The 144th Kentucky Derby—your annual Run for the Roses (or Ro$e$)—unfurls May 5 with its sartorial grandeur, betting prophecies and hunches. The world’s largest individual race at fabled Churchill Downs will likely generate nearly $150 million simulcast revenue in the United States, perhaps $35 million on track and millions more around the world.
It’s great value for the bettor, so let’s examine some trends and tips to help you take a stab at the cash:
- The winning horse can, but usually won’t, come from far off the pace. Recent Derby qualifying rules eliminated sprint races as qualifiers for the big event. As a result, few quality horses get caught in the wicked speed duels that enabled long shots to run them down late.
- The win line may indicate whether the prop bets, like exactas, trifectas or superfectas, will pay much. If the winning horse is a short price, say 5-2 or below, those bet totals won’t be staggering because most of the public will have that horse. But, a good long shot underneath the favorite is always worth taking. When 5-2 favorite Nyquist won the 2016 Derby, popular choices Exaggerator, Gun Runner and Mohaymen completed the top four. The $1 superfecta paid only $542. But, when favored Always Dreaming, at 9-2, captured the 2017 Derby, long shots Battle of Midway, Lookin at Lee and co-favorite Classic Empire rounded out the top four. The $1 superfecta? How about $75,974?
- That phenomenal ticket featured two long shots that could have been considered. Battle of Midway and Lookin at Lee both had wins on sloppy tracks, and the Derby was run on one. Yet, in the 20-horse field, they were overlooked and went off at more than 30-1.
- Prep races often produce the Derby winner. Say hello to Justify, Magnum Moon, Good Magic, Vino Rosso, Audible and Mendelssohn, among others. Some of these may end up being a long price because of the big field. Bolt D’Oro ran a strong second to Justify in the preps and may be an exacta consideration with him.
- Assess your variables. Mendelssohn obtained European hype after an 18-length win in the UAE Derby at Dubai. Positive sign? He looked great and ran 1 3-16 miles, the closest distance to the 1 1-4 mile Kentucky Derby. The negative? No UAE winner has placed in the money at the Kentucky Derby. Is this the year?
- Lose the Curse. Ever hear of the Apollo Curse? It holds that no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby (which is for 3-year-olds) after not running as a 2-year-old. The last to do that was Apollo in 1882. Well, horses run less than they used to and the experience gap means less. There will be horses in here who haven’t run as 2-year-olds, like expected favorite Justify. If you like them, fuh-get-about the curse.
- Track conditions. Watch races from the day before and early on Derby Day. Is it playing fast? Has it rained? If so, respect horses that have run in it.
- Don’t get shut out. Wherever you play, the betting is frantic. Try to place at least some wagers 10 minutes out and if you want to make a late stab, take your chances.
- Beyer Speed Figures. They are in bold in the Racing Form and appear next to the horse’s past race performance. Anything over 100 deserves your respect.
- Don’t put all the eggs in one basket. A horse can break badly or be stuck in traffic. Give yourself options and put at least a couple bucks on a long shot. Good luck!