The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports Followed by the Longest 20 Minutes in Betting
I have lost bets before. During the most recent college basketball season, because of my high volume approach, I lost over 2,500 bets. Of course, the swings are RARELY (only in futures) this big. Going from winning at a x7.5-ish rate to losing a unit is a big swing. (Side note: when you like the favorite in the Derby and Saturday morning the track odds are down from the morning line odds, look at every sportsbook you can find, you’ll be surprised the numbers you can get). When the decision is made to disqualify the winner, it shouldn’t take long to move on. You certainly have no choice. Even IF the owners appeal and win, you still lose. So, who cares? Besides that I was at an annual Derby party with some wonderful people. However, my thoughts kept trailing off to how this impacts future races, specifically the Derby.
The Derby is unique in its twenty horse field. At least in North America that is (The Grand National Steeplechase in the UK has 42 horses! And way more fatalities). Typically, most starting gates hold only 14 horses. In the Kentucky Derby, they use an attached auxiliary gate to allow for 20 horses. For the most part, trainers, owners and jockeys alike want to avoid drawing a position that puts them out in the #15-20 starting spots way out in the auxiliary chutes. Why? Let’s just look at winners exclusively. Starting gate post position has been around since the 1930’s so that’s where we’ll start. In 89 samples only 13% of winners come from the auxiliary gate (#’s15-20, 30% of the field). Moving out further we find that PP#’s 17-20 have won 4 races. Just four. We have 20% of the field sitting there with their chances reduced to about 4.4% simply because the horse drew a spot to start from the parking lot. In fact, the inside ten post positions (50% of the field) have accounted for a whopping 73% of the winners. This seems like an easy fix. Evolve and drop the field to 14.
Not interested in a 20 horse field? OK, let’s change the rules. I watched the last five races consecutively. In 2017 and 2018 I saw a few lane changes near the back of the pack in the turn that I thought could be construed as a disqualification. But no one complained because it wouldn’t change the tote board or payouts. American Pharaoh’s victory in 2015 had an opening ¼ mile where they are bumping and jockeying for position going into the first turn and there’s no way you could pinpoint exactly who should have been disqualified. Probably a quarter to half of the field, if we’re being technical. Other than that, I honestly didn’t see another instance as egregious as Maximum Security’s lane change near the front of the pack. Not one that would have influenced the outcome of the race. But IF they are going to make an exception in having twenty horses in the Kentucky Derby, maybe they should make an exception to many of the rules that govern 14 horse races. Again we circle back to: Maybe the Derby should evolve and cut the field down to 14. Why don’t they? Money is the obvious answer. Yet, I can’t help feel that the average fan who is going to flood $2 bets into the win pool doesn’t care (or know) that they have been robbed of six betting chances. So who gets less money? Churchill Downs? Would they have fewer entries to the Derby? I can’t imagine. What I can imagine is there would be wayyyyyy more pressure to trim the field had War of Will’s jockey Tyler Gaffalione not managed to slow his horse up and instead clipped the heels of Maximum Security. Deaths of jockeys and horses in a fatal pileup on live TV has a way of creating a demand for change. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Let’s assume that nothing changes, which is the biggest likelihood to be honest. How do bettors take the information that we gained from this year’s Derby disqualification and use it for future races? Well, I don’t think we can. We can’t really handicap which horses or jockeys will get spooked by the crowd and jump two lanes to the right. We can’t handicap the Stewards’ decisions if it does happen again. Hell, we don’t even know if it will be the same Stewards year after year. My plan remains unchanged: watch all the prep races and bet them using all my sources, observation and betting experience. Use that information to come up with the best betting strategy to pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby and hope the young horse can hold his nerve through the turn when the wall of people and noise hits him in the face.
Until then we have the Preakness to wager on. Admittedly, there would have been way more betting opportunities for the Preakness under different circumstances. The pools for the Friday card featuring the Black-Eyed Susan will be diminished as well as the pools for Saturday’s Preakness Card. In addition,with Country House dropping from the field, we lose the ability to bet the “NO” for the Triple Crown. Credit to any bettors who got lucky and already bet the NO before the Derby (earlier than they should have to be honest). Typically, the best strategy is to wait until the horse racing community falls in love with the Derby winner and then bet the NO the day of the Preakness, at a much reduced rate. We can also credit all the connections that made the choice to pass the Preakness. Obviously, these horses weren’t designed to run this soon after a grueling race in the Derby. The only reason to take a chance in doing that is to win a Triple Crown. Yet, winning a Triple Crown race is really good for your horse in a business where breeding is so lucrative for the owner. The Belmont should also be interesting as we can expect many horses who competed in the Derby to take their chances after the normal layoff of five weeks. Speaking of the Preakness and Belmont, when was the last time you heard someone complain that theses races are great, but they would be so much better with 20 horses in the field? Never. Because it wouldn’t enhance them in the least.