Kentucky Derby 2016 Odds: 10 Betting Tips from Handicapping Expert

Michael Dempsey@turfnsportFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2016

Kentucky Derby 2016 Odds: 10 Betting Tips from Handicapping Expert

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    They don’t call it “the two most exciting minutes in sports” for no reason. After American Pharoah’s Triple Crown triumph last year, the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) on Saturday is one of the most anticipated in recent memory.

    A field of 20 will line up in the first jewel of the Triple Crown, with over 100,000 on hand at historic Churchill Downs, millions more watching on television and millions wagering on the outcome.

    Did someone say wagering?

    Oh yes, there are too many ways to bet on the Kentucky Derby to count this year. With 20 runners and a wide-open betting affair, the tote board is sure to light up, and smart handicapper are going to walk away with a tidy profit.

    Here are a few betting tips to keep in mind if you are planning on getting into the betting action:

Speed Does Not Rule in Derby

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Generally, in horse racing speed rules. Horses that get to the front are dangerous, and an easy early lead makes it very tough for horses to come from out of it and catch the pacesetter.

    It’s a little different in the Kentucky Derby, where there usually is a contested early pace, and the front-runners just can’t seem to handle the 1 ¼-mile distance after expounding too much energy early.

    We have not seen a horse go gate to wire in the Run for the Roses since War Emblem accomplished the feat in 2002.  The filly Winning Colors took the boys gate to wire back in 1988.  There have been just 22 gate-to-wire winners in the 142 runnings of the two most exciting minutes in sports.

    Danzing Candy is going to be sent from the 20 post, according to his trainer Clifford Sise Jr. "We’ll just let him do his thing, which means go to the front, because it’s really up to the owner (Ted Aroney) and he’s a kind of a speed-bias type of owner,” Sise told the Churchill Downs Publicity Department. “If it were up to me, I would lay second, because Nyquist has speed, too.”

    There is not an abundance of early speed types signed up for this year’s edition, but don’t expect to see one of them lead at every call and still cross the wire in front.

Veteran Derby Connections Have Edge

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Getting a horse ready to peak for a top performance on the first Saturday in May having never run in front of 100,000 fans or at 1 ¼ miles is not an easy task.

    While we have seen some “rookie” trainers like John Servis with Smarty Jones pick up the Roses in his first try, it does not hurt as a bettor to back experienced connections.

    Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is tied for second with four Kentucky Derby winners including last year with American Pharoah. He ends out Mor Spirit this year, and his jockey is three-time Derby winning rider Gary Stevens, a fellow Hall of Famer.

    Jockey Victor Espinoza has won the last two editions of the Kentucky Derby and five of the last six Triple Crown races. That should get his mount Whitmore a few more bucks wagered on him.

Look Beyond Derby Favorite

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    Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images

    The Derby is considered the best wagering race of the year, a tough handicapping challenge with such a large field. However, the betting favorite has won each of the last three years.

    Orb (5-1), California Chrome (5-2) and American Pharoah (5-2) all made the betting public look smart.

    However, we have also seen recent winners in the last decade like Giacomo (2005) and Mine That Bird (2009) each pay more than $100 for a $2 wager.

    Dating back 25 years, the average payoff for a Kentucky Derby winner is $29, per

    With a wide-open field this year, looking to cash a winning bet on Nyquist that returns $8.00 won’t get the pulse racing. Don’t be afraid to seek out more betting value or swing for the fences.

Look for a Contender with a Recent Race

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    Destin makes his first start since his Tampa Bay Derby victory.
    Destin makes his first start since his Tampa Bay Derby victory.Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images

    I have fond memories of the 2011 Kentucky Derby when my top pick returned $43.80 for a $2 wager. The colt was coming off an unheard of 42-day break, having won the Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park.

    We had to go back to Needles in 1956 to find a Derby winner that has been on the sidelines that long.

    With horses running less and Derby contenders coming into the race more lightly raced than in generations of the past, a longer break seems possible.

    This year could be a test as Lani, Gun Runner and Tom’s Ready are all coming back off a 42-day break, and Destin is unraced since winning the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), a break of 56 days.

    Thanks, but no thanks. I want to back a horse with a more recent race.

A Solid Foundation Key to Finding Winner

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    Nyquist won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) last year.
    Nyquist won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) last year.Horsephotos/Getty Images

    In order to be able to handle 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May, a horse needs a solid foundation. That usually means at least one start as a juvenile.

    One of the longest running trends in handicapping the Derby is the fact that no winner has been unraced as a two-year-old since Apollo in 1882. He won over a muddy track in a major upset.

    Since 1937, there have been 59 horses attempt to win the Derby having not raced as a juvenile and they have all lost. Three did manage to run second and four ran third.

