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2014 Kentucky Derby: Statistics and Picks


Ah yes, the first Saturday in May...also known as Kentucky Derby Saturday.  As a Co-Founder of SportingCharts.com I also have a fair amount of experience with owning, breeding, and handicapping thoroughbred horses.  Last year we took a look at some of the statistics of the Derby, we're doing much of the same, along with my betting interests.

The best thing about betting the Kentucky Derby is the field size, and the sheer amount of money bet on the race.  Even if the hot favorite wins, some of the exotic bets (exacta, triacta, superfecta) can still have huge payouts.  Unlike a typical horse race, the payouts are much higher because of all the different combinations in a 20 horse field.   Case in point was last year, Orb won as the odds on favorite at 7-2, but Golden Soul came in second at 50-1 and a $2 Exacta (picking first and second) paid $981.60!

If you don’t know how to read a race program, that's ok.  Let's start by looking at win percentages by post position.

Post Position Winning %
While the shortest path to the finish line is at the inside rail, the #1 position is tough to win from.  In fact the last time a horse won the Derby from the #1 post position was Ferdinand 1986 with hall of fame jockey Bill Shoemaker aboard.   Conversely the far outside post positions (15-20) generally mean the jockey has to gas it to the front or take the horse far back to avoid being left way out wide for the first turn in the race.  That said, with Orb winning from the 16 post in 2013...it vaulted that post position into second place.  

Here’s how the post positions have fared since 1975, the year the Derby was limited to 20 starters:

Post
Position

# of Starts Wins Win % Place Show % in the Top 3
10 39 6 15% 2 5 33%
16 37 5 14% 0 3 22%
8 39 4 10% 3 3 26%
5 39 4 10% 4 1 23%
3 39 4 10% 1 4 23%
20 10 1 10% 0 1 20%
15 39 3 8% 2 1 15%
19 18 1 6% 1 0 11%
2 39 2 5% 2 5 23%
4 39 2 5% 5 1 21%
7 39 2 5% 1 0 8%
18 21 1 5% 3 0 19%
1 38 1 3% 0 3 11%
13 39 1 3% 5 5 28%
6 39 1 3% 3 0 10%
11 39 1 3% 2 0 8%
9 39 0 0% 1 3 10%
14 39 0 0% 2 2 10%
12 39 0 0% 1 2 8%
17 37 0 0% 1 0 3%


Looking at the above grid, the #10 position has historically been the most favorable.  Part of the reason is this position gives the jockey a lot of options to place the horse, but another big factor is when they load the starting gate.  Generally they load two horses at a time, the 1 & 11 horse go in first, then the 2 & 12, and so on.  The first horses to load in the gate can sometimes sit for 2 or more minutes before the starting gate opens…allowing the horse to relax and leave the gate late, or let anxiety build and build to the point where it is no longer focused on the race.

Biggest Longshot Payoffs
There’s a reason why a horse is listed at long odds, usually their past performance isn’t quite at the level of the rest of the field.  That being said lots can happen in a race with 20 horses, the favorites might get boxed in or be forced way wide, leaving the door open for a horse that gets a perfect trip.

Here are the biggest Kentucky Derby payoffs ever, every decade has it’s longshot and we haven't seen one since Mine That Bird in 2009.

Year Winner $2 Win Payoff
1913 Donerail $184.90
2009 Mine That Bird $103.20
2005 Giacomo $102.60
1940 Gallahadion $72.40
1999 Charismatic $64.60
1967 Proud Clarion $62.20
1918 Exterminator $61.20
1953 Dark Star $51.80
1995 Thunder Gulch $51.00

 

Here are some other Kentucky Derby fun facts:

  • Since 1990, 19 of 23 Derby winners have either won or finished second in their final prep race before the Derby. 
  • Since 1980, only five Kentucky Derby winners have been Grade I winners at age 2.  The Derby is a race of 3 year olds, and the youngest a horse can race is mid-way through their 2 year old year.
  • Girl Power - A female jockey has never won the Kentucky Derby, Rosie Napravnik looks to become the first when she rides Vicar's In Trouble in the 2014 Derby.
  • 40 Years ago - The fastest recorded winning time in the Derby still goes to Secretariat (1 minute, 59 and two-fifths seconds) in 1973.
  • 13% of Kentucky Derby winners have had names starting with the letter “S”, more than any other letter.
  • 34.0% is the win-percentage of favorites since pari-mutuel wagering began in 1908: 106-36-21-10


My 2014 Kentucky Derby Picks
Unlike last year, the weather is supposed to be perfect for post time of the derby. I'm not a big favorite player in the Derby despite the 34% winning percentage...but here are my picks:

  • #5 California Chrome (5-2) - he has been scintillating in his last two victories.  I refuse to bet him to win just based on what his payout will be, but he will be in my exotic bets for sure, and should win with a good trip.

  • #6 Samraat (15-1) - the biggest question is whether he can go this long.  Everytime he races longer, his winning margin is less.  That said, he will have a great stalking trip and he gives an honest/gamely effort every race. He hangs on for a Top 3 spot.

  • #16 Intense Holiday (12-1) - coming from the outside gate, he will have a wide trip. Almost all of his races are come from behind efforts going wide.  I think he gets a top 3 piece.

I'm also throwing in #4 Danza (10-1) and #14 Medal Count (20-1) in my exacta and triacta boxes...good luck with your picks!



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