(Photo: James McIngvale at Claiborne Farm with his stallion and 2015 champion sprinter Runhappy. Courtesy Gallery Furniture)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Thursday, April 29, 2021) — James McIngvale, the colorful Houston furniture magnate and horse owner known as Mattress Mack, will make the largest wager in Kentucky Derby history Saturday on unbeaten favorite Essential Quality — and he’s betting the $2 million or more at Churchill Downs in order to maximize the money that goes toward horsemen’s purses.
McIngvale is famous for tying major sporting events into marketing promotions at his Gallery Furniture mega-stores. Customers who spend $3,000 or more on certain mattresses and bed sets in a given time frame get their money back (or 150 percent of what they spent in in-store credit) if the promotion’s featured team — or in this case, horse — wins.
Also making headlines are the millions McIngvale has wagered to hedge his bet against giving away so many mattresses. Mack has bet through casinos to cover previous promotions on the World Series and Super Bowl, locking into fixed odds. However, he’s making a point to put his money on Essential Quality through the Churchill Downs mutuel windows, where horsemen receive the biggest cut for purses.
McIngvale has a large racing operation best known for 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award champion sprinter Runhappy, now a stallion at Claiborne Farm. While no individual has been more heavily involved in horse-racing sponsorships than McIngvale, he said this is the first time he’s used the outcome of a horse race as a Gallery Furniture marketing ventures.
“This is the first horse-racing event I’ve been able to use as a promotion,” said McIngvale. “The people at Churchill Downs have been great working with me on using their trademarks and this and that. Of course, I’ve been receiving calls from across the country, legal bookmakers wanting me to bet with them, people in some states where they don’t contribute much if anything to the (betting) pool. Their pitch is that $2 million won’t effect the pool, but you’ll get the same odds as you would at Churchill.
“Well, I don’t want to do that, because I’m a horseman. I know what pays those purses is the handle. So all the money I’m betting will be at Churchill Downs. Let’s face it, Churchill Downs has to make some money, too, to put on the show. So it’s good for Churchill, which is a tremendous track and promoter of horse racing, but most of all it’s good for the owners, trainers, jockeys, the backstretch workers who put their life into the game. I didn’t want to bet someplace else or offshore. I wanted to go where the track’s dollars were maximized and the horse owners’ dollars were maximized to support the ecosystem of the entire game.”
Churchill Downs’ purse account — which funds the money for which owners’ racehorses compete at any given track — receives approximately 10 percent of all on-track wagering. So $2 million bet on Essential Quality will reap about $200,000 for purses. The amount would be half or far less if the money were wagered off track through simulcasting, online or at a casino.
McIngvale said he’s already wired the funds to Churchill Downs and plans to spend the day at the track.
“I haven’t decided how much I’m going to bet. It depends on how many mattresses we sell,” he said. “But it will be at least $2 million. I have to figure whether to bet it all at once, or bet $500,000 three or four different times. How to structure it, whether I want to bet any exactas or just win bets or any place and show bets. I’ve got a lot of people advising me. I’m just worried about Essential Quality. I hope he wins. He’s a deserving. It should be a great event. I’m just glad that whatever money I’m betting will go mainly to the horsemen and Churchill Downs, where it deserves to go.”
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association, applauded McIngvale’s move to bet on track.
“When people see these monstrous numbers in total handle wagered on a track’s card, they think the horsemen get a tremendous split from all of that,” Maline said. “But there’s a huge difference between $100 bet on a racetrack and $100 bet off-track as far as what goes to purses. I certainly don’t want to denigrate the ADWs (online betting platforms), because that’s broadened the market and allowed people to bet who otherwise couldn’t. But a bet at the track contributes far more to purses than anywhere else it might be placed. Good for Mattress Mack.”
McIngvale, a philanthropist who sheltered storm victims in his furniture showrooms in the wake of Houston’s 2019 flooding, also collaborated with Churchill Downs to bring about 300 foster-care parents, alumni and social-service workers to Saturday’s Derby.