    Ideally, I would like to see my choice have several starts as a juvenile, including a graded-stakes race at a route of ground, preferably a victory.

    Those that won a graded stake at a route as a juvenile in this year’s Derby field are Exaggerator, Nyquist, Mohaymen, Mor Sprit and Brody’s Cause.

A Sharp Prep Race Is Essential

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    Mohaymen needs to bounce back off his disappointing Florida Derby (G1) effort.
    Mohaymen needs to bounce back off his disappointing Florida Derby (G1) effort.Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images

    Winners of the Kentucky Derby generally come into the race in sharp form. It is rare for a winner to come into the race off a subpar effort.

    The last five Derby winners came into the race off a victory, last year American Pharoah winning the Arkansas Derby (G1).

    The last Derby winner to finish fifth was Iron Liege in 1957. Since then just Sea Hero (1993), Thunder Gulch (1995), Giacomo (2005) and Mine That Bird (2009) ran fourth.

    Every other horse ran first, second or third in their final prep.

    Mo Tom, Mohaymen and Danzing Candy each were fourth in the final prep while Shagaf was fifth in his last outing.

    Mohaymen may buck the trend, the colt spending most of the spring as the betting favorite for the Kentucky Derby at Odds Shark, as low as 5-2, but has lost his luster after his fourth in the Florida Derby (G1).

Don’t Be Afraid to Play Long Shots

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    Brody's Cause will be a decent price on Saturday.
    Brody's Cause will be a decent price on Saturday.Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    While the betting favorite has won in each of the last three years, let’s not forget about Giacomo (2005) and Mine That Bird lighting up the tote board. I’ll Have Another was 15-1 in 2012 and Animal Kingdom 20-1 in 2011.

    Nyquist, Exaggerator and Mohaymen figure to be the top three betting choices this year, but each has questions.

    Nyquist just has not run that fast compared to past Derby winners, Exaggerator earned his big win in the Santa Anita in the slop and Mohaymen tossed in a clunker in the Florida Derby.

    The next flight of runners includes Creator, Gun Runner, Destin, Outwork and Brody’s Cause, and each of them won a major Road to the Kentucky Derby points race in the final prep. 

    Each will end up going off at generous prices, and we could be looking at some big payoffs.

Pace Makes the Race

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    Expect to see Mor Spirit forwardly placed in the Derby.
    Expect to see Mor Spirit forwardly placed in the Derby.Garry Jones/Associated Press

    One of the most important factors in the Kentucky Derby is the pace. When there is a fast pace up front, the horses that come from the back of the pack generally do well.

    This year’s field does not include many early speed types and is well populated with late closers.

    That would tend to benefit horses on or near the lead. Since pacesetters have such a poor record in the Derby, horses tracking from just off the pace appear likely to have the advantage this year.

    That could be good news if you plan on backing Nyquist, Destin, Mohaymen, Outwork and Mor Spirit who all should be forwardly placed. 

    Baffert trains Mor Spirit, and Steve Haskin from Bloodhorse expects to see the colt closer to the pace. “Baffert seems to be trying to put him closer to the pace and he’s asked him for more speed early,” Haskin wrote.  “It’s never wise to second-guess Baffert, who is always one step ahead of everyone else.”

Make a Business Plan for Profit

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    It is one thing to pick the Kentucky Derby, another thing entirely to make a solid profit off your opinion.

    There are countless ways to wager on the race. There is win, place and show wagering, as well as exactas, trifectas, superfectas, super Hi-5 as well as many vertical wagers that include multiple races like daily doubles, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5 and the Pick 6.

    Bettors with modest bankrolls may want to stick with traditional wagers like win bets, exactas and doubles. Dipping your bankroll into the tougher exotic pools can pay much larger dividends but are much harder to hit.

    Spend as much time planning out your bets as you do picking the horses. It will pay off in the long run.

Beware of the Pletcher Curse

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Trainer Todd Pletcher is a certainty to be elected to racing’s Hall of Fame. He has won just about every important race, over 4,000 of them and has won the Eclipse Award for top trainer seven times.

    He has trained great champions like Ashado, Rags to Riches, English Channel and Lawyer Ron. He even has won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver in 2010.

    However, despite being regarded as the sport’s best trainer, it took him 24 tries to win the Run for the Roses. Since that win with Super Saver, he has been blanked another 18 times.

    Yes, his Derby record is a mediocre 1 of 43.

    He will saddle two runners this year, Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin and Wood Memorial winner Outwork.

    However, the Racing Gods do not seem to shine on Pletcher on the first Saturday of May.

    Betting odds via Odds Shark

    Statistics via Churchill Downs and Equibase

    Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport