Betting on a Kentucky Derby winner is the ultimate test in handicapping American thoroughbred horse racing each year. The field of 20 horses is the largest you will see in any race on U.S. soil, and no horse on the first Saturday in May has ever run the 1 1/4-mile distance.
However, there are some statistics and metrics special to horse racing and the Run for the Roses that can help us narrow down the field to create a short list for a potential Kentucky Derby winner. Score a risk-free bet from TheLines on the Kentucky Derby by clicking PLAY NOW below and using the TVG promo code BONUSTVG at sign up.
How To Bet On Horse Racing
For those of you who are new to betting on horse racing, the video at the bottom of this article will walk you through all the different types of wagers you can make and what they mean.
Finding A Kentucky Derby Winner
The morning line odds will not be released until the post position draw Derby week. It’s actually a good exercise, I think, to do this now, and then see if any values present themselves in the hour before the race after days of odds fluctuations. We’ll also have the option to bet a Kentucky Derby winner early in a fixed odds market if we believe the value will not hold in parimutuel wagering.
Dave Bontempo’s Kentucky Derby Preview and Bets
Step 1: Beyer Speed Figures
Let’s look at how this field stacks up with one of the more respected metrics in horse racing. Kentucky Derby Beyer Speed Figures help us rate horse performances across different tracks on different days.
|Points Ranking||Horse||Second-Best Beyer||Best Beyer|
|5||Tiz the Bomb||84||94|
|7||Crown Pride (JPN)||N/A||N/A|
|18||Summer Is Tomorrow||N/A||N/A|
|21||Pioneer Of Medina||93||96|
27 of the last 30 Kentucky Derby winners (90.0%) have entered the race with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of at least 95. This number would be 28 out of 30 (93.33%) if Maximum Security wasn’t DQ’d in the 2019 Derby.
10 of the previous 12 Kentucky Derby winners posted a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or more. Seven of the 12 earned a Beyer in the Derby of 103 or higher. A horse doesn’t have to have earned a triple-digit BSF before the Derby to win, but it’s also proven to be difficult to make an enormous leap and win the roses if the horse didn’t come into the race with a 95+ on his resume.
- No. 2 Happy Jack
- No. 5 Smile Happy
- No. 8 Charge It
- No. 9 Tiz The Bomb
- No. 14 Barber Road
- No. 16 Cyberknife
- No. 17 Classic Causway
- No. 18 Tawney Port
- No. 20 Ethereal Road
Just like that, we’ve already crossed off almost half the field.
Step 2: Brisnet Speed Figures
Since 2000, 18 of the past 22 Kentucky Derby winners (81.8%) had a BRIS Speed Rating of at least 100 prior to the race. This number would have been 19 of 22 (86.4%) if Maximum Security had not been taken down.
We put together a Kentucky Derby BRIS report. There we find which of our 12 remaining horses do not make the cut:
Step 3: Analyze the International Horses
Crown Pride (JPN) and Summer is Tomorrow have been running in races overseas; therefore, we do not have Beyer or Brisnet figures on them. We’re going to have to compare their finishing times to other Derby contenders at the same distance and hope there wasn’t a big difference in the surface.
Generally speaking, horses that have come over from international races have never won the Derby this century, but we still want to do our due diligence on this duo. We can compare their performances in the UAE Derby versus horses from the Louisiana Derby, as both run at about 1 3/16 miles. The UAE Derby is actually about 10 meters more, but it’s a tiny difference.
|Crown Pride (JPN)||UAE Derby||1 3/16 miles||1:59.76|
|Summer Is Tomorrow||UAE Derby||1 3/16 miles||2:00.26|
|Epicenter||Louisiana Derby||1 3/16 miles||1:54.38|
|Zozos||Louisiana Derby||1 3/16 miles||1:54.73|
|Pioneer of Medina||Louisiana Derby||1 3/16 miles||1:55.18|
Given that the winning times between the two races was a whopping five seconds, I feel confident eliminating these two horses from Kentucky Derby winner consideration.
Which Horses Are Left?
Step 4: Final Fractions Theory
Here’s why we care about final furlong times in the Kentucky Derby. To put it concisely, if they’re running slower at the end of a shorter race, are they really going to run faster than the field at the end of the longest race of their career?
