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2015 Kentucky Derby - Picks and Post Position Stats

The first Saturday in May...also known as Kentucky Derby Saturday.  As a Co-Founder of 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, as California Chrome did last year, some of the exotic bets (exacta, triacta, superfecta) can still have huge payouts.  Last year's exacta with the favorite on top paid $340.00 for a $2 bet, and the superfecta (top 4 finishers in order) paid a whopping $15,383.80 for a $2 investment.  Unlike a typical horse race, the payouts are much higher because of all the different combinations in a 20 horse field.   In the 2013 Derby, "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.  California Chrome won from the #5 post 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:


# of Starts Wins Win % Place Show % in the Top 3
10 40 6 15% 2 5 33%
16 38 5 14% 0 3 21%
5 40 5 13% 4 1 25%
8 40 4 10% 3 3 25%
3 40 4 10% 1 4 23%
20 10 1 10% 0 1 20%
15 40 3 8% 2 1 15%
19 19 1 5% 1 0 11%
2 40 2 5% 2 5 23%
4 40 2 5% 5 2 23%
7 40 2 5% 1 0 8%
18 21 1 5% 3 0 19%
1 39 1 3% 0 3 10%
13 40 1 3% 5 5 28%
6 40 1 3% 3 0 10%
11 40 1 3% 2 0 8%
9 40 0 0% 1 3 10%
14 40 0 0% 2 2 10%
12 40 0 0% 1 2 8%
17 38 0 0% 2 0 5%

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, but the last one we've seen was 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, 20 of 24 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.
  • 41 Years ago - The fastest recorded winning time in the Derby still goes to Secretariat (1 minute, 59 and two-fifths seconds) in 1973.
  • 12% of Kentucky Derby winners have had names starting with the letter “S”, more than any other letter.
  • 34.6% is the win-percentage of favorites since pari-mutual wagering began in 1908: 107-37-21-10

My 2015 Kentucky Derby Picks
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 are my picks:

  • #2 Carpe Diem (8-1) - A lot horses coming out of the Breeder's Cup Juvenile are mismanaged and never make it to the Derby.  I think trainer Todd Pletcher has gotten it right with this horse, a 4 month layoff after the Breeders, he won easy in his first race back (the Tampa Bay Derby) and drew 5 wide to win the Blue Grass Stakes last month.  I don't like the post position, but he will be well placed in the top half of the field so shouldn't see major traffic problems, and might even save some ground going into the first turn.  He will be in my exotic bets for sure, and will win with a good trip.  His speed numbers aren't as flashy as the favorites, but this horse has 4 wins in 5 starts, tons of stamina, and has experience going wide and maneuvering traffic.

  • #10 Firing Line (12-1) - it's always tough giving legitimacy to a horse that comes out of the Sunland Derby.  But this horse has the longest rest of any Derby starter, starts from the favorable #10 post position, and with veteran jockey Gary Stevens aboard...I give this horse a real chance at good odds.  He finished 'second by a head' two times in a row to favorite Dortmund, then won the Sunland easily by 14 lengths.  I think he will have a great stalking trip and he gives an honest/gamely effort every race. He hangs on for a Top 3 spot.

  • #19 Upstart (15-1) - He's hit Top 3 in all seven lifetime starts.  I'm a little concerned about him making the distance, but he has dealt with bumping, traffic, and having to swing 5 wide in his last 5 starts.  I think he gets a top 3 piece for an underrated trainer and jockey.

In my exacta and triacta boxes I'm also throwing in #15 Frosted (15-1) and #18 American Pharoah (5-2) .  American Pharoah is the legitimate favorite, but he has never been forced wide, never raced against more than a 9-horse field, and I think jockey Victor Espinoza will use up too much gas to have him aptly placed near the front of the field from the 18 post.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he wins, but at 5-2 odds I'm not backing up the truck.   I'm also fading the other favorite Dortmund for many of the same reasons.  Good luck with your picks!

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