As I see it, the first Saturday in May is the reason betting was invented. There is nothing I like to bet on more than the Kentucky Derby. That means I'm not very smart, because it is also one of the toughest things to bet on most years. Horses have to run further than they have ever run before and further than many of them are really bred to run. They have to do that in front of 160,000 crazed, drunken fans, and on a track packed with a silly number of other raw and nervous horses. Picking the winner involves equal parts of figuring out which horse is the most talented and best bred, which is the most fit and in form, and which one is going to endure the inevitable hardships they will face during the race and have the luck that winning requires. It's a massive challenge - one that is a little more manageable if you keep these five Kentucky Derby betting tips in mind:
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This advice fits every year but is never more appropriate than this year. Casual bettors get hung up on the favorites, but you need to look beyond them into the middle of the pack and beyond. Mine That Bird won at truly massive odds in 2009, but a lot of others in recent years have crossed the line first without being among the favorites. This year it's particularly important because the favorites are loaded with questions, and the field of viable contenders runs at least 17 horses deep . This is a ridiculously wide-open year, so if you only go with a small number of horses - especially on the bigger exotic bets like the superfecta - then you are just sabotaging yourself. The good news is that a field this wide-open should produce payoffs strong enough to justify betting more horses than you might in a less foggy year.
Balance risk and reward
This is really just the definition of sports betting in general, but it is especially important in a race with the potential to confuse that this one has. A low payoff is not a problem if the chances of getting that payoff are high. No one complained about the price they got on American Pharoah in the Preakness, for example. The price was low, but it still represented value. On the other hand, it doesn't matter how high a price is for some horses - it still wouldn't be worth betting. You could give me 200/1 on Fast and Accurate this year, for example, and I wouldn't be tempted to bet even a dollar. With a race this challenging you have to make sure that you are making bets that make sense in terms of value, and you have to accept that it doesn't mean you have made a bad bet if you lose - or that you made a good bet because you won.
Be careful with the trends
There are no shortage of trends about the Derby. Every single aspect of the race can be broken down and evaluated in a million different ways - and someone will do it. The problem, though, is that you can find a trend to justify any opinion if you want to or to eliminate any horse. There is some value in trends - it's significant that no horse since 1882 has won the Derby without running as a two year old, for example - but a lot of trends have a problem. Horses can only run in the Derby once, so each year is an entirely different group of horses. That means that a lot of trends aren't as relevant as, for example, in baseball where the same teams with the same core players play each other many times a year, every year.
Pace, pace, pace
The pace is important in every race, but especially so here because of the distance, the number of horses, their inexperience with the distance, and the crowd. It is very easy for horses to burn their match too early and have nothing left for the stretch drive. In handicapping this race, then, you need to pay extra attention to where you expect horses to be in the early portions of the race and how many horses will be looking to run a similar race. If there are a lot of horses that want to be on the lead, for example, then it's easier for them to run each other into the ground. That's a problem for them but a boon for the closers. On the other hand, an absence of strong early pace would be a problem for the closers but a big advantage for those that like to press the early pace. A horse isn't going to be able to win this race if they aren't able to run their race, so the single best thing you can do as a bettor is try to convince yourself that a horse will or won't be able to.
Chill the F*#% out
Betting is something that should be fun. Betting on something as historic and crazy as the Derby has to be fun or there is no point in doing it. You have to accept that you are more likely to lose than win, and that the bigger the payoff that you are aiming for the lower your chances of success.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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