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Strategies for a Kentucky Derby Payout


The greatest two minutes in sports, the 143rd running of thoroughbred racing’s Kentucky Derby, dawns May 6. It may be too early to select your favorite horse, but it’s never too soon to plan a big-picture strategy. Here are some keys.

Past Race Observations

  1. Long shots are not winning in recent years. I’ll Have Another, at 15-1 in 2012, is the last double-digit entry to triumph. One probable cause is the elimination of the blinding speed duels that compromised past favorites in favor of long shots rallying from the back of the pack. Prep races, which determine the points for Derby entries, have been changed to lessen the value of most sprint races. Fewer speed horses make the Derby—hence the short-money victories by California Chrome, American Pharaoh and Nyquist the last three years. They were near the pace without getting caught up in a duel against a speed horse trying to steal the race.
  2. That said, there is no stick out this year. Classic Empire’s 1:48.93 time for the 1-1/8 mile Arkansas Derby was probably the best prep race performance. But Irish War Cry looked strong at the end of his Wood Memorial victory, which is important because…
  3. No horse has run the 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby distance. Whomever wins will have to show something previously not seen in competition.
  4. Watch track conditions. Rain close to the event time makes the track sloppy, favoring a horse on the lead. But heavy precipitation that has cleared up may make the track heavy, or “good,” which helps a closer. Observe what happens the day before and early on May 6 to see whether frontrunners or late runners are winning races and from which post positions they emerge.
  5. A race featuring 20 horses creates the threat of traffic problems resembling California freeways. Outside horses must break sharply, and be used earlier than usual, to avoid adding substantial length to their trip. This forces horses to be in tight quarters around turns and for some to be shut off.

Betting Tips

  1. Even though favorites are doing well in recent years, a payout of 2-1 or 3-1 is still likely from the top horses. If you wager enough, a win bet still makes a solid return.
  2. Players are getting smart to the concept of favorites running first and second. Nyquist and Exaggerator returned only a $30.60 exacta last year.  That’s a small payout for such a big field with so much money wagered. Which creates a…
  3. Five-dollar wager you should try. It happens with the $1 trifecta. Take the horse you like most in the first position, second favorite in the second slot and play five different horses for third. It only costs $5 and returned handsomely last year. The trifecta, rounded out with Gun Runner, produced $86.70 for the $1 ticket. That’s a strong payout, considering the favorites ran first and second. You can adjust this easily, either adding more third-place entrants or increasing the size of the trifecta bet.
  4.  Finally, the parity encourages some box tickets. That can mean four horses to finish in two or three slots or varied trifecta box tickets containing two favorites and a different long shot.
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Dave Bontempo, a multiple award-winning writer and broadcaster, has covered sports for the Associated Press, ESPN, HBO and Showtime and called boxing matches on every major network. Dave is a winner of the Sam Taub Award for broadcast excellence given by the Boxing Writers Association of America, and is a member of both the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and the Atlantic City International Boxing Hall of Fame. He writes regularly for iGamingPlayer.com and Global Gaming Business magazine.

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