2014 Kentucky Derby Betting Trends
by Trevor Whenham - 4/21/2014
The Kentucky Derby is very difficult to handicap, and this year's edition is shaping up to be much harder than usual. As we desperately seek the insights that will lead us to a winner, here is a look at some key 2014 Kentucky Derby trends that might help:
Fewer than six career starts
This trend isn't nearly as dominant as it once was, but there is still a bit of life left in it. From 1933 to 2007 we only saw three horses that had run less than six times prior to the Derby wear the roses, and all three had five starts to their credit.
Since then, though, we have seen a shift.
In 2008 Big Brown won the Derby in just his fourth career start. Animal Kingdom had only started four times prior to his 2011 win. The next year I'll Have Another won his sixth career start in the Derby. Last year, though, Orb struck one for tradition. Seven horses in the field had fewer than six starts, but Orb and his seven career starts before the Derby came out on top.
This year, the expected field will again have plenty of starters with limited racing experience. Vicar's in Trouble, Hoppertunity, General a Rod, Uncle Sigh and Vinceremos have all had five starts to this point, and Danza and Chitu have only had four - though Chitu could have another in the Derby Trial before the Derby, and his inclusion in the big field seems less and less likely. If there are enough defections, then Bayern could make the starting gate and try to do what Big Brown did and win in just his fourth outing.
The Curse of Apollo
This is one of the most amazingly dominant trends in sports. In 1882 Apollo won the Kentucky Derby. He had not run any races as a two year old. Since then we have seen 58 horses try to duplicate the feat, but none have been able to do it. In 1948, 1994 and 2011 - Bodemeister - we have seen horses finish second without racing at two, but none have worn roses.
All racehorses have their birthday on Jan. 1 regardless of when they were actually born, so this means that if a horse has not run at least once in the calendar year before his Kentucky Derby start then they have not won in 132 years. You just don't see consistency in a trend like that.
There are all sorts of reasons why this could be the case. Horses need to race to learn how to overcome adversity, so without races at a young age they lack the depth of experiences and the maturity that comes with it. Fitness gained from racing is unlike anything that comes from training, too, so more experienced horses have a deeper base of fitness to draw on.
If a horse hasn't started at two then there is also a reason that held them back - maturity issues, a physical limitation, training complications, and so forth - and they may not have yet had the time to overcome those.
Whatever the reason, only Hoppertunity is certain to be in the gate without a race at two. He has made five career starts, and he didn't debut until Jan. 4 at Santa Anita. He finished fifth in that race, well behind the winner and potential Derby entrant if there are enough defections, Bayern. That horse was also making his career debut that day, and he has raced only twice since.
Fewer than three races as a three year old
Here is another trend that is fading fast but refuses to die completely. From 1937 to 2007 only six Derby winners had run fewer than three times as a three year old. Starting in 2008, though, we saw a five-year streak of horses with two three year old starts before their Derby victory - Big Brown, Mine That Bird, Super Saver, Animal Kingdom, and I'll Have Another. Orb restored order a bit last year, though, as he was making his fourth start of the year in the Derby. This year there are four potential starters that will be looking to win it with two starts on the year - Danza, Chitu, Candy Boy and Commanding Curve.
No prep race win
Every year leading up to the Derby we always focus most heavily on the winners of the big prep races. This year is no exception as we look at Santa Anita Derby winner California Chrome, Wood Memorial champ Wicked Strong, Arkansas Derby winner Danza, Louisiana derby victor Vicar's in Trouble, and Dance With Fate out of the Blue Grass as top contenders.
Since 1980, though, we have seen 11 horses make the Kentucky Derby their first graded stakes win of the year. That's almost a third of all winners, so previous graded stakes success is clearly not a precursor for Derby success. This year we have seven potential entrants that have not won a stakes race yet this year - Ride on Curlin, General a Rod, Uncle Sigh, Harry's Holiday, Commanding Curve, Pablo Del Monte, and Bayern.
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