Welcome to the best two minutes in sports.
The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place on Saturday, May 1 at 6:57 p.m. ET on NBC. While the Derby is certainly the main attraction on Saturday, there are several world-class races for bettors to sink their teeth into before the Run for the Roses.
Before I get into the races, I’ve jotted down a quick crash course on how to bet the ponies:
New to Horse Racing?
For those of you that might be new to horse racing, the wagering pools are pari-mutuel, which means that, unlike in sports betting, you aren’t trying to beat the house but rather the public at large. The key to long-term success in betting the ponies is being disciplined in identifying value in the pools.
Speed Ratings and Beyer Speed Figures
Speed ratings are relative performance indicators that allow us to compare performances across tracks where not all factors are even. Some tracks might be naturally faster like Gulfstream or Santa Anita, where the surfaces are harder, compared to a track like Belmont or Aqueduct, where the surfaces are generally a bit deeper.
They also account for the condition of the track as most horses will travel slower over softer ground. This means that simply comparing times is ineffective as they need some kind of leveling factor.
That’s what is built into speed ratings and they give a nice, although imperfect indicator of relative performance and ability.
A relative strength index for the field of a specific race. This gives you an idea of the level of the competition the horse was facing, as it can vary wildly from track to track even with the same win conditions.
How often do favorites win in horse racing?
Generally speaking, the favorite in horse racing wins at about a 35% rate but that number varies depending on the number of horses in the field. Armed with that knowledge you might want to just pick the favorites, frequently known as the chalk, but a closer look at the implied odds shows that you’d need average odds of 2-1 or better to break even on “win” bets.
So, in order to profit horseplayers must pick and choose the horses that they feel have a better chance to win than their implied odds, which is known as positive expected value (+EV). Expected value is not unique to horse racing and something that all bettors should get familiar with if they want to succeed.
Post Time: 1:14 p.m. ET
The first stakes race of the day is the Grade 2 Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile for fillies and mares four years old and up.
The morning-line favorite is No. 5 Got Stormy (8-5) for trainer Mark Casse. She has shown a versatile running style, which should prove to help her in this spot. And while she has 11 wins, five second-place finishes and three thirds from 26 career starts, she only has one second-place finish from two starts over this turf course. I’m looking to beat her in the spot.
My top pick is No. 2 She’s Got You (10-1). She has three wins, one second and three thirds from seven career turf starts and has two wins, one second and one third at this distance.
She’s Got You is trained by Chad Brown and while we haven’t seen her since last year, Brown is winning at a 29% clip off the long layoff. She’s Got You has some of the best late pace figures in the race and jockey Javier Castellano should be able to work out a trip for her to get up at the wire.
The other horse that caught my attention in here was No. 4 Zofelle (2-1). Similar to She’s Got You, Zofelle has great late pace figures and will be flying late with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Zofelle has run twice this year and has a win and a second and that second was by just a nose. She’s a must use in all your wagers.
Race 6 Bets:
- Win Bet: 2
- Exacta key box: 2/4,5
- Pick 3: 2/4/8,11
Post Time: 1:56 p.m. ET
Race 7 is the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff for fillies and mares four years old and up, and will be run over the main track at seven furlongs.
The overwhelming, and most likely heaviest favorite we will see all weekend, is No. 4 Gamine (1-5) for trainer Bob Baffert. She has six wins from seven starts, but what’s interesting is the only loss in her career came right here at Churchill Downs. That said, she’s the class of the class in this race and she has her way with this field. Baffert wins at a 36% clip with horses who won their last start and 34% second off the layoff.
If you’re looking for someone to try and spring the upset, No. 3 Bell’s the One (6-1) is where I would land. She has two wins and two seconds here at Churchill and just missed by ¾ of a length last time out. Bell’s the One put in a bullet work last week and coming in second off the layoff, she’s the only logical horse to try and upset Gamine.
Post Time: 2:48 p.m. ET
Next up we have the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile for three-year-olds over the main track. As Sean Zerillo and I spoke about on The Action Network Podcast, this is the most difficult race on the card to handicap.
The big question in here is will morning-line favorite No. 3 Jackie’s Warrior (3-1) return to his two-year-old form. If he is able to do that, he will be tough to beat in here, but as we saw yesterday, the three-year-olds who came in off layoffs struggled. I’m against Jackie’s Warrior.
My top choice is No. 8 Dream Shake (7-2) for trainer Peter Eurton. He broke his maiden in impressive fashion winning by 4¾ lengths and he beat Bezos in that race, who had was one of the most hyped three-year-old borses in California. Since breaking his maiden Dream Shake has come back to run third in both the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby. The cut back to a one-turn mile should help him in here.
The longshot I like most is No. 11 Noble Reflection (15-1). After finishing third in his first start at Del Mar last summer, the son of Liam’s Map broke his maiden earlier this year at Oaklawn Park where he just put away the field. From there he stepped up and ran in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, over a sloppy track, where he set fast fractions and finished a distant fifth.
Similar to Dream Shake though, cutting back to a one-turn mile should prove to help Noble Reflection in this spot. At the price, he’s one to include.
