Kentucky Derby Betting Tips
by Trevor Whenham - 03/30/2007
The Kentucky Derby won't be here for several weeks, but I'm already dreaming of cashing a big ticket, and I'm sure I'm not alone in those thoughts. In my mind nothing is more exciting than the Derby, and the lead up and anticipation is almost too much to take. It's way too early to do any serious handicapping because we won't have a good idea of the field for several weeks. What we can do, though, is put some thought into our methodology so that we're ready to make a logical pick when the time comes. Here, then, are seven tips and thoughts that you can let bounce around your mind until the real handicapping can begin:
Speed - The Derby clearly is not a speed race. Time and again we've seen the danger of a horse trying to get to the lead in the race and stay there. Despite that, there is an important handicapping element to speed. You will want to make sure that your chosen horse has a Beyer Speed Figure of at least 100 at some point prior to the Derby. A horse that has eclipsed the century has won 19 of the last 21 races. It's not impossible for a horse to win without a 100 on their record, but it certainly doesn't make sense to bet that one will.
Jockey - Though any jockey can win the race, as Stewart Elliott proved with Smarty Jones, chances are very good that the winner is going to be a prominent name. There are a few reasons for this. First, the top jockeys have the best reputations, so they have the choice of the best mounts. As importantly, the more experienced and successful jockeys will be better able to handle the pressure and chaos that Derby week presents. The Derby is like nothing else, and if you haven't been through it several times then you probably aren't ready for it. It makes sense, then, to pick a horse with a veteran on his back.
Workouts - This gets difficult. On one hand, you don't want to spend too much time worrying about the workouts a horse has because trainers will be playing all sorts of mind games as they prepare, so you can never know for sure how much effort is being given in a workout. On the other hand, about two thirds of Derby winners have a bullet work somewhere on their record, and almost three quarters of horses have a fast breeze close to the Derby. That means that you pretty much have to look at workouts, but you don't want to get bogged down by them.
Breeding - Here's a shocking statement - there's a pretty good chance that the Derby winner will be well bred. These horses are equine royalty, so little can be gained by the casual fan from looking at the pedigrees. What you should check, though, is that the horse has the breeding to survive the race. The most common way of doing this is the dosage - a complicated numerical calculation. If the dosage is below 4.00 then the horse should be fine. You can spend much more time than that on the pedigree, but unless you really love doing it it's probably a waste of time.
Prep races - The races run to get ready for the Derby are important, but you have to make sure that you don't pay too much attention to them. A horse that wins the Santa Anita Derby or the Wood Memorial or another major race are not necessarily destined for a huge performance, or even worthy of much attention. Often a horse doesn't even win his last prep. What you want to see in the races is improvement, ability to handle adversity and some display of class and form. A horse can show those things in a win, or it can show them in a fourth-place finish. You can learn about a race from the past performances, or you can use the miracle of Youtube to watch most of the preps that you missed.
Exotics - If you aren't thinking about betting exotics you probably should. With a field that is likely to contain 20 horses, the exotics are certain to have huge payouts. You can get returns on exactas, for example, that are often bigger than most triactors on a normal day. Spending the time and the money to buy some exotic combinations can often pay off handsomely.
Don't over-think it - The Kentucky Derby is pretty much the biggest crapshoot there is, and if you don't believe that then you are kidding yourself. You are dealing with 20 horses. All of them are running a new distance for the first time. All of them are in front of more people than they have ever seen before. None of them are fully grown. Very few of them, if any, are running at their home track. Several will have a new jockey. In other words, there is no way to get a true comparison of past performances to predict what will happen. Betting the Derby isn't about making a sound investment. It's about being a part of a spectacle, having a shot at a very solid payout and, most importantly, trying to get some bragging rights that will last at least a year. Don't take yourself too seriously.