Horse racing is a century or so removed from it’s once lofty status as the ‘Sport of Kings’ but the Kentucky Derby endures.
The first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875 and has been contested every year since. Even a couple of World Wars failed to interrupt the Derby’s run making it one of the oldest successively run sporting events in history. Among hardcore horse racing enthusiasts, it has plenty of rivals for the biggest race and is no longer near being the richest race. Even so, it remains horse racing’s most iconic race particularly among mainstream sports fans.
From a betting perspective, one of the best things about horse racing is the amount of action available every day from all over the world.
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Even non-sports fans are familiar with the Kentucky Derby. Held annually on the first Saturday in May at the legendary Churchill Downs race track in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby is the first leg of horse racing’s ‘Triple Crown’. The entrants in the Derby are the best three-year-old horses in the world and for trainers, jockeys and owners winning the ‘Run for the Roses’ ranks among their major career goals. On the Friday before the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks is run with a field of the top three-year-old fillies in racing. The Oaks has become a major event in its own right and now attracts a crowd of over 100,000 to the track every year.
The Kentucky Derby is also one of the biggest North American betting events of the year. Like other major events such as the Super Bowl and March Madness, it’s a time when even people who have never placed a bet in their lives begin to talk about odds and handicapping. The 2019 Kentucky Derby set a new on-track record for betting handle and despite a controversial disqualification finish strongly suggests that media reports about the lack of interest in horse racing are seriously overblown. Despite it’s massive audience and high profile the betting on the Kentucky Derby is identical to any other horse race. The bulk of the betting action comes in the form of straight wagers on the individual horses to ‘win, place or show’.
Types of Kentucky Derby Bets
While ‘straight wagers’ make up the biggest percentage of the Kentucky Derby betting handle many horse players enjoy the huge potential jackpots offered by the so called ‘exotic’ bets.
The standard type of exotic bets are the exacta (picking the first two finishers in correct order), the trifecta (picking the first three finishers in the correct order) along with the superfecta (top four finishers in correct order). Each additional finish position in these wagers magnifies the degree of difficulty for handicappers but also significantly increases its payout potential. Another popular exotic bet at any horse track is the ‘Pick 3’ which requires the player to correctly select the winner of three consecutive races. Variations on this bet are available for 4, 5 and 6 races (Pick 4, Pick 5 and Pick 6).
In addition to the conventional menu of horse race betting options there’s a few bets that are unique to the Kentucky Derby. Many players enjoy the challenge of Kentucky Derby futures betting. If they’re able to spot the winner of the race early in the year from among hundreds of eligible three-year-old horses they put themselves in a position to take down a big payout.
More recently, a popular bet called the ‘Derby/Oaks Double’ has hit the board leveraging the increased popularity of Friday’s Kentucky Oaks. This bet requires selecting the winner of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby with a payout amount based on the odds of each winning horse.
Kentucky Derby Betting Strategy
In boxing ‘styles make fights’. A similar concept applies in horse racing.
The horses in the field dictate how the race will be run and at what pace. This information is crucial for any handicapper meaning that there’s not a ‘one size fits all’ handicapping approach to the Kentucky Derby or any other horse race.
There are, however, several characteristics of the Kentucky Derby that differentiate it from other major events. One of the most significant is the size of the field. The Kentucky Derby is capped at twenty runners and in recent years the field has been full if not oversubscribed. This makes for a crowded track where jockeys sometimes have difficulty making tactical adjustments relative to a smaller size field. In addition, the majority of horses in the field will have not raced anywhere near as many opponents previously in their career.
Not surprisingly for an event run in late afternoon during May in the South, weather is frequently a factor. Even if it doesn’t rain on race day it’s not uncommon for bad weather early in the week to have a significant impact on track conditions. The last three Kentucky Derby races were run on ‘off tracks’ as well as 7 of the last 11. Pay attention to the race day weather report and it’s never a bad idea to have a horse in mind with a proven ability to run in the mud just in case track conditions deteriorate.