When the horses entered in the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby were announced on the televisions at Katie O’Keefe’s Casino on Saturday, the loudest cheer wasn’t for the favorite.
Instead, Montana pride prevailed and Bolt d’Oro, a horse owned and trained by Columbia Falls developer Mick Ruis, pulled in the most vocal support.
With 8-1 odds, Bolt d’Oro entered the race as one of the top contenders — only three horses offered better odds before post time.
“A lot of people were [betting on Bolt d’Oro], just because they believed in the story,” said manager Taylor Alonzo.
Katie O’Keefe’s operates the live horse-race simulcast for off-track betting in Montana, with five locations across the state allowing patrons to bet on races. Alonzo estimates that more than 700 people placed bets in the Missoula location on Derby Day.
“Everyone likes to have a dollar on the nose of a pony when it comes to the Kentucky Derby,” said Rockin’ Rudy’s owner Bruce Micklus, who bet on Bolt d’Oro. “People that only bet once or twice a year are down here, and it’s kinda like a party.”
By post time, the two main rooms at Katie O’Keefe’s were crammed with people waiting to watch the race. When the infamous trumpet sounded, betting slips littered the tables, fingers clutched cold beers and the entire room turned as one to face the nearest TV.
The Run for the Roses is called the most exciting two minutes in sport, and it certainly was on Saturday.
Bolt d’Oro started off well and ran in the third position for most of the race, prompting yells from across the bar. But in the homestretch, not even Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza could keep him from fading to a 12th-place finish.
There were still plenty of winners, however. A $2 bet on the favorite and winner, Justify, paid out $7.80. A $1 trifecta paid out $141.40. And those few who correctly bet on the superfecta (1st through 4th) received a nearly $20,000 payday.
“At our location alone, we did around $65,000 in wagering on Saturday,” Alonzo said. “It’s definitely big, and it’s growing. It seems that every year it gets more and more popular.”
Between the five Montana locations, about $220,000 was wagered on Derby Day.
Montanans might not have a local horse to bet on for the next stage of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. A column in the San Diego Tribune quotes Ruis saying that he might be looking for a different race that won’t pit Bolt d’Oro against Justify again.