Thursday, February 2

Jim ‘Mattress Mack’ McIngvale Is Back Wielding His Odds-Wrecking $2-Million-Plus Bet On The Nose

The good news is that the 2022 Kentucky Derby will be a great race this year because the top five favorites — in descending, morning-line order of low to high odds — Zandon, Epicenter, Messier, Mo Donegal and Taiba are generally speaking, rather bunched in talents and at last report rearing to go. The bad news is that, 700 miles south of Churchill Downs, the irrepressible Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, the well-known Houston furniture magnate, will be engaging in his now-annual spring promotion by betting between $2 million and $3 million on the race. Last year he actually dropped on up to Churchill, which is his wont, to do it on race day at the track.

He’s got plenty to do in Kentucky anyway, checking up on Runhappy, Mr. McIngvale’s Thoroughbred champion standing at stud. As we know, last year he put between $2 million and $4 million on Essential Quality. And, just like that, I have watched it ride away into the mists of time as Essential Quality ran a disspiriting fourth to Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, and Hot Rod Charlie.

So, his bracing play didn’t cover the mattress/furniture promotion after all, but gauging from the coverage, including in this space, Mr. McIngvale definitely got more than $4 million in free publicity for the somewhat chaotically and extravagantly marketed Mattress Mack “ brand.” Such as it is. In the picture above, Mr. McIngvale’s selection of him as a Houston business honoree in 2018 was celebrated in a semi-formal kilt-wearing fashion event. Including Mr. McIngvale as a runway star with the obligatory sporran, knee socks, the fine dark epaulets on the ur-Scottish short jacket, the whole kit. Natural showman.

At the 2022 Derby, similar McIngvale-levels of chaos await the Derby players no matter where they lay down their cash — Vegas, Churchill/Twinspires, over the pond at William Hill, et al. Naturally, the McIngvale odds tornado will be felt most keenly at Churchill, but, per force, the race itself brings an entirely different cast of characters, featuring a different leaderboard and different possible spoilers.

Fun as it is to watch Vegas sports books essentially try to run from the McIngvale cyclone, the Derby field is essentially good news because the relatively close “bunching” of the top five faves in the odds means that Mr. McIngvale’s veering, careening and caroming hither and yon with his virtual satchel of $2 million-plus will itself require a bit more hard analysis to actually figure out a favorite. Who’s the top favorite for the 148th Kentucky Derby? Nobody really knows. McIngvale’s is to play on the nose, after all.

Put another way, in the doing he may not have a harder time settling on a horse — he may just stick with Epicenter — but the field offers more, better, non-McIngvale choices bunched up around Epicenter (or whomever the furniture mogul bets and thus loopily weights), so that ordinary bettors can gain more of a jogging boxing whomever he doesn’t pick with, say, Zandon, Taiba, Mo Donegal, or Messier. Who knows, you might even make some money off dear old Mattress Mack.

Welcome back, Mr. McIngvale, long time no see! We have a suggestion for your nickname. We know it’s popular in Houston, but it doesn’t have much traction up in Kentucky, or elsewhere at the country’s lovely tracks. We think you ought to change it to reflect more what you do in racing. “Bigfoot” has a nice ring to it.

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