Mattress Mack ready to place ‘Quality’ bet of $2 million-plus on Derby favorite

Jay Dieffenbach

James McIngvale, the Houston-based owner of Gallery Furniture Stores, has an essential quality to him: He makes some very large bets and shares them publicly — and he has a big one planned for the Kentucky Derby.

The man nicknamed “Mattress Mack” will be backing Essential Quality – the favorite in Saturday’s Run for the Roses – to the tune of at least $2 million via a company promotion called: “Kentucky Derby Fave Wins, You Win.”

Customers buying one of his company’s mattresses valued at more than $3,000 will get their money back if Essential Quality wins on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

McIngvale told the Thoroughbred Daily News he’ll wager at least $2 million on Essential Quality to cover the promotion – the amount could move north to about $4 million.

“In this day and age of Amazon, we bricks and mortar guys have to do something to be different, something to stand out,” McIngvale told the TDN. “When it gets closer to the race I will figure out how many mattresses we have sold, add up the total, and then I'll figure out how much to bet on the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.

“It's going to be great for the other people too because it will make the other 19 horses a better value than they would be if I hadn't made a big bet.”

McIngvale, 70, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the deal carries some value for customers.

“The favorite has won six of the last seven Kentucky Derbies run on the first Saturday in May. So the customers have an 85 percent chance of winning,” Mack said. “My dilemma as a gambler is how to feed money into the pari-mutuel pool without killing the odds.”

Multiple horse racing sources told the Review-Journal a multimillion-dollar wager on a 3-1 favorite to win the race would cause the odds to go to about 2-1.

Churchill Downs reported a record $165.5 million was bet on the 2019 Kentucky Derby. That number dropped to $79.4 million last year, when the race was moved to September and fans weren’t allowed to attend.

Mack has a rich history of sports betting

McIngvale won $2.67 million betting on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl, and the mattress magnate offered his insight on DraftKings:

“Tampa Bay is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and led by the greatest football player of all time in Tom Brady, so I’m betting big on the Bucs who have overcome tough matchups throughout this postseason. The NFL has only seen eight instances of back-to-back champions and none in the past 16 years, so I like my chances going into Super Bowl LV for this trend to continue.”

Prior to that, though, “Mack” was skidding with losses that included $13 million in bets on the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series.

Following the Super Bowl, his hometown college basketball team, the Houston Cougars, cost him another million when they failed to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

McIngvale flew from Houston to Colorado Springs, Colo., to make the bet via his DraftKings mobile app.

“It took two hours to get there and 15 minutes to place the bet. Then I got back on the plane and flew back,” McIngvale said in a Review-Journal story last month. “It was a quick turnaround trip and now I’m back here with 10 toes down and pulling for the Houston Cougars.

“Obviously, it’s college basketball and anything can happen. But I think they have as good a chance as anybody to make the Final Four. And if they make the Final Four, anything can happen.”

A great thing about McIngvale is that he’s far from a selfish self-promoter. He opened his two Gallery Furniture stores as storm shelters for Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and for February’s record storms.

On Saturday, he’ll be hosting more than 300 foster parents and children at Churchill.

“I’m a huge advocate for foster children and the people at Churchill Downs have been nice enough to work with me. I’m happy about that,” he said. “Foster children are some of the most neglected people in our society. There are thousands of kids out there that don’t have a mom and dad. We need to pay more attention to these children.”

McIngvale is no stranger to horse racing. He owns 56 thoroughbreds and his horse Runhappy won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. His wife, Linda, owns four giraffes.

“She has a giraffe habit and I have a thoroughbred habit,” he said in the Review-Journal story.

Looking ahead to Saturday, favored Essential Quality, who won the Blue Grass Stakes, is the 3-1 favorite according to Vegas Insider.

The TDN reports that the 2019 Kentucky Derby win pool (the last time the race was run on the first Saturday in May) had $41.8 million bet into it. A $2 million wager would account for approximately 5 percent of that pool, certainly lowering the odds on the favorite. For example, that year's 4-1 favorite, Improbable, had $6.9 million wagered on him to win.

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