The Kentucky Derby might as well come with a rabbit’s foot and a run of telemarketing style salesman peddling their wares. People throughout the world are over analyzing the metrics of the 20 contenders and the alternates set to take the gate on the first Saturday in May. There will be varying bankrolls, levels of interest and analysis for each person “stepping to the window” to wager on the “greatest two minutes in sports.” All will have heard from more than one person about superstitions, dilemmas and varying points of historical concern.
You will be able to scour the net for all the sites that promise you the derby winner. They will provide proven results (which come after the fact) without providing a picture of that winning ticket. They will ask for a small monetary fee to acquire their data. Is it a guarantee? Of course not, nothing ever is. But hey its business and they might as well make a buck like everyone else. If their system was perfect wouldn’t they be at the window betting it all on their sure thing? Why would they want you to know their system? It just doesn’t pass the smell test.
For me, I make my bets public a week before the race. Am I always right? Of course not, but nevertheless I want folks to understand my picks at a high level. Giving people extra data to help make decisions is something I believe in and heck, does a little extra information ever really hurt?
Others will tell you about all the myths or superstitions that revolve around picking a winner. Some of these concerns center on not picking a horse with a new jockey on board because they do not really know the horse. Others stay away from horses that did not race as a two year old. A common superstition is that if a horse has a Dosage Index over 4.0 stay away since their pedigree shows they are not ready to handle the mile and a quarter of the Derby.
You also should avoid horses that has never won a stakes race or have never gone a mile and an eighth. Others would also tell you to avoid the far outside post contenders because they just don’t win from there. Another trending betting topic is to bet on Calvin Borel since he has to win since it is Churchill Downs and he is Calvin “The Rail” who won with Street Sense, Super Saver, and Mine That Bird. But that final one is now over with due to his retirement. Then there is the idea that such large fields tend to yield longshots or double-digit winners. After all, the odds are stacked against the favorites in such close quarters with so many others.
Well obviously, or not so much if you talk to handicappers, these are just myths. Behind each myth is a little truth but overall they are just suggestions. A horse has won not racing at two but that was over a century ago. What they are trying to say is not the age but rather the experience level. Horses not fully adjusted to the heat of competition will suffer when surrounded by 19 other horses. At a minimum, the sheer numbers are liable to comprise an untested horse.
While pedigree is obviously a factor, the Dosage Index should not be the immediate reason to rule out a contender. 1998 and 1999 Derby winners Real Quiet and Charismatic had Dosage Index numbers of 5.29 and 5.22 respectively. 2005 winner Giacomo had a Dosage Index of 4.33 and 2009 champion Mine that Bird carried with him a Dosage Index of 5.40. American Pharoah won the Triple Crown last year with a Dosage Index of 4.33. That just names a few but the point here is that while a factor, it is not a gold standard.
You can take this approach to almost any myth related to betting the Derby. Where did Gato Del Sol, I’ll Have Anther and Big Brown break from? Oh that’s right posts 18, 19 and 20. Last time I checked that was the outside and they all won the Kentucky Derby. But what about the long shot approach. Sure there has been the Mine That Bird or the Giacomo but let’s look a little closer. In the last 10 years, seven of the winners entered the gate with single digit odds and five were 5-1 or less. The morale of the story is don’t just toss the favorite from winners circle right away.
These are items that should all be considered but none will define a horse’s real chance to wear the Roses. Is it true that all of the double digit producing Kentucky Derby posts are from 1-10 and that there is not a double digit winner from 11-20? Yes. But it does not tell the whole story. Post 4, one of the winningest posts in history has produced two winners since 1977 in Seattle Slew and Super Saver. While post 16 has produced all three of its winners since 1999 in Charismatic, Monarchos and Animal Kingdom. Just remember when the fields expanded as a starting point and just because the spreadsheet says it do not take it at face value. There is more to learn as you truly look at the numbers.
I could go on and on about this but I look at it this way, do you homework, and figure out who you like. Do not read more into it than normal and go with what you believe. Sure it is the biggest race of the year with the most attention but it does not change the underpinnings. None have won at a mile and a quarter so consider it a step up. Every horse has raced and ALL of them have a level of merit or they would not have garnered the points to load into the gate. The all have quality jockeys on them so while some might have a history at Churchill Downs none are a lock once they climb on.
Just find your horse and get behind them. Hopefully you are right and everyone else disagrees. That is your perfect storm. When I backed Animal Kingdom and I’ll Have Another I wanted nothing more than to see the odds stay high. When I listed Commanding Curve as a logical horse to hit the board I wanted everyone to disagree. You might as well get the highest odds possible right? Now you might not have any system or metrics at all. You might bet merely on name, color or anything else quirky you can come up with. That is okay too. You might not even know what you are doing and ask the person at the window how to bet on that “Java Horsy” that you heard about. That’s okay too, just go have fun.
Please remember that betting is supposed to be fun. It is supposed to be exciting. It is not supposed to be taxing on your life or livelihood. If it is getting out of control and you can’t control it seek help. The first Saturday in May will be here soon enough and the “greatest two minutes in sports” is sure to entertain.