Picking a winner seems like pure luck. It can be. But if you do your research, you can increase your chances at a winning pick significantly.
Sometimes a horse's name can increase his or her odds because a lot of people bet on the name alone. That does not mean that horse is going to do well in the race.
Some of the factors may surprise you if you've never bet on a horse race before. The Kentucky Derby is a good place to start.
The field for this year’s Derby field is pretty wide open. It’s hard to predict who is going to do well.
Hall of Fame trainer and two-time Kentucky Derby winner (Unbridled and Street Sense), Carl Nafzger, explained his observations of this year’s Derby field with Loren Hebel-Osborne.
“This is going to be a great Derby field – it’s a solid crop! These horses are giving you their race every time,” Nafzger said.
Nafzger also said that any of the horses could “come around” in their very next race.
Here are some of the factors that could mean a good day or a bad day for the horses on Saturday.
Weather the weather.
The elements can play a big role in how a horse performs at the Derby.
The National Weather Service has Louisville ranked third on the list of Top 10 Worst Spring Allergy cities. Horses can have allergic reactions like humans can.
How a horse performs in certain environments does matter. When making your pick, take a look at the horse’s performance in similar environments.
Those elements also include the condition of the track whether the surface is a hard, soft, or sloppy.
Some horses are from Kentucky. Some horses are not, and will need to travel to the race. For long distances that require flying, a horse's performance may be at risk. Flying does not sit well for some of us as human beings. An unfamiliar environment could certainly affect a horse as well.
Along with the affects of travel, a horse is able to recognize when they are not in their own stable. This can create even more discomfort.
Hansen (14-1) is a Kentucky native and maybe the most accustomed to the environment at Churchill Downs at any time of year.
For more, here’s Loren Hebel-Osborne’s article “Local Climate for Success.”
Even a horse’s morning warm-up will change the odds.
Training schedules are important in these circumstances. If they stick to a routine, the horse will be consistent. They have to warm up properly. If they are not relaxed when they warm up, it will take them longer to do so. Nervous horses don’t perform well - just like humans.
These horses have already raced at a big event on the same track. It may be May, according to the weather forecast, it is going to be hot on Saturday. The heat may make it more of an endurance race than normal.
There also is the possibility of the Breeders’ Cup curse.
Vice President of Racing Communications at Churchill Downs John Asher talked with Loren Hebel-Osborne.
“In fact, history suggests that winning the Breeders’ at two often labeled your horse with the curse. Thankfully Street Sense broke that curse a few years back, “ Asher said. “I think this year’s roster confirms the high quality of horses we have competing.”
Carl Nafzger agreed when he explained his observations of this past November’s Breeders Cup at Churchill Downs with Loren Hebel-Osborne.
“None of these horses have been beat 20 lengths – they are all right there,” Nafzger said. “This year does remind me a little of Street Sense’s year because we had Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday to contend with in our two-year-old campaign and then Curlin hit the scene. We traded win pictures all year.”
Sorry, I don't have any Andrew Luck puns.
Luck is a factor in any form of competition.
John Asher told Loren Osborne about his favorite Derby story from an interview with 1989 Derby winning trainer (Sunday Silence).
“Charlie was the one who first said ‘I never had a straw in my path. When I needed good weather to work, I got it. Everything just unfolded in front of us.’ Charlie attributed his Derby win to a good horse and to good luck.”
Charlie Nafzger said he doesn’t rely on luck. He relies on a good horse to get the job done.
Luck does matter for some horses. The post position you draw greatly affects your race strategy. That’s where your jockey can become a factor.
At post position 20 you have to go the long way around the track if you don't get to the ideal position in the middle or along the rail. The rail is the shortest way around in the mile and a quarter race. Jockey Calvin Borel rode the rail to victory three times. That's where the 1-10 positions come in. Starting position is determined is luck of the draw.