Post Time: 3:40 p.m. ET
The ninth race on the card is the Grade 2 American Turf for three-year-olds, run at a distance of a mile and a sixteenth over the turf course.
My top pick is No. 13 Scarlett Sky (4-1) for trainer Shug McGaughey. She won her last start, which was her first try against graded stakes company, in the last jumps at Keeneland. Scarlett Sky has three wins and three seconds from seven career starts and has two wins and two seconds at the distance.
She has some of the best late-pace figures and late kick in the race. Shug and jockey Joel Rosario have teamed up 32 times over the last year and are winning at a 31% clip.
The other two that interested me in here were No. 1 Excellent Timing (10-1) and No. 2 Winfromwithin (8-1), both of whom are speed horses.
Excellent Timing is trained by Chad Brown, whose runners always seem to be live on the turf, and gets one of my favorite jockeys in Umberto Rispoli aboard. She’s stepping up in class and has only ever faced New York breds previously, but is making her first turf start and looks to be bred up and down for the grass.
Winfromwithin is coming in off back-to-back wins, her first two tries on the turf. While she is stepping up in class, her speed figures fit nicely in here and keeps the red hot Luis Saez in the irons.
No. 4 Anex (7-2) is the morning-line favorite. She has done nothing wrong, as she is a perfect 3-for-3 in her career. She also gets jockey Irad Oritz Jr in the irons, which is always a good sign. While I don’t love her, she’s a must use in your multi-race and exotic wagers.
Race 9 Bets:
- Win: 13
- Exacta key box: 13/1,2,4
- Pick 3: 13/3,12/3
- Pick 4: 13/3,12/3/1,6,9,14,15,17
Post Time: 4:31 p.m. ET
Next is the Grade 1 Churchill Downs for four-year-olds and up, which will be run over the main track at seven furlongs.
One of my favorite bets of the day is No. 12 Endorsed (12-1). While he’s stepping up in class, I went back and watched his last race at Gulfstream where he had a bad trip that cost him the race. His outside post in addition to picking up jockey Joel Rosario means he should be able to work out a trip to upset this field at a nice price.
Trainer Bill Mott had another longshot win yesterday on the dirt at seven furlongs and looks to do the same here with Endorsed. He has some of the best late-pace figures and Mott wins 24% of the time with a beaten favorite.
The other horse in here that I liked was No. 3 Basin (8-1) for trainer Todd Pletcher. Basin comes in off a win against non-graded stakes company at Gulfstream. Pletcher wins at 20% second off the layoff and 23% with winners last out.
Additionally, Pletcher and jockey Jose Ortiz have teamed up 76 times over the last year winning 24% of the time. If Basin can continue to improve off that last effort, he has a big chance in here at a nice price.
Race 10 Bets
- Win: 12
- Exacta box: 3,12
- Double: 3,12/3
Post Time: 5:27 p.m. ET
Race 11 is the Grade 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic for four-year-olds and up run over a mile and an eighth on the turf.
The morning-line favorite, No. 3 Colonel Liam (3-1), is my top pick. He’s coming in off three consecutive victories and was ¾ of a length away from a being a perfect 5-for-5 over the turf. Colonial Liam has also shown that he can travel by winning at 3 different tracks.
The Todd Pletcher trainee is one of two horses in here who are coming in off wins and Pletcher is 23% with winners last time out. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. stays aboard here and Pletcher and Ortiz Jr. have won 32% together over the last year.
If I wasn’t on Colonel Liam, I could go a number of other ways in here from No. 4 Ivar (5-1), who has some of the best Beyers in the field and should relish this distance, No. 5 Domestic Spending (9-2), who is trained by Chad Brown has four wins and a third from five career turf starts, and No. 9 Ride a Comet (5-1), who missed last time out by 2 lengths but was closing and should like the extra eighth of a mile.
Race 11 Bets:
- Win: 3
Race 12: The Kentucky Derby
Post Time: 6:57 p.m. ET
Below you’ll find my favorite win-bet and longshot for the Kentucky Derby, but if you want my thoughts on every horse in the field be sure to check out my full Kentucky Derby breakdown here.
No. 15 Rock Your World (5-1) is my top choice to win the Kentucky Derby.
The Santa Anita Derby has proven to be one of the most successful prep races for the Kentucky Derby and last time out Rock Your World took the field gate-to-wire to win the Santa Anita Derby. He is 3-for-3, but the Santa Anita Derby was his first race on dirt.
Trainer John Sadler said that was the plan all along; start on the turf and then try the dirt, as the turf tends to be less taxing. Rock Your World is out of Candy Ride, whose offspring win at 21% in Grade 1 stakes races, which is unheard of, and the fact that Rock Your World has shown he can win in gate-to-wire fashion or that he can sit a stalking trip makes him a win contender and my top choice in this field.
If you’re looking for a longshot, I’d give a hard look to No. 6 O Besos (20-1)
He comes in off a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, but he was flying late. In that race, O Besos ducked down to the rail and ended up winning the gallop out.
He’s another one who, if he can take another step forward from that race, stands a chance in here at a big price. I will be including him in both vertical and horizontal wagers.