Betting Early Kentucky Derby Futures Now vs. Waiting for Race Day
The field is tentatively set for the Kentucky Derby. Entries aren't in, and things could still change with a defection, but at this point it feels like we have a strong sense of which 20 horses are going to get into the gate and dash for the roses. But there is a lot of ground to travel between now and when the gates open on the first Saturday in May. A good portion of the field isn't even in Kentucky yet. It will be a long while until we see the morning line odds, never mind when we get to bet on them. But that doesn't mean that we can't think about getting some early action. With some sound Kentucky Derby futures betting strategy and advice, we can tackle the futures odds that online sportsbooks offer and perhaps find sound ways to inflate our bottom line. Here are four factors to keep in mind if you decide to look at futures betting on the Derby:
Look beyond the short term: It can be too easy when we are thinking about which horses we like in the Derby to only consider their most recent performances. Horses that won their last prep race tend to get overvalued, and ones that didn't have a great outing might not get the respect they deserve. It is important to remember, though, that while the last prep race is probably the most important, it doesn't always tell the whole story. As an extreme example, in 2009 Mine That Bird finished a disinterested fourth in a lower-tier prep race right before he won the Derby. I'm not suggesting that the Derby winner won't be one of the major prep race winners. But you need to make sure that you don't have tunnel vision, limiting yourself to only the horses that made the biggest recent splash.
Only bet if there is value: When you are betting on horse races in general, and when betting futures in particular, you need to make sure that your focus is in the right place. The job of a handicapper isn't to figure out the most likely winner. They are trying to find the bets that make the most sense. Look at last year, for example. It didn't take a sharp mind with a grasp of rocket science to know that Justify was the most likely winner. He had been dominant. But after his Santa Anita Derby win, he was at +225 in futures betting. That's a low price, and in a 20-horse field it was very unlikely that he was going to be significantly lower than that at post time. By betting futures, you were accepting the extra risk of time - that something could happen between when you place the bet and post time - and you aren't getting rewarded for it. That bet wouldn't make sense, and it wouldn't have been a good bet to make - even though it paid off in the end. You have to make sure that any future bets that you make are likely to be solidly more attractively priced than what you can get later, and that they reflect a return that is significantly better than the amount of risk you associate with the bet.
Only bet futures if shape race isn't important: There are some circumstances where you don't care where horses wind up in the gate because it won't change your opinion of the race. In 2015 the two Bob Baffert horses - American Pharoah and Dortmund - were, in my mind, so much better than the rest of the field that I wasn't worried about how they lined up in the gate. One of them was going to win - though, to be honest, I favored the wrong one - and I could look at the futures with that opinion in mind. Other years, though, where horses line up really matters. This year, for example, Maximum Security is really going to be looking for the early lead, and he probably needs it if he is going to be a factor. It would be much tougher for him to get that lead if he drew the Nos. 1 or 20 slots in the gate than if he was somewhere in the middle. And it will be easier for him to get that lead without exerting too much effort if he isn't beside one of the other horses that flashes early speed - like Omaha Beach . So, Maximum Security is a horse that is going to be quite dependent on the draw for his chances, which makes it tough to bet him accurately with futures unless the price is really out of whack. Similarly, horses like Win Win Win or Haikal are only going to win the race if they can make a big move from the clouds late in the race. They aren't that dependent on their own draw, then - you can find the back of the race from any starting point. But they are very dependent on how things set up in front, because closers need a fast early pace to give them something to chase.
Shop around: It is actually quite amazing how different the futures prices can be for different horses at different books - especially a few weeks before the Derby. These numbers aren't particularly heavily bet, so they aren't changed in reaction to news or betting action nearly as aggressively as, say, Super Bowl futures are. Once you decide which horse you like, then, it is very much worthwhile to look around at a few of our recommended books to find the price that works best for you. The difference between, say +2300 and +2500 doesn't seem like too much - until you are counting your profits at the end of the day.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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