
Mosley may not be able to match Mayweather’s speed and quickness, but he’s got incredible ring savvy and he’s a very powerful puncher. As for betting on the knockout, it’s a smart play for two reasons: 1) Mosley knows he can’t just outbox Mayweather and expect the judges to rule in his favor, so he’s going to take some chances, and 2) of Mosley’s 45 wins, 39 have been by KO—including the beating of Margarito, who had never before been knocked out in 43 pro fights.