With this theory, we’re looking for horses that race no slower than 13.0 seconds in their final furlong or 38.0 seconds in their final three furlongs in the most recent race before the Derby. 27 of the previous 31 Kentucky Derby winners (87.1%) have met this criteria.
One problem: the top of this field looks historically strong. All met at least one Final Fractions Theory criteria, and five of the six met both.
|Post||Horse||Last 1f||Last 3f|
Step 5: Second-Best Beyer Speed Figures
Let’s circle back to the table above in Step 1. Which of our remaining horses were potential one-hit wonders? Let’s keep the horses that have posted at least two 90+ Beyer Speed figures to go with the career-best 95+ mark.
Uh oh, all five have a second Beyer of 90+ too. Truly, one of the strongest Derby fields I’ve seen in since I started covering the race in 2012.
Step 6: Did They Race As A Two-Year Old?
Justify broke this curse in 2018 and proved to be a super horse on the way to winning the Triple Crown. He is the only other horse other than Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby while not running as a two-year-old. That horse was trained by legend Bob Baffert. So was Taiba before being forced to transfer to friend Baffert disciple Tim Yakteen, due to Baffert’s Churchill Downs suspension.
Is Taiba the next super horse, debuting with back-to-back 100+ Beyers at age three? Will Taiba also be the first Derby winner to wear the roses having only run in two previous races? It’s possible, but let’s bet against another historic horse emerging in a 20-horse field in front of a six-figure crowd.
- No. 12 Taiba
Step 7: Beware of Closers
This is not to say closers cannot win the Derby, and it’s possible a trainer changes a horse’s running style for the Derby, but typically you do not want a horse that will be closer to the back of the pack in the first half of the race than the front of the pack. Navigating traffic in the Kentucky Derby is far more challenging with 19 other horses than it is for a jockey in a prep race with smaller fields.
Two of our four remaining horses worked from the back of the field in their most recent prep race. If we hear the trainer plans on a different running style, I will update this.
- No. 1 Mo Donegal
- No. 10 Zandon
Kentucky Derby Bets
We are left with Messier, a horse previously trained by legend Bob Baffert, and Steve Asmussen-trained Epicenter.
Zandon is already getting hype in Louisville and opened as the morning line favorite. If that holds, we’re getting good value on my top-two horses here.
I’ll also sprinkle in Zozos underneath in exotics, who met the final fractions and Beyer criteria but not Brisnet. If Epicenter is who we think, and Zozos barely lost to him in Louisiana, he could get a piece here too.
Here’s how I’ll bet $100 on a Kentucky Derby winner and exotics.
- $20 on No. 3 Epicenter
- $20 on No. 6 Messier
- First-place position: No. 3 Epicenter, No. 6 Messier
- Second-place position: No. 1 Mo Donegal, No. 3 Epicenter, No. 6 Messier, No. 10 Zandon, No. 12 Taiba, No, 19 Zozos
- Ticket cost: $20 (3,6/1,3,6,10,12,19)
- First-place position: No. 1 Mo Donegal, No. 3 Epicenter, No. 6 Messier, No. 10 Zandon
- Second-place position: No. 1 Mo Donegal, No. 3 Epicenter, No. 6 Messier, No. 10 Zandon, No. 12 Taiba,
- Third-place position: No. 1 Mo Donegal, No. 3 Epicenter, No. 6 Messier, No. 10 Zandon, No. 12 Taiba
- Ticket cost: $24 (1,3,6,10/1,3,6,10,12/1,3,6,10,12)
- First-place position: No. 3 Epicenter, No. 6 Messier
- Second-place position: No. 3 Epicenter, No. 6 Messier
- Third-place position: No. 1 Mo Donegal, No. 10 Zandon, No. 12 Taiba
- Fourth-place position: No. 1 Mo Donegal, No. 10 Zandon, No. 12 Taiba
- Ticket cost: $12 (3,6/3,6/1,10,12/1,10/12)
$1 Superfecta (the maybe Taiba is a superhorse ticket)
- First-place position: No. 6 Messier, No. 12 Taiba
- Second-place position: No. 6 Messier, No. 12 Taiba
- Third-place position: No. 3 Epicenter, No. 10 Zandon
- Fourth-place position: No. 3 Epicenter, No. 10 Zandon
- Ticket cost: $4 (6,12/6,12/3,10/3,10)