‘Mattress Mack’ to place biggest bet in Kentucky Derby history

Mattress Mack is going back to the track.

After losing $2.4 million on Essential Quality last year on what is believed to be the biggest win bet in Kentucky Derby history, Houston furniture store owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale plans to up the ante at Saturday’s Triple Crown race at Churchill Downs.

“I will be there, and I will be betting with both hands,” said Mack, 71. “I’ll be betting probably between $2½ (million) and $3 million on the favorite.”

The wager will be Mack’s latest in a series of multimillion-dollar hedge bets to reduce risk on furniture promotions. In this case, customers will receive refunds on purchases of $3,000 or more if the favorite wins the Kentucky Derby.

But before Mack makes his bets, he has to determine which horse will go off as the favorite. That might not be an easy task, as it appears to be a two-horse race between Zandon, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, and Epicenter, the +350 second choice.

“It’ll be interesting to see on Saturday afternoon, about two or three hours before the race, where they’re at,” he said. “If one comes out as the clear-cut favorite, I’ll bet on him. If not, I might have to bet a little bit on both of them.

“If they look like they’re going to be very close at the end, I’m sure by a minute or two before post, I can make a big bet and influence who the favorite is. I moved it last year, so we’ll see.”

Mack said he also plans to bet $300,000 to $400,000 on Smile Happy. The horse is the son of Runhappy, the 2015 champion sprinter owned by Mack.

Smile Happy, 20-1 on the morning-line odds, finished second to Zandon in April’s Blue Grass Stakes.

“So if he can improve a little bit, he’ll be right there,” Mack said. “And he’s in the No. 5 spot, which has had more winners than any spot.

“My ideal situation Saturday will be a dead heat between Smile Happy and the favorite.”

Gallery Furniture recently hosted a refund party for Mack’s customers who cashed in on an NCAA Tournament promotion when Kansas beat North Carolina in the championship game. Jayhawks coach Bill Self attended the event, where one customer had $68,000 in purchases refunded.

Mack won a net $11.2 million in hedge bets on March Madness to snap a losing streak that saw him drop more than $25 million since the 2021 Super Bowl.

“When Kansas won, that was a $14 million win for the customers, so that was great,” he said. “I broke my long losing streak. Now, hopefully, I’m on a winning streak.”

The Backside Learning Center will be a big winner on the race regardless of who wins. If Smile Happy or the favorite wins, Mack will donate $200,000 to the nonprofit organization located on the backside of Churchill Downs that provides support and resources to racetrack workers.

Smile Happy’s owners at Lucky Seven Stable will donate an additional $200,000 if the horse wins. If any other horse wins, horse owner “Bourbon Brook” Smith will donate $200,000 to the BLC.

“The Backside has helped so many people that put their heart and soul into the horse racing business,” said Mack, who has been in the business since 1995 and owns about 50 horses.

“In the racehorse business, you’ve got to wear iron pants, because there’s a lot of ups and downs and a lot of knockdowns. It’s taught me quite a bit of resilience, and having Runhappy made it all worth it.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at [email protected]. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.


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