The great Hunter S. Thompson once described the Kentucky Derby as being like a "huge outdoor loony bin" in his classic essay, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved."
If you haven't read it, you may be surprised to hear that that piece is featured on the Derby's website.
Having never actually been to the Derby, I can't contradict Dr. Thompson's take on the scene itself. What I do know is that betting on the Derby is no joking matter, as good research and good luck can combine to form a good payday.
Yes, good research. I know a lot of people like to pick horses based on how goofy their names are and how good (or not good) their odds are, but it's most definitely possible top apply a little bit of method to your madness before placing a bet on the Derby.
If you're a novice, here's a few things you must consider.
The Kentucky Derby will be a completely new experience for every horse in the field. It's a mile-and-a-quarter race, which is longer than the races the horses in the field are used to running. Most of them have topped out at a mile-and-an-eighth.
So beware horses that have reputations of being pacesetters, as odds are they're not going to be able to maintain a good speed for the whole race. Not good enough to win, anyway.
You want to look for horses that have a tendency to be strong finishers. These horses are usually easy to spot, as they're the ones with the best odds. In a race as long as the derby, a late burst of speed can make a huge difference, and that's exactly what these horses are capable of.
It matters where each horse is going to start from at the Derby. A bad post position can make a world of difference.
You would think that the No. 1 post position, the one closest to the rail, would be ideal because it allows a horse to run the shortest distance to the finish line. That's true, but a horse starting from the No. 1 post also stands a good chance of getting pinned against the rail. It's not an accident that no horse has won from the No. 1 post since 1988.
Recent Derby history favors horses starting from the middle, which is right around the No. 10 post. These are spots that give horses a chance to start out in front, and from there they can at least stay within striking distance.
The trick is not to fall too far behind early, and horses starting from the middle are safer than other to that end.
Beware rainy weather. Naturally, it will make the track wet, and that changes the narrative of the race completely.
In the event of a wet track, you want to look around for the mudders in the field. These are the horses who have a tendency to run well on a wet track.
Unfortunately, it's not easy to find out which horses are mudders, but sites like BloodHorse.com and DRF.com can help. And of course, you can get some pretty good horse racing intel on Bleacher Report.
Finding information about the weather won't be nearly as tricky. You can just keep an eye out for the forecast in the Louisville area, and any self-respecting horse racing website will be keeping close tabs on the weather as well.
The guys on the backs of the horses matter just as much as the horses themselves. You need to know your jockeys as well as you know your horses.
Take, for example, Calvin Borel. He rode Derby winners in 2007, 2009 and 2010. A streak like that can't be coincidental, and it wasn't. Borel rode great horses, but he's also a great jockey.
For the record, Borel will be riding Take Charge Indy this year, according to KentuckyDerby.com.
Also for the record, HorseRacingNation.com is an outstanding resource if you want to take a look at the recent histories of different jockeys.