Creating Value in the Florida Derby

2016 Florida DerbyThe 2016 Florida Derby is the most hyped and anticipated Kentucky Derby prep race of the season. We have the undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and last year’s two-year-old Eclipse Award winner Nyquist facing the also undefeated Mohaymen, who has also proven to be at the head of the class.

It’s somewhat rare today for two early Derby favorites to be facing off in the same prep race prior to the big dance. This year is a little different, as Mohaymen wintered in Florida and has two nice stake wins at the Gulfstream meet under his belt and Nyquist stands to win a $1 million bonus if he can win both the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. So point systems and tradition aside, it makes sense for both horses to go in this spot. How much good or bad a heated battle will do either one come the first Saturday in May remains to be seen.

When it became known that these division leaders were facing off in The Florida Derby, a small field was expected and bettors immediately started complaining that any chance of finding value in the race was gone. While we are all cognizant of the fact that larger fields with a lot of competitive, evenly-matched horses create value, it is not impossible to create some in smaller fields — even with a standout or two.

This problem was negated a bit on Saturday as Gulfstream was able to hustle up a decent-sized field, but the champ from the West Coast and the flashy East Coaster do appear a cut above the rest.

So, assuming the field stayed small, how would we create value? The easiest way is if you didn’t like either of the two big horses, as beating both of them on the win end, even in a short field, would offer value. Let’s say, however, that you like one of the big boys — how do you play it?

Well, the first thing you have to do is take a stand: You will have to go all-in on one and not play both or even hedge with the other or anyone else. Second, you have to be right. If you are not right, there is no value regardless of how you play it.

So, assuming you go all-in on either Nyquist or Mohaymen, what next? If it’s truly a matter of one of those two horses winning, you have a 50 percent chance of being right (obviously your competence as a handicapper determines whether or not that is true). First off, playing only one, and doubling up on your wagers by not using both or even hedging is going to help because you’ll beat all those who used the other horse.

Next, I would suggest singling your horse in all your multi-race wagers. Pick-3’s, pick-4’s, pick-5’s and pick-6’s can all pay well if anchored by a winning single, even if it’s a shorter-priced single.

On Saturday, you’ll have the advantage of taking out all the people who went the other way. In my multi-race bets, I’ll try to find at least one other race to single or maybe go two-deep. This will help also, but, again, you have to be right. You will be able to spread out a little in the other races now, which will increase your chances of getting a big price home. If you don’t like any big-price horses, double up and go back at the horses you do like.

When I said you’ll have to be right, I meant it. In your exacta you should use your horse on top only — no boxing, no reversing and no more than two horses in the second slot. For your triples, play it the same way: your top horse over the two you used for second over those same two in the third slot. The only difference is you can add one or two additional horses in that third slot.

You may be tempted to also add them in the second slot of both your exactas and triples but I’d suggest not doing so. You just have to be right and take your stand. The same structure should apply to any superfecta wager and, again, you can add one or two horses in the fourth slot only. You want to keep things structured to maximize your profit if you are right.

Now, with the bigger field than we expected for Saturday’s Florida Derby, this philosophy should work out quite nicely if you get a little price help in the earlier races and in the second, third and fourth slots of your exactas, triples, and superfectas. Even with a smaller field this approach will yield some value when you are right or at least drag out whatever value exists in the race. That’s the goal, as we can only take what is there.

Betting on these types of races is fun, and the no-value complaining does not have as much merit as it appears if you bet and structure correctly.

Best of luck in the Florida Derby!

Jonathan Stettin
Jonathan has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings, as he practically grew up at the racetrack. His mother, affectionately known as “Ginger,” was in the stands at Belmont Park the day before he was born as his father, Joe, worked behind the windows as a pari-mutuel clerk.

As a toddler, Jonathan cheered for and followed horses and jockeys, knowing many of the names and bloodlines by the time he was in first grade. Morning coffee in his household was always accompanied by the Daily Racing Form or Morning Telegraph.

At the age of 16, Jonathan dropped out of school and has pretty much been at the races full-time ever since. Of course, he had some of the usual childhood racetrack jobs growing up — mucking stalls, walking hots and rubbing horses. He even enjoyed brief stints as a jockey agent and a mutuel clerk (like his dad).

His best day at the track came on August 10, 1994 at Saratoga, when he hit the pick-6 paying $540,367.

Jonathan continues to be an active and successful player. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin or visit his Web site at

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