The Kentucky Derby, America's richest sports betting race, takes place this Saturday. Readers need to get in on the action. Check out recent payouts and learn about some key trends here.
The 142nd Run for the Roses takes place this Saturday May 7, and for sports bettors and casual horseplayers, placing a wager or two on the event is a no-brainer. Value is abundant in the Kentucky Derby. A great deal of public interest, both nationally and internationally, make this America's most lucrative sports betting race with humongous pools and potentially life-changing payouts. In 2014, for example, 54 million dollars made up the mutual pot comprised of win, place, and show wagers.
Despite favorites California Chrome and American Pharoah romping in the last two events, the average payouts of the Derby’s most popular wagering types are darn right eye-popping in recent years. Below is a table showing historical returns dating back to 2000:
|Year||$2 Win||$2 Exacta||$2 Trifecta||$2 Super||$1 Pick 3||$1 Pick 4||$0.50 Pick 5||$2 Pick 6|
Picking the Winner
Many factors go into handicapping the race: speed, pace, class, breeding, jockeys, trainers, numbers, silk colors, you name it. Nonetheless, there are a few trends worth reading before you go laying down money on your sports pick.
Firstly, history tells us to fade the favorite. Factoring in takeout and the like, since 1875, if a bettor placed a $2 win bet on every post-time Derby favorite one would have netted a loss of roughly five percent.
Secondly, do not go crazy on super longshots. Although the race has seen some historic underdogs don the roses in the last decade or so (Giacomo, 2005; Mine that Bird, 2009), horses paying better than 20-1 have only won 14 times with and average payout of 34-1. Since the Derby’s inception, 83 winners (58.6%) have come home at 9-2 or less; 30 (21.4%) in between 5-1 and 10-1, and 28 (20%) at 11-1 or greater.
Also, do not underestimate recent form, and whispers of a “live” horse when considering a winner. Since 1970, 80-plus percent of Derby winners have finished 1st or 2nd in their final prep race.
Place and Show Trends
About that favorite, it is probably wise to key them in any single-race exotic wager. At your average American racetrack, he or she runs to second place or better 55 percent of the time, and up to third 69 percent. Since 1875, the favorite has finished off the board just 39 times (27%) in the Derby. This figure is a bit skewed, though, since the typical field size was much smaller in the early decades of the race. From 1880-1920, for example, the average number of starters was 7.25. Since 1980, however, fields on average are well above 17 runners. During this time, the favorite has failed to come in the money 21 times, or nearly 60 percent.
By way of Derby specialist Derek Simon: Since 1992, horses that went to post with odds greater than +1500 in their pre-Derby start have never won the race and finished in the money just three times. Essentially these are runners the public considered outsiders to compete in the Derby and a bit over-classed in the face of their peers, probably popping their career-best to edge their way into the race. Trojan Nation (50-1), Oscar Nominated (50-1) and Tom’s Ready (30-1) are on the outside looking in for a money finish.
Another interesting angle dug up by the curator of the DRF Formulator is that since 2003, horses coming out of the Wood Memorial (Aqueduct) are 0-26 finishing show or better. Although the prep race has produced 10 Derby winners overall, talent coming out of this race has dwindled since the Florida Derby pushed its date back in the mid 2000s. When the Sunshine State event raced in early March, it was common for the top runners to ship to New York to get one more prep in before the first Saturday in May; not so anymore. Shagaf (20-1), Outwork (15-1), and Trojan Nation (50-1) will have to run big to break the Wood streak.
Pace is Paramount
Speed, stamina, class, and pace should factor into handicapping any race, but the latter more so with three-year-olds, on dirt, stretching out to 1 ¼ miles for the first time in their life. Glancing over the past performances, the first thing that jumps out is the lack of speed. This is not the quickest bunch in Derby history, that is for sure, and pace will prove paramount once again.
Running styles have served a huge difference-maker in the Derby in recent years. It makes the race, right? Many trainers will opine that the speed event taking place in the first quarter to half mile of a race ultimately determines the outcome. Horses prefer a specific pace, whether on the lead, off the lead, in the middle, or closing from deep to get the most out of their abilities. Dirt route races show a bias towards horses that run up or near the front, as it is difficult to find an extra gear on the surface and to charge up enough speed late in the stretch to pass their peers. Couple this with three-year-olds asked to stretch out to almost insurmountable distances, in an overly-crowded field, with dirt thrown in their faces, and in front of 150,000 screaming fans, and it’s a miracle that any come home at all.
I like using Quirin Speed Points (QSP) to forecast the pace, which is a position rating measurement found on Brisnet Past Performances ranging from 1-8 that determines a horses' propensity to run near the lead up to the first call. If you use another form, just add up how many times a horse has run three lengths or better off the lead at the first or second call in their last three races to get a generic sense of their running style and QSP rating.
Out of the last 16 Derby’s, horses with QSP's less than three have won just two times (Orb, 2013 & Street Sense 2007). In total, only three have spoiled the exacta bet (Aptitude, 2000; Commanding Curve, 2013; Golden Soul, 2014). In fact, since 1992, those with 0 or 1 QSPs have never won the Derby and only two have finished in second place. Essentially, horses in this group are closing types that may not have as much natural speed, or possess a longer stride that inhibits their chances at staying in touch with the leaders and Derby glory. Suddenbreakingnews (20-1), Creator (20-1), Mo Tom (20-1), My Man Sam (20-1), Whitmore (20-1), Tom’s Ready (30-1) and Brody’s Cause (12-1) each enter with one or fewer QSPs.
Thoughts and Ticket
Nyquist (3-1), Exaggerator (8-1) and Gun Runner (10-1) will likely challenge for the win, and will sit atop my exacta ticket. The big X-factor in the race is Mohaymen (10-1). The colt could be all bells and whistles, but if he has his day, taking the Derby is not out of the question. His Fountain of Youth victory was impressive, but he failed to overcome fanning four-wide in the first turn of the Florida Derby and flattened to a fourth-place finish. Unable to overcome adversity, he will need the perfect trip to contend for the win, but I’ll chalk him up for second place along with the Bob Baffert-trained Mor Spirit (12-1). Exacta ticket: 5, 11, 13 / 5, 11, 13, 14, 17