It’s that time of year again, the first Saturday in May where horse racing fanatics and the casual horse fan tune in for the most exciting 2 minutes in sports. As a Co-Founder of SportingCharts.com I also have a couple side gigs…not the least of which is owning, breeding, and racing thoroughbred horses. It started with regular trips to Northlands Park as a kid, progressed to owning 50% of a single horse, and now a full fledged horse operation.
The Kentucky Derby is a unique race because it involves the best 3 year old horses in North America, but more importantly for bettors it is one of the largest fields we see. The typical Derby field involves close to 20 horses every year. Rather than giving my picks I decided to take a look at some statistics for the Derby over the last 138 years. Even if you don’t know how to read a race program, hopefully there’s something you can use to make your Derby selection. And if that fails…going with your favorite horse name still gives you a 1-in-20 shot at picking the winner.
Post Position Winning %
While the shortest path to the finish line is at the inside rail, generally the #1 position is tough to win from. 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. 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|
Source: Chasing the Derby
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|
|2009||Mine That Bird||$103.20|
Here are some other Kentucky Derby quick hits:
- Since 1990, 18 of 22 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 Shanghai Bobby in the 2013 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.
- 14% of Kentucky Derby winners have had names starting with the letter “S”, more than any other letter.
- 33.3% is the win-percentage of favorites since pari-mutuel wagering began in 1908: 105-35-21-10
And if all else fails, drink up with the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby – The Mint Julep: