The Kentucky Derby

Sidney’s Candy, Sidney’s Candy derby, Sidney’s Candy workout
Charlie Riedel/AP
Sidney’s Candy

How to Bet the Kentucky Derby: Picking the Winner

April 30, 2010
by Mark E. Moran
This Saturday, the eyes of the sporting world turn to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Whether you’re pursuing a windfall at the track, going after the office pool or planning to be the guy in the know at the neighborhood party, there are steps you can take to maximize your chances of picking the Derby winner.

Consult the Racing Experts

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Twenty 3-year-olds will break from the starting gate Saturday in the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby. Post time for the Kentucky Derby is 6:24 p.m. EDT. It will be televised nationally by NBC.

With an evenly matched field, a lot of solid contenders, and the two expected favorites drawing bad post positions, selecting a winner this year will be harder than usual.

Basic information about each contender is available on the official site of the Kentucky Derby. It lists the entrants, and provides information about recent races, including video replays, plus information on the pedigree of each horse, and the owners, trainers and jockeys.

The Daily Racing Form’s Kentucky Derby section includes news stories and analysis from its racing experts. If you are serious about your selection process, you must read the Racing Form's free "Past Performances" which provide crucial details on every race each horse has run. Though they appear daunting at first, a free tutorial is available that will have you reading them like a pro in no time.

There are hundreds of other Web sites and blogs that contain useful information. A good way to make sense of it all is to visit Equidaily, which is the single best source of horse racing news on the Internet. Publisher Seth Morrow scours the Web to find links to the most insightful articles about horse racing, and to expert Derby selections from all over the Web.

Below, we suggest several criteria for you to consider when analyzing the race, and offer one man's analysis of who might win the race.

What to Look for in a Horse

As you read and consider the experts’ opinions, many of the same important factors will come up again and again. Here are some key points to consider.
How well the horse finishes. Review the videos of each horse’s last race. Was he running strongly and in a straight path at the end of the race, even if he did not win? Or was he weaving in the stretch and looking leg weary? The Derby is longer than any of the prep races for it, and a horse must finish strongly to win it.

Analysis: Of today's entrants, the ones who have finished the strongest in recent races are Ice Box, Stately Victor, American Lion, Devil May Care, Mission Impazible, and Sidney's Candy.

The company they keep.
Many horseplayers like to ask, “who’d he beat,” when assessing the quality of a horse's prep race. 

Analysis: Many of these horses have traveled extensively and raced each other often. The only ones whose competition in their wins is questionable are Ice Box, Stately Victor, American Lion, and Devil May Care.

Running style. Horses with good tactical speed and the ability to stalk tend to do better than horses who charge to the lead or come from way behind late in the race.

Analysis: The classic “stalker" may be in trouble this year, as many of the top contenders tend to go for the lead or at least stalk the pace, perhaps setting the race up for a closer like 50-1 shots Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009. But the expected muddy surface may strengthen the stalkers’ chances. Noble’s Promise, Devil May Care, Jackson Bend, Mission Impazible and Discreetly Mine have all tended to stalk; usual frontrunners such as Super Saver and American Lion are likely to pull back a bit.

Morning workouts.
If a horse has good morning workouts at Churchill Downs this week, it suggests both that he is in good form and likes the racing surface.

Analysis: Daily Racing Form clocker Mike Welsch issued his final report today. Important notes include:

Super Saver “trained as well as anyone here on a daily basis for the last 10 days and obviously loves this strip … and everything I've seen suggests he's ready for a peak performance in the third start of his form cycle.”

American Lion “couldn't have looked any better on a regular basis.”

Longshot Paddy O’Prado was “machine-like in his efficiency during routine morning gallops, chugging along with the look of a horse who can run all day. His final Derby prep may have been the most impressive of any I saw last week.”

Devil May Care “trained as well as anybody when sent out with blinkers during her first several local sessions.”

Mission Impazible “gives the notion he's sitting on his best yet.”

On the down side, Welsch reported that “Line of David … had the misfortune of catching a wet track for his final Derby work, and it was obvious he wanted no part of the slop, falling apart very badly down the stretch after showing his usual early zip.”

Post position.
A horse who starts from an inside post position may be caught in traffic. A horse drawn outside may have to go wide on the turns. The best posts are between No. 5 and No. 16. While plenty of horses have won from the other posts, a poor post has to be factored negatively into your analysis.

Analysis: Of the horse mentioned often in this section, only Lookin at Lucky (No. 1), Ice Box (No. 2), Super Saver (No. 4) and Sidney’s Candy (No. 20) fall outside the preferred posts.

Jockey experience. The media glare during Derby Week is overwhelming, and the large field gives ample opportunity for an inexperienced rider to compromise his horse’s chances. An experienced jockey who has been to the Derby before is less likely to crack under pressure.

Analysis: The best, most experienced jockeys in the race are riding Lookin at Lucky, Super Saver, American Lion, Paddy O’Prado, Devil May Care, Jackson Bend and Homeboykris.

Trainer experience. The road to the Kentucky Derby is long and arduous, and it takes a skillful trainer to bring a horse to the race healthy and in peak condition.

Analysis: Trainers Baffert, Lukas and Zito have collectively won the Derby nine times, but none since 2002, and have five horses among them in the race. Todd Pletcher is the perennial leading trainer but has never won the race, and has entered four. Most of the other trainers are serious, experienced horseman, and this angle deserves no consideration this year.

Track condition. Rain on Derby Day can turn the dirt track into mud; some horses will fare well on it, and others will do poorly. The Racing Form’s “Past Performances” will offer some clues about how each horse will do. If the racetrack is "sealed," then even horses who traditionally do well in mud may struggle, and it becomes very difficult to tell who will fare well.

Analysis: Super Saver, Backtalk, Devil May Care, and Mission Impazible all ran well on sloppy surfaces.

Pedigree. Some horses run well at short distances, while others thrive at longer distances. Until recently, pedigrees provided strong clues about how a horse would run at the Kentucky Derby distance. But while still an important factor to consider, a questionable pedigree by itself is no longer reason to eliminate a horse from consideration.

Analysis: The pedigrees most suitable to distance racing belong to Super Saver, Discreetly Mine, Awesome Act, Stately Victor and Devil May Care.

Parting Advice

Now that we’ve explained the “science” of selecting a winner, we’ll also let you in on an inside secret: selecting a the winner of the Kentucky Derby winner is more art than science, and many of the best professional handicappers have miserable track records at it. So, in the end, your selection should be made by you alone, and don’t be afraid to let your gut feelings play a role.

So how is this writer approaching the race? Cautiously. I consider half the horses in the field to be plausible winners. While I really like the two horses below, given the many open questions and potential for traffic jams, I will bet six or seven horses in various combinations and hope for the best.

American Lion has the chart of a horse ready to run much better than he ever has before, which will be good enough to win here. Bred to love the slop, a few solid works, and solid connections who will get their first taste of Derby success.

Super Saver is my next choice, based on his solid win in the slop and a big score over the Churchill Downs surface last year, a stalking style that should serve him well, a race pattern that suggests he may be at a peak, solid workouts, and jockey Calvin Borel, who seems to always be in the right place at Churchill Downs.

Awesome Act has a solid mud and distance pedigree, a veteran English trainer who knows how to get a horse to run long, a good excuse in his last, and also a solid work pattern and a jockey, J.R. Leparoux, who also loves Churchill Downs.

Mission Impazible also has a good effort over the Churchill Downs surface, an encouraging “Z pattern” (speed early, fell back, came on again) in his last, and like all of the Pletcher horses, seems primed to the minute for this race.

Sidney’s Candy will have a tough job from the outside post with a young jockey, but his record is solid, he finished strongly to pull away in the Santa Anita Derby, and his workouts are too strong for me to toss him entirely.

Devil May Care is yet another who gives Pletcher a solid shot at serious earnings on Saturday. She has apparently worked splendidly in blinkers, which she’ll wear for the first time in a race here.

Paddy O’Prado may be the longest shot on the board, but the Racing Form clocker reports that his last workout, in the Churchill mud, was scintillating. His breeding is solid, and he gets Kent Desormeaux, who has won this race several times. I have to include him on a few tickets.

Where to Bet The Kentucky Derby Online

  • Most racetracks that are open for live racing, and most off-track betting outlets in the United States, offer betting on the Kentucky Derby. Click here for a calendar of live racing at all racetracks in the United States.

  • For those who cannot make it to a racetrack or other wagering outlet, legal betting on the Kentucky Derby is available to residents of most U.S. states through several online betting account providers. Legitimate online wagering services that allow you to set up an account online, fund it through a credit card on a same-day basis, and that accept wagers from residents of most states include YouBet, TwinSpires, TVG and XpressBet.

  • Autotote is another legitimate online wagering firm, but does not enable you to open your new account online.  Some racetracks also offer online wagering accounts, but most do not offer same-day opening and funding options.

  • Be wary of any other online wagering provider, other than the four on the list above; they may be located offshore and may not be legally permitted to accept wagers from U.S. residents. Most search engine searches will generate results for illegal offshore wagering providers.
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