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Kentucky Derby 2012: Why This Is the Year for a Longshot Winner

Longshot Mine That Bird, with Calvin Borel aboard, captured the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby at odds of 50-1.
Longshot Mine That Bird, with Calvin Borel aboard, captured the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby at odds of 50-1.Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Sam HollingsworthContributor IIMay 3, 2012

When isn't it a year for a longshot to take the Kentucky Derby?

It's not a strange coincidence that longshots consistently come in the money in North America's most popular horse race. With a 20-horse field, it's one of the largest races in the world. Probability works in favor of the longshots—or at least against the favorites—simply because there are about 12 times more of one than the other.

The Grade 1, $2 million stakes race also comprises the best trainers and jockeys, paired up with the best horses, who are usually bred from the best retired champion horses. The competition is fierce; each (human) contender knows just how special winning the legendary race would be.

And they don't call it the most exciting two minutes in sport for nothing.

Anything can happen—and it usually does. Just look at previous Derbys and you don't have to look far for good examples.

Last year's Run for the Roses was won by Animal Kingdom—who went off at odds of 21-1—after jockey John Velazquez took him up the outside and past three rivals to win by 2 3/4 lengths.

It should also be noted that the H. Graham Motion-trained colt that was yet to race on dirt opened up at odds of 30-1.  His odds dropped a bit, but he still remained a double-digit longshot. His drop in odds also suggests that I wasn't the only one who bet him and got that nice payday (nearly $44 for every $2-win wager).

A year prior, in the 136th Kentucky Derby, Super Saver crossed the wire first in what the Associated Press called "the most wide-open Derby in years." At 8-1, he was not the odds-on favorite, but he clearly was not the longest shot on the board, either.

Longshot Animal Kingdom, with John Velazquez up, captured the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby at odds of 21-1.
Longshot Animal Kingdom, with John Velazquez up, captured the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby at odds of 21-1.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

And with the victory, Super Saver still offered a respectable $18 payout. Not bad for a horse that was rode by a Churchill Downs superstar named Calvin Borel. It was also Borel's third Derby win in four years, so it was hardly a longshot.

In 2009, the horse racing world saw one of the most incredible longshot victories in Derby history when 50-1 shot Mine That Bird and Borel weaved through the entire field to capture the first jewel of the Triple Crown and shock the world.

Mine That Bird, who paid $103 to a $2 stake to win, is half of the modern-day reason racing fans know anything is possible in the sport—especially in the Kentucky Derby.

Sure, the favorite is going to win sometimes, too. But the last time it happened was four years ago when Big Brown and Kent Desormeaux captured the 134th edition of the race at 2-1.

The Borel-guided Street Sense, meanwhile, took the race in 2007 as the favorite (9-2).

But even with the favorites finishing in front, both of those exacts paid more than $100 apiece because of the high odds carried by the second-place finishers and the size of the field. And that's typical for Derby exacta payouts.

When Barbaro decisively won the Derby in 2006 as the second choice, the exacta paid $587.

In 2005, it was Giacomo that shocked the world. At 50-1, jockey Mike Smith and the gray colt are tied with Mine That Bird for the second-biggest longshot victories in Derby history, second to only Donerail (91-1) in 1913.

Think about that: two 50-1 longshot winners in the past seven Derbys. How could anyone bet anything other than a longshot in this race?

There's a talented pool of contenders with high-value odds in the 138th edition of the Run for the Roses. Optimizer (50-1), Take Charge Indy (15-1), Rousing Sermon (50-1), Alpha (15-1), Went The Day Well (20-1) and Liaison (50-1) are all longshots worth keeping an eye on.

We know any horse is capable of shocking the world—the hard part is just picking the right one.


Longshot pick: Liaison.

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