The Kentucky Derby takes place every year on its traditional date of the first Saturday in May. This is a race that many people follow and try to handicap even if they're not typically horse racing enthusiasts. Understanding race horses is hard work, and a discipline unto itself.
While understanding and predicting horse races is a very complex discipline, here are some basics that can help the amateur understand the Kentucky Derby. Back during the seventies, it was a race dominated by the favorite including three great Triple Crown winners--Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed--and a great horse that came close, Spectacular Bid. Since Spectacular Bid won the Derby in 1979, however, you can count the favorites who've won the race on one hand with fingers left over. If I was a serious horseplayer, I might not advise you to do this but since I'm just worried about predicting the outcome of this one race Im going to suggest that you forget about the favorite altogether. Not only will you not be flying in the face of recent history, but also it allows you to concentrate on the horses offering greater value.
In all fairness, it should be noted that the favorite has been a historically strong proposition. In the 135 Kentucky Derby races the post time favorite has placed in the money at a 69% clip over the history of the race. So why have the favorites been on such a money losing run in the past two decades? My personal theory is that it is a function of the growing hype surrounding the race"in other words, you get a lot of amateur horse racing fans that distort the notion of the favorite being the most likely to win the race. The most hyped horse becomes the favorite, but this is not always the best horse. In any case, though it could be argued that the anti-favorite bias could be due for a turnaround, for the purpose of understanding this particular race Im going to forget about the post time favorite.
Another important component of Kentucky derby success is the post position of the horses. The innermost positions (1 through 5) have produced over 40% of all Derby winners, while the outer post positions (11 through 20) have had only 13% winners. Note that in some years there might not be that many horses in the race, which would help partially explain the poor performance of the outer start positions. Still, for the purposes of understanding a single race eliminating all of the less favorable start positions is a good idea.
Another factor worthy of consideration is the horses lineage and breeding. Start at the beginning"where the horse was born. Most, but not all, serious racehorses are born in Kentucky. If you see a horse in the race that wasnt, forget them. This is not any sort of home field advantage but a result of the concentration of the Thoroughbred horse industry in the state. Over 80% of Kentucky Derby winners have been born in Kentucky. Next, consider the horses gender, or more specifically dont consider any entry with a gender other than male. Only eleven horses other than intact males have ever won the race (eight geldings and three fillies). A gelding did win as recently as 2003, when Funny Cide took the roses but again for the newcomer this is an easy way to cut down the horses under consideration. This isnt a gender bias or anything, but for our purposes we can forget about non-male horses.
Dosage index numbers have also taken on a great deal of significance in recent years. What are dosage numbers you ask? I have no clue, beyond the fact that theyre a complex mathematical measurement that reflects the quality of the horses family tree, as well as his performance as a two-year-old. The conventional wisdom is that horses with a dosage index over 4.00 are not supposed to be competitive at the long 1 mile distance. This isnt always the case, of course, but for the dilettante its a good factor to consider. Since 1984 (when dosage systems first came into vogue), the winners of nine Derby races were dosage system selections.
If you want to learn about horse racing in more depth, there are countless books available to introduce you to the subject. For a recreational fan who just wants to have a better understanding of the Kentucky Derby, these rules can help.
Ross Everett is a freelance sports writer and respected authority on World Cup betting
. His writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sports news and sportsbook directory
sites. He lives in Las Vegas with three Jack Russell Terriers and an emu. He is currently working on an autobiography of former interior secretary James Watt.