2015 Kentucky Derby Betting Trends and Handicapping Advice
by Trevor Whenham - 4/22/2015
In a good year the Kentucky Derby is very tough to handicap. In years like this one, though, it’s almost impossible. Both American Pharoah and Dortmund look like they could be generational talents. To win, though, they will not only have to beat each other but also a top end field as deep and talented as we have seen in a long time. Carpe Diem would be favored any other year, and horses like International Star, Froster, Materiality, Mubtaahij, and Firing Line are far easier to like than your typical random Derby entrant.
To decode this mess we need to get creative. One outlet that could help is to look back at Kentucky Derby betting trends that have stood up over the years. Here are four trends that are interesting:
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Fewer than six career starts
This one isn’t quite as strong as it was, but it’s still worth consideration. From 1933 to 2007 we saw just three horses win the Kentucky Derby with less than six career starts heading into the race. In 2008, Big Brown won in his fourth career start. Animal Kingdom in 2011 had just four prior starts. I’ll Have Another had started five times before the Derby. Last year, though, California Chrome struck a huge victory for the traditionalists — he had started seven times alone as a two year old and was making his 11th start overall in the Derby. So, while you don’t have to rule out a horse with limited experience, the trend is still that more seasoning is better than less. The biggest concern on this front is Materiality — the Florida Derby winner has made just three starts. Itsaknockout had had just four. Favorites American Pharoah and Carpe Diem headline a long list of potential runners that have just five starts — Firing Line, Danzig Moon, War Story, Tencendur, Stanford, Ocho Ocho Ocho, and Bolo.
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 pull it off. The best results have been that three horses have finished second without a start at two (remember, horses all have a birthday on Jan, 1 regardless of when they were born, so we are talking about horses in this case that did not run in 2014). Horses without that key two year old start lack the base of conditioning of more seasoned runners. They haven’t seen as much adversity, so haven’t learned to overcome it — and mountains of adversity is all but given in the Derby. There also could be good reasons why they didn’t run at two — immaturity, injury, poor training, and so on. This year just one horse is taking n this curse head on — Materiality debuted on Jan. 11. It’s no coincidence that he is also the least experienced runner in the field. You can bet against the Curse if you want, but I won’t be joining you this year.
Fewer than three races as a three year old
This trend is kind of all over the place right now, but it is still interesting. From 1933 to 2007 only six horses won the Derby after just two starts (or fewer) as a three year old. In 2008, though, we saw a remarkable five-year streak of less-experienced winners — Big Brown, Mine That Bird, Super Saver, Animal Kingdom and I’ll Have Another all had two races at three before the Derby. But then Orb and California Chrome went back to the previous norm. So what does this trend mean now? Your guess is as good as mine. It will be a consideration this year, though — American Pharoah, Carpe Diem, Itsaknockout, Firing Line, Ocho Ocho Ocho and Bolo have all only run twice this calendar year.
No prep race win
Not surprisingly, the stories this year like in most years center around the winner of the biggest prep races. American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby. Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund. Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass. Materiality from the Florida Derby. Frosted from the Wood Memorial. International Star out of the Louisiana Derby. Since 1980, though, we have seen 11 winners that not only didn’t win one of those key preps but which didn’t win a single graded stakes race as a three year old leading up to the Derby. These are slower-developing horses that could be peaking at the right time, and 11 is a significant number of them — enough to be on the lookout for others. This year, Itsaknockout, Danzig Moon, War Story, Tencendur, Stanford, Mr. Z, Ocho Ocho Ocho, and potential entrants Madefromlucky and Keen Ice will all be looking to break their graded stakes slump for the year (or longer in several cases) in the biggest of races.
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