EXCLUSIVE: Mattress Mack Talks Kentucky Derby and About Horse Racing’s Future

Posted on: April 30, 2021, 05:51h. 

Last updated on: June 23, 2021, 02:17h.

LOUISVILLE – The Kentucky Derby is known as the playground for celebrities, so it makes perfect sense for a sports betting celebrity to make his way to Churchill Downs on the First Saturday in May.

Mattress Mack
Gallery Furniture owner and well-known sports bettor Jim McIngvale, aka Mattress Mack, will be in Louisville Saturday, where he will bet millions on the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. The business owner and horseman shared his thoughts on how horse racing can attract more fans. (Image: Gallery Furniture)

Jim McIngvale is set to arrive here on Derby Day, and he’s already wired the money he plans to bet on racing’s biggest event. He’ll bet on the favorite, which, in all likelihood, will be undefeated champion Essential Quality.

Of course, McIngvale, better known to bettors as Mattress Mack, is more than a sports bettor. He owns the chain of Gallery Furniture store in Houston and he’s a horse owner. The latter is the reason why when McIngvale makes his big wager, he’ll do so under the Twin Spires.

By betting at the track, more of the money will go to Kentucky horseman. They’ll receive 10 percent of the wager, compared to a smaller amount had he opted to bet online through an advanced-deposit wagering (ADW) platform, like Churchill’s TwinSpires, or at another track.

“There’s nothing wrong with ADWs, but I think betting at Churchill Downs is a better opportunity for the horsemen and the ecosystem of horse racing to get the most money out of this big bet,” McIngvale told Casino.org on Friday. “It was a no-brainer for me to bet at Churchill Downs.”

In a wide-ranging interview, McIngvale shared his thoughts on his Derby bet (or bets), the state of horse racing, and sports betting. This piece will focus on his thoughts about racing. On Sunday, we’ll share his insights on the sports betting landscape.

Fixed-Odds Would Help Racing

Count McIngvale among the proponents for bringing fixed-odds betting into US racing. He said with so many people getting into sports betting, it would open the door for the sport to gain a larger audience.

Horse racing needs to figure out a way to do some fixed-odds betting,” he said. “Obviously, I would have bet differently a week ago, if I could have gotten 5-1 on Essential Quality. Fixed odd betting would be great, supplementing with pari-mutuel, because it’s really two different worlds.”

Legal wagering on horse racing in the US, with the exception of some Las Vegas sportsbooks, is done in pari-mutuel pools. That means all those who wager on the winning horse will get a share of the pool. When Mattress Mack makes his bet, which Churchill Downs officials believe will be the largest they’ve ever taken, it will significantly change the odds in the race.

Attempts have been made to get fixed-odds racing into the states. A pilot program has been in the works in New Jersey since last year. However, it has yet to get off the ground.

The inclusion of fixed-odds wagering would require several states to change or adapt their laws regarding racing. There would also need to be discussions with horsemen on how to split revenue, as the hold in fixed-odds wagers is typically much smaller compared to pari-mutuel pools.

Youth Infusion Needed, Too

In what likely goes hand-in-hand with fixed-odds betting is another issue that McIngvale would like to see addressed.

“I say about furniture stores and churches, ‘If it ain’t crying, it’s dying,’” McIngvale said. “In horse racing, it’s too many 70-year-old men like me with gray hair. We need more 20- to 30-year old kids.”

Days like Friday at Churchill Downs, where 41,472 came out on a picturesque day to watch the Kentucky Oaks, are outliers in the sport. Walk behind the grandstand near the paddock area and you’ll see young adults in sundresses and sportcoats. You’ll probably see a fair share of older high school students also on the grounds taking advantage of Louisville’s greatest school holiday.

It’s a different scene than what you would find at most other tracks.

For racing, a sport where races happen every 20 to 30 minutes, Mattress Mack tells Casino.org the sports needs to be “fun and fast” to draw in a younger crowd.

“They like fast action,” he said. “That’s what we need to provide them with, something that they can do almost instantaneously, and horse racing is a great game.

“I think more statistics would be better. More information would be better. In this age of analytics and technology, where all of these baseball teams, basketball, football teams are using analytics. I think horse racing has a tremendous number of statistics we could provide the fans with. And whatever we can do to make it a faster, more exciting game for the younger people, that’s what we need to do.”

Return of Mattress Mack Next Year?

It’s possible McIngvale may end up coming back to Churchill Downs next year, too. Though not necessarily as a bettor.

Before he comes to Louisville for the Derby, he’ll be in Lexington to watch some of his young 2-year-olds work out. They’re sired by his best horse, Runhappy.

While Runhappy was a champion sprinter, it turns out that his kids are faring well at longer distances. On Tuesday, a 3-year-old Runhappy offspring won a maiden race at a mile-and-a-quarter, the distance for the Kentucky Derby.

“They should be doing well by the fall… Runhappy’s going to end up being a great sire. I think he’ll sire both horses that are very fast and can go a mile-and-a-quarter as well,” McIngvale said.

Derby Advice: Bet Where You See Value

As for this Saturday, McIngvale said he plans on betting between $2 million and $4 million. The final amount will depend on how many mattresses his furniture business sells as part of his latest special. Customers who purchase certain mattress sets priced at $3,000 or more can get the mattress for free if the betting favorite wins the Derby.

Just as he’s done with numerous bets on the Houston Astros, Mattress Mack is using the bet as a hedging strategy to cover his losses in case the favorite crosses the wire first.


He tells Casino.org that he’s not just looking to bet to win. He thinks there will be opportunities to bet on place and show. Plus, he may get in on some exotic wagers, like exactas.

“I’m not a great handicapper, but I’ve got some great handicappers that are working with me, and we’ll be talking about that tomorrow morning,” he said.

As far as the Derby goes, he recommends that people bet their money where they see an overlay. With a 19-horse field, there will likely be several entries whose odds are higher than their perceived chance of winning.

“It’s the best race day of the year, because you’re going to get value on your bet,” he said. “This is the day you should take the blinders off and bet with both hands.”