2021 Kentucky Derby Betting Trends
Horse racing is a weird sport to bet on. The avid horseplayer will spend his life crafting his skills and developing strategies only to come up short on the majority of the races he wagers on. He’ll look at things like pedigree, speed, pace, prep, track surface, distance, and everything in between. He’ll know the difference between a colt, filly, mare, and gelding. He’ll know the jockeys, the trainers, the horses’ run styles and all the angles associated with horse racing like first time starters, or horses dropping down in class off a layoff. He’ll know it all.
The average person who goes to the track twice a season will bet based on the horse’s name, the color of the saddle cloth, or just pick a random number for each race and may have a bit more luck on the day than the guy above. That person will likely have a bit more fun, too.
This brings me to my next point. The Kentucky Derby brings out the horse racing fans from the woodworks. Everyone and their mother is a horse racing expert for this weekend only, but the reality of the matter is that only one horse will reign supreme on Derby Day. I’d say more than half of the people wagering won’t nail a winner.
This year, we will likely have a hot favorite in the form of Essential Quality, and rightfully so. Essential Quality is unbeaten in his career and will be looking to be just the 10th horse in history to exit the Derby with an unbeaten record still intact. 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.
There are a total of seven colors in the horse racing industry that The Jockey Club recognizes, and they are Bay, Chestnut, Dark Bay/Brown, Gray/Roan, Black, White and Palomino. In 146 editions of the Kentucky Derby, 70 percent of the horses that won fall under the Bay or Chestnut color. To take it a step further, 55 have been Bay, while 48 have been Chestnut. Last year’s winner, Authentic, was a Bay colt, and Country House in 2019 was a Chestnut. Obviously, there will be more than one horse listed as Bay or Chestnut, but perhaps you could eliminate all other colors and take a look at these two specific-colored horses more in-depth.
Prep Race Perfection
Most avid horse racing fans swear by prep races. I mean, why wouldn’t they? Prep races are just like practice for horses, and they gives owners, trainers and jockeys a chance to iron out any kinks and figure out a way to have the horse peak on Derby weekend. In the United States, there are six major prep races -- the Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby, Louisiana Derby and Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial and the Blue Grass. Seven of the last eight Derby winners (not including Country House – who was placed first after Maximum Security was DQ’ed in 2019) have won one of those prep races. And since 1980, we have seen 40 Derby winners, and 28 of them have won at least one prep race along the way. Last year, Authentic won the Derby after finishing second in the Santa Anita Derby but winning the Haskell Stakes right before the Kentucky Derby.
This year, Essential Quality fits the bill as the most ideal horse to continue the Prep Race winning trend as he romped in the Blue Grass Stakes in early April after winning the Southwest Stakes in late February. As for the rest of the prep races, Known Agenda took home the honors in the Florida Derby, Rock your World won the Santa Anita Derby, and Bourbonic won the Wood Memorial.
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.
Fading the Favorite
If there is one thing I’ve learned betting on horse racing over my time is that you’re not going to get rich by betting favorites. That concept holds true in an optional claiming race for $12,000, a major prep race, or at the Kentucky Derby. One of the most popular Kentucky Derby trends is simply to fade the favorite. However, over the last eight years – not including 2019 with the DQ of Maximum Security – the favorite has won the Kentucky Derby in six of the last seven years with Orb in 2013, California Chrome, American Pharaoh, Nyquist, Always Dreaming and Justify. Authentic broke that trend in 2020 when he romped home at 8/1. This year, Essential Quality will likely be the post-time 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, Essential Quality may be the horse for you.
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