Millions of Americans looking for their once-a-year adrenaline fix of horse racing tune in on that first Saturday in May to watch the drama unfold beneath the shadow of Churchill Downs' iconic twin spires.
The Kentucky Derby is the one race every year guaranteed to hold the country in thrall. The one race guaranteed to stop a nation.
But for those unfamiliar with the whys and wherefores of the racing world, the world of the betting jungle can seem a daunting habitat.
So if you're one of the people who think that a trifecta is a three-legged insect and a show is simply a Broadway production, here's a betting 101 tutorial, analysis of the favorites and the dark horses for this Saturday's race.
Odds current as of Saturday, May 4, at 1 p.m. ET (via KentuckyDerby.com).
In a win bet, you select a single horse to finish first. If your pick finishes anywhere but first, you don't win any money. Simple. For example, if you choose Verrazano and he finishes second by a nostril, you walk away empty-handed.
In a place bet, you select a single horse to finish either first or second. You win if your horse finishes in the first two. The payout is the same for both finishing positions.
In a show bet, you select a single horse to finish first, second or third. Again, if your pick finishes anywhere in the first three, the payout is the same.
In a win-place bet, you select one horse to finish either first or second. Unlike a place bet, your finishing position will decide how much you get back (a win earning you more money than a place finish).
Also known as an across-the-boards bet, you select one horse to finish in the first three. Like a win-place bet, wherever your selection finishes will determine how much you receive (a win earning you more than a place, and a place earning you more than a show).
In a quinella bet, you choose two horses to finish in the first two in any order. Your selections must both finish first and second for your bet to be cashed. For example, if you choose Orb and Normandy Invasion in a quinella, and they finish first and second in any order, you've hit the jackpot.
In an exacta bet, you choose two horses to place in the first two finishing positions in exact order. To win, both horses must finish in the first two positions in the order chosen. For example, if you select Oxbow to finish first and Java's War to finish second, but the reverse happens, you leave empty-handed.
In a trifecta bet, you choose three horses to finish first, second and third in exact order. Therefore, to win, all three horses must finish in the first three finishing positions in the order chosen.
In a superfecta bet, you choose four horses to finish in the first four in chosen order. To win, all four horses must finish in the first four in the order chosen. This is a hard bet to nail, but if you win, you're looking at a Vegas-style huge payout.
Mylute, Rosie Napravnik's mount, is a 13-1 shot. That is astonishing when one remembers that he was only just touched off by Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby last time out.
Considering Revolutionary has been one of the favorites in the betting since that win, it seems as though Mylute has been something of a forgotten horse in the field.
Yes, he did look to be coming to the end of his tether at Fair Grounds. Yes, one can't imagine that the added distance of the Derby will help his cause. But if, as many people suspect, the Derby is going to be a slowly run affair this year, Mylute might be one of those who benefits the most.
In slowly run races, you need a nice bit of tactical toe to get yourself into a decent position. And pace is something that Mylute has in abundance. And aren't we overdue a victory in the race by a female jockey?
With so many strings to his bow, trainer Todd Pletcher has been inundated in the media melee. Most of the flash-bulb attention has been directed toward Verrazano and Revolutionary. As a result, Overanalyze has been somewhat lost in the mix.
But a glance over his credentials shows that he's far from being a back number. He treated the Arkansas Derby field with disdain last time out, putting a cross through his Gotham defeat the time prior. He's got the pedigree, and he's settled in nicely at Churchill this week.
If you were to take out either Verrazano or Revolutionary, Overanalyze would be a much shorter price. I think he's nailed on to sneak a place at least. At 14-1, he looks like a steal.
Oxbow may be something of a sentimental choice, given his connections. But imagine if he won. What a victory that would be for the grumpy old-timers: Gary Stevens, his irascible, legendary jockey, and D. Wayne Lukas, his irascible, legendary trainer.
But there are valid reasons as to why he could possibly sneak a spot on the finishing podium. I think you can put a line through his defeat at the hands of Overanalyze last time out in the Arkansas Derby after never really getting into the race.
He's sure to appreciate every yard of the Derby trip, and he's a horse hardened at the grindstone of graded stakes action. That's a necessary character trait if you're going to stand the roughhousing of the big race field.
Stevens and Lukas know what they're doing. If Oxbow's good enough on the day, he couldn't be in better hands. A 22-1 shot, he might be worth a small wager.
Goldencents is at 6-1, and I expect to see continued support for him this week, propelling him up the betting.
The reason behind this is primarily the Doug O'Neill factor. The victory of O'Neill's I'll Have Another in the Derby last year is still fresh in the public's memory, and O'Neill has been characteristically bullish about his runner's chances since he's arrived in Kentucky.
O'Neill has every right to be bullish; Goldencents has done pretty much everything right in the lead up to the race. His win in the Santa Anita Derby—a race that I'll Have Another picked up en route to Churchill—shows that he's going to be a tough nut to crack.
Like Orb, I don't see Goldencents' odds being any longer than they are. So if you like him, lump on now.
Verrazano has been many people's idea of a Derby good-thing for a while. But he has certainly deserved his lofty seat in the betting. He's a smashing looking horse with a pedigree loaded with Derby-winning DNA.
He's unbeaten in four starts, including in the Wood Memorial last time out—a race that has proven as good a Derby pointer as any the past few years. He's wanting nothing from his support team: trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Johnny Velazquez.
There is one big question mark hovering over Verrazano, however: His lack of experience in the hurly-burly of a big race.
Orb is currently at 7-1, but he was the morning-line favorite at 7-2.
It's no surprise to see his swelling fanbase. His form is rock solid. His win in the Florida Derby last time out was in a race that has housed the winners of no less than five Derby victors in the last 20 years.
His workouts at Churchill have been scintillating, including an effortless four-furlong breeze in 47.89 seconds Monday. All the boxes have been checked.
If vibes point to victory, then Orb looks a good thing on Saturday. But if you are going to back him, I'd do it as soon as possible. I only envisage his odds contracting from here on in.
And finally, here are my picks for the big day.
Hard to look beyond him.
The largely forgotten contender of the Pletcher quintet.
Might just spring a surprise for his veteran connections.