Now is the time to really get ahead in 2018 Kentucky Derby betting. Like any preseason futures bet, the value on the board is at an all-time high so you can spread a little around and get a lot in return. The best rated horse is giving 7-to-1 odds, and this race is only three months away.
Even if you’re not big in to horse betting, you’re probably going to get sucked in to the Kentucky Derby. Most mainstream fans think it’s the Super Bowl of horse racing, but that honor is reserved for the Breeders’ Cup Classic which runs in November. Still, there’s no doubting that the derby is the biggest and most prestigious race in the country.
Why should you bother investing time in to the Kentucky Derby? Well let me put it this way. There’s a difference between the battle hardened grinder who watches football every weekend and then bets the Super Bowl, versus the guy who just waltzes through the door on Super Bowl weekend and is like “Man, the Eagles look pretty good, right?”. Don’t be that guy.
WHAT IS THE KENTUCKY DERBY?
Yes, I have to write these sections just in case. If you have no idea what the Kentucky Derby is, it’s a century-old race that’s run out of Churchill Downs. Covering a distance of 1 1/8th miles, it features the best three-year-old colts in the United States with some international contenders dropping in depending on the year. It’s one of the richest races of the year with a $2 million purse up for grabs and is also the first leg of the vaunted Triple Crown.
Winning this elusive title means that you have to triumph in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. It’s such a grueling ask that there was no Triple Crown winner from 1978 up until 2015. Winning these three races can be the difference between a horse standing at stud (i.e. breeding) for $40,000 or $250,000. It’s a very big deal.
Entry to the first leg of the Triple Crown is granted through “prep races”, which are formally called the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Colts will run in a handful of these races in the months leading up to May and earn points. As horses win these races, their Kentucky Derby futures prices drop the same way a Super Bowl contenders odds get tighter as they win more games. The big races on the prep race circuit are the Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby, Louisiana Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial and Blue Grass Stakes which all run in late March.
Horses are fickle beasts, but there’s a way to get an inside track on which ones are worth betting on. The Kentucky Derby is a mega event, and one of the top entryways in to a year-round sport that offers action every weekend. The best part about getting interested in this market is the potential payout, but also knowing a bit more than the next guy is pretty fun.
Here’s a rundown of the favorites, the longshots worth tracking and some horses you should probably lay down on now before they lose value. Just as a note, horse handicappers sometimes write in a different style than most sports bettors are used to so I’m writing this for horse betting rookies.
WHICH HORSE DO I PICK?
By the time we get to the Kentucky Derby, the data usually speaks for itself. It’s a long road to get there. But right now we’re trying to find a horse that nobody really believes in. You’ll understand how these futures work as we plow through some contenders, so let’s get started.
Some colts have simply accomplished more by this point, but that doesn’t always mean that they’re locks. A horse graded in the +400 range in February is usually a really competitive favorite. They’re heads and shoulders above the competition. The fact that the best horse in the three-year-old class is +700 says a lot about him, and the class itself. Is there value here?
Bolt d’Oro (+700 in 2018 Kentucky Derby Futures)
This colt has been the early front runner for the Kentucky Derby since he came in to action last year. His speed rating (an aggregated method of comparing horses that run in different races on different tracks) is off the charts, and he comes from a really strong pedigree.
An intriguing water-cooler fact about Bolt d’Oro is that his owner and trainer is Mick Ruis, a former jockey who retired from the sport and stumbled in to riches as a developer. He’s returned to the sport recently and has found success with most of the colts he’s invested in. Bolt d’Oro was bought for $630,000 as a one-year-old.
The only issue with Bolt d’Oro is that he lost his last race to the second favorite on this particular board. He is still far and away the best horse right now, but three-year-old colts can mature at vastly different rates. The 2017 Kentucky Derby winner was Always Dreaming, who won the Florida Derby as a bit of a late bloomer.
I’m not suggesting that Bolt d’Oro is a bad bet, but given the current data he’s not as far ahead of his rivals as he out to be given that he’s a pretty strong favorite. These odds are what they are because of industry sentiment. Everybody you talk to will tell you that Bolt d’Oro is the best in his age grade, but anything can happen in the Kentucky Derby.
Good Magic (+775 to win 2018 Kentucky Derby)
Good Magic is the only horse to have defeated Bolt d’Oro, and did so as an outsider in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He was listed at 8/1 behind the 9/5 Bolt d’Oro and stole the race in surprising fashion. While Good Magic is training well, there’s just no telling what he’s truly capable of. It feels like he has “just in case” odds, meaning that the oddsmakers aren’t entirely sure what to do with him. He might be great. He might be the Dallas Cowboys of this market. Until we see him win another race, there’s no point in investing in him here.
McKinzie (+850 to win 2018 Kentucky Derby)
McKinzie is a highly regarded speed demon, who devoured the one mile Sham Stakes to kick off his season. This number is a bit too high given that he hasn’t been graded at 1 1/8th miles yet. We’ll find out if he’s worth betting long term when he goes toe-to-toe with Bolt d’Oro in the 2018 San Felipe Stakes on March 10th. Either you think McKinzie is worth getting in on now, or you don’t. It’s that simple. His (and Bolt d’Oro’s) appeal will be shaped in the San Felipe.
I don’t love the mark here for a few reasons. Either McKinzie is the real deal, and is dropped to a +600 or +500 mark after March 10th, or he loses and is demoted to longshot status. There’s no in-between. If he validates his rating at the San Felipe, then there’s no reason you can’t just double down on his reduced odds in a month’s time. What we’re looking for here is untold potential and Good Magic, Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie don’t offer it. Not yet anyways.
Audible (+950 to win 2018 Kentucky Derby)
Horse racing tends to be a “what have you done for me lately” sort of sport and no contender on the Road to the Kentucky Derby did himself more favors than Audible, who crushed the 2018 Holy Bull recently. He defeated another sincerely rated horse in Free Drop Billy during his last outing, and is now firmly on the radar. Not a bad bet by any stretch. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, is one of the most renowned in the sport. But we can maybe find better value.
This is a reminder and a lesson to horse players. These types of odds are where we place colts who have won recent races. Expect 10-to-1 value on horses that have some success with no detrimental defeats. In other words, Audible’s odds are reactionary and he still has a lot to prove to be worth the gamble here. Again, if he continues to find success you’re not really getting much value here. You could basically lay $100 to win $950 now, or $200 to pretty much win the same if he continues to travel upstream with wins on the derby trail. And you’re laying that $200 with much more confidence given that there’s more data.
THE BEST LONGSHOTS RIGHT NOW
What you’re looking for at this point in time is sheer, monster value. Favorites at the actual Kentucky Derby usually go off at around 3/1 or 2/1 or somewhere around there. Very rarely do they present as even money or lower. And there’s no contender that’s truly separating himself from the pack early. You can make up a small wager (depending on your own scale) at the actual Kentucky Derby weekend. But right now, this is all about potential payout for a tiny risk. Hedge or double-down later.
Avery Island (+2200 to win 2018 Kentucky Derby)
Now this is what I’m talking about. As things stand, no colt has a better trajectory to capitalize on huge odds than Avery Island. He recently won his season debut at the 2018 Withers Stakes in breezy fashion, easily putting away another notable horse in Firenze Fire. Outside of his strong pedigree, Avery Island has been groomed to run at longer distances.
His first attempt at the 1 1/8th mile distance didn’t go well. He seemed tentative and unsure when to hit the gas pedal, granting an opening where Catholic Boy upset him. What was great in his rebound effort at the same distance. It’s like Avery Island figured out how to cruise this distance. I love him at +2200.
Free Drop Billy (+3000 to win 2018 Kentucky Derby)
If you watch Free Drop Billy gallop, then he immediately passes the eye test. There’s just a certain grace and style to the way he runs. He’s got a good pedigree and a top trainer in Dale Romans behind him. The problem is that he’s unusually erratic. He gets worked up prior to post time on occasion, and he’s produced some weird results. Free Drop Billy was won two races and come second three times. If he’s interested and keen, then he’s absolutely worth the gamble but it’s difficult to know if he’s going to show up. He’s basically Jay Cutler. Those of you that know the sport should be encouraged to wade in to the deep waters with Free Drop Billy. He may mature as the months go by. There’s still some time to go.
Greyvitos (+4500 to win 2018 Kentucky Derby)
This is as off the radar as you can get. Greyvitos won the Remington Springboard Mile in an emotional boost for his stable. This colt is a survivor of the California wildfires that devoured his home. His time of 1:37.14 in the mile is pretty fast, but not world beating. To put this in perspective, McKinzie ran the mile at the Sham Stakes in 1:36.58. However, we haven’t seen Greyvitos run this year and everything about him is trending upwards. These are fantastic odds on a cloud contender. He’s a bit of a sentimental pick to be honest but has the goods.
Obviously there’s still a long way to go between now and the derby, and we’ll be updating you on the 2018 Kentucky Derby futures odds as we march down the road. This is the time to get interested because there are few bets that offer the same thrill the derby does in such a short amount of time. Be ready now because it’s always better to bet on something you’re familiar with.
Head to the horsebook to bet on the ponies at BetOnline.ag and track the 2018 Kentucky Derby in our sportsbook futures as well!
Mike DempseyMike covers the New York racing circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga) year-round as well as covering the biggest events including the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup. A professional handicapper and horseplayers for more than three decades, no handicapper in the industry works harder and been more successful in bringing horseplayers analysis that produces profits at the track! ike has owned racehorses and knows the racetrack from the backstretch to the finish line. Mike is in his second decade of producing great results for the readers of Vegas Insider. Among his scores in the Kentucky Derby include winning with his top pick Animal Kingdom who paid $43.80 in 2011 and Super Saver at $18.00 in 2010. While favorites have dominated the Run for the Roses in recent years, Mike’s full card analysis for every race on each card is always looking for value for horseplayers looking to pad their wagering bankroll. Mike's Reports include his selections, detailed analysis, a fair odds line, and wagering recommendations for the entire card each day. Check out Mike’s daily column At the Gate where he offers up free selections and live longshots. Join Mike daily with top picks from Aqueduct or grab winners in the Weekend Best Plays Report in the horse racing Multi-Track package. Want more action? Sit at the track with him for 30 Days with his Monthly Horse Package!
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Jerry SessaJerry "Shots" Sessa has been involved in horse racing for over 30 years. He now brings his meticulous handicapping style to VegasInsider.com. When Jerry posts picks you are getting his best bets...when you win, he wins. Jerry opened the 2016 Triple Crown season by hitting his Derby Day best bet, Nyquist. He also nailed the Derby exacta for a $30.60 payout. On 4/16/16 at Keeneland, Jerry hit an $819 exacta that led to a $38k Trifecta & a $300k Super.
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