2020 Kentucky Derby Betting Trends
Since the Kentucky Derby’s inception in 1875, the Derby has offered up a different style of race in each of the 145 editions to date. While the goal remains the same – cross the wire first – how the horses set up and what kind of trip they are going to get differs on each occasion. Last year was a wide-open race, and we had to determine which of the lightly bet favorites was the horse to trust. Maximum Security ended up winning the race at 9/2 only to be disqualified for interference in the stretch. This year, we will likely have a hot favorite in the form of Tiz the Law, and rightfully so. Tiz the Law has taken the Belmont and Travers Stakes with ease. No matter how the race sets up, the lessons we can learn from past editions of the race can be useful in helping us find a winner. Here are some Kentucky Derby betting trends that could point us in the right direction.
Before we get to the trends, let’s just remind everyone that last year’s eventual winner of the Derby – Country House – finished second and was awarded the win via DQ. That result skews the trends given the fact he was upwards of 65-1, so we are going to dismiss it.
Winning a Major Prep Race
They say practice makes perfect, and that holds true in the world of horse racing as well. For thoroughbreds, there are six major prep races in the United States that horses can use to catapult themselves into the Derby itself or up the Derby’s odds board. There are six major prep races in the United States -- the Derby in Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana and Santa Anita, the Wood Memorial and the Blue Grass. The last seven Derby winners (not including Country House) have won one of those prep races. And since 1980, we have seen 39 Derby winners, and 28 of them have won at least one prep race along the way.
This year, Tiz the Law fits the bill as the most ideal horse to continue the Prep Race winning trend as he romped in the Florida Derby in March and then again in the Travers Stakes in early August. As for the rest of the prep races, Honor A.P took home the Santa Anita Derby, while Art Collector took home the Blue Grass Stakes.
Fading the Favorite
One of the most popular Kentucky Derby trends is simply to fade the favorite. However, over the last seven years – not including last year with the DQ of Maximum Security – the favorite has won the Kentucky Derby in six straight years starting with Orb in 2013, California Chrome, American Pharaoh, Nyquist, Always Dreaming and Justify. This year, Tiz the Law will be the overwhelming favorite, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can live up to the low price tag. Prior to those six straight winners, the Derby favorite had been an afterthought, having not won in 20 straight years. If you’re the type of bettor who likes to bet favorites, Tiz the Law may be the horse for you.
Fewer than three races at three
This is another trend that has changed significantly of late and signals a clear change in approaches to this race. From 1933 to 2007, there were only six Derby winners that had run two or fewer times as a three-year-old -- since Jan. 1 of their Derby years. But since 2008, Big Brown, Animal Kingdom, Mine That Bird, Super Saver, I'll Have Another and American Pharaoh have all had two races at three. So, we have had as many exceptions since 2008 as we had had in the more than seven decades before.
Five or fewer starts
This has changed so much in recent years that we hardly need to keep talking about it anymore. But I still cling to it as an interesting-though-fading trend. Between 1933 and 2007, there were just six horses that have won the Derby while running in five or fewer races before hitting the gate at Churchill. We were led to believe that experience played a massive role in Derby success but that’s changed so much over the last 14 years. Two years ago, Justify won the Triple Crown and had run just six total races before his career was finished. He was bred for stakes glory, and his connections trusted his abilities despite being lightly raced. He had just three starts prior to winning the Derby, which is low, but other horses also have had fewer than five starts. For example, Animal Kingdom and Big Brown both had four starts under their saddle before the Derby, while Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh and Always dreaming notched five.
So, in the last 12 years, there have been five winners with five or fewer starts, after just six in the 74 prior years. The approach to training for this race has definitely changed.
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