The Kentucky Derby is my favorite thing to bet on each year - and it's not even close. That's not a rational decision by any means - there are few events as tough to handicap effectively as this one. Horses are being asked to run further than they ever have before, and they have to do it in a ridiculously full field in front of 160,000 screaming people drunk on mint juleps. These horses come from all over the country, and few have seen each other before this race.
Trying to objectively look at all the evidence and peer into the future to find a winner is a massive task. The Derby is so fun to bet on because of the mystique and tradition of it all, and it is attractive in part because it is so hard to handicap. It's the ultimate challenge. The challenge can become just a little bit easier, though, if you keep these five Kentucky Derby betting tips in mind:
This is likely going to be a race in which one horse draws a lot of betting attention. Nyquist will be favored and will quite likely have odds well below the rest of the field. We should then see a cluster of horses at similar odds well behind him. In this race, though, it's always important to look beyond the most obvious horses when making your betting decisions. We have seen the favorites win two years in a row, but that isn't always the case. This year there are questions about Nyquist's ability to handle the distance, and there a whole lot of horses that seem to, on their best day, be good enough to pull this thing off against this field. With 20 horses and a strong favorite, we are likely to see some pretty fat prices on a lot of horses. That means that we can afford to go pretty deep in our selections and still come out with a profit.
It's all about risk and reward
You have to look at bets in the Derby - and any other time you are betting on sports, for that matter - with an investor's mindset. It doesn't matter what the odds are - those are just numbers. What matters is what you deem the chances are of that horse to win the race and whether the odds, the potential reward, is higher than the risk involved. If it is, it's a good bet, and if it isn't then over the long term it would be a losing proposition. In the eyes of oddsmakers and the betting public a horse at 5/1 is much more likely to win the Derby than a horse at 30/1. That doesn't mean, though, that the 5/1 horse is automatically a better bet than the 30/1 horse. More reward than risk is the definition of value, and the tireless search for maximum value is what we are all about here. The public flocks to the easy storylines and flashy horses. That means that a horse that is at 5/1 should often be at 10/1 or more. That is not value.
Use trends carefully
You will hear all sorts of trends thrown out about this race. Heck, I've written about plenty of them already leading up to this race, and it's still days away. There is no end to the number of trends you can come up with about a field this big, though. And most of them are completely meaningless. In most cases the sample size is too small or the trend isn't actually relevant to the outcome - or at least it doesn't directly impact the outcome. Before you trust any trend to guide you to a winner step back and give it a logic test. Will it actually help you, or does it just sound good?
Pace is crucial
The old saying that pace makes the race is always true, but it's never more so than in the Derby. How fast the race goes early on and where contenders are expected to be in the early stages of the race is crucially important. This year, for example, there is a fair bit of early speed that should make things somewhat swift early on, and there are about a thousand deep closers who will be looking to benefit from that early speed - and which are very likely to get in each other's way. Whenever you consider betting a particular horse you need to look at where they are likely to be and if they are likely to be able to run the race that they need to run to have their best day.
Don't get worked up
This race is hard. Really hard. You are much more likely to lose money betting on it than you are to make money. Even if the winner is predictable, it's very likely that the trifecta or the superfecta will be a head scratcher. It's also just one horse race. People who well betting on the ponies lose far more races than they win, but things work out over the long term. Don't approach the Derby as if winning is crucially important or that you will somehow have failed if you don't make money. It's a crazy, challenging event that needs to be savored and enjoyed. Leaving the stressing and focus on profit for other days.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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