A Different Kind of Kentucky Derby Analysis


We are five days out from the 143rd Kentucky Derby — “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” it’s been called.

Far be it for me to argue against that position.

I love The Kentucky Derby and just about everything about it… except for the mint julep. I never quite understood the fascination with the mint julep. It must be the worst-tasting beverage I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had custom and pricey ones at Churchill Downs just to acquire the glass — and I never made it past a sip. Every single one of them was either consumed by someone else or poured out. In the future, I’ll just pay for the empty glass souvenir.

For some of, myself included, the most exciting aspect of the Kentucky Derby is the prospect of making a nice amount of money for being correct about the outcome of a horse race. And not just any horse race — the most famous of them all and one of the most competitive and difficult to predict.

Primarily, the reasons the race is hard to handicap are:

1) We are asking young horses to do something most never done before, which is race a mile and a quarter.

2) We are dealing with a large field and (likely) a roughly run race where bumping, blocking and rough race riding happens a lot, increasing the intangible element of luck involved.

Despite this, we see people weeks and even months in advance trying to pick the winner. Maybe they think you get paid more for an early selection. You don’t. Even future book wagers at bigger odds than normal don’t offset, to the true professional player, the risk and unknown factors of betting on a horse who might not even be in the race.

Regardless, people seem to do it — and love it. Social media is loaded with questions like, “Who do you like in the Derby?” “Who is your Derby pick?”

The race hasn’t even been drawn; we don’t know the weather or post positions, both important factors in predicting the outcome of a race.

We don’t know about any late defections or additions, which can affect the pace of the race, another necessary criterion to evaluate for any real chance at success.

If you make your selection(s) now, you won’t get paid any more if you are right than you would if you make your selection on the first Saturday in May when the race is run. To those of us who play professionally or to win, that’s important.

I’m not going to try and give you the winner of the Kentucky Derby today for the obvious reasons outlined above. However, I will try and give you the insight you need to make the correct choice this year.

Before I do that, let’s look at how I have done going back to 2000:

2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (winner)
2001 Monarchos (thought he had a chance, but didn’t land on him).
2002 War Emblem (thought he had no chance, totally fooled me).
2003 Funny Cide (thought he had only a slim shot and didn’t have him).
2004 Smarty Jones (thought he was the horse to beat, used him but, was not my main key horse).
2005 Giacomo (winner).
2006 Barbaro (winner, loved him).
2007 Street Sense (winner, loved him).
2008 Big Brown (winner, although I had some reservations).
2009 Mine That Bird (I think they left him out of my Racing Form, totally fooled me. I did not have him).
2010 Super Saver (thought he had a chance, but landed elsewhere).
2011 Animal Kingdom (winner, absolutely loved him and had him as good as it gets).
2012 I’ll Have Another (winner, loved him).
2013 Orb (winner, loved him).
2014 California Chrome (knew he was very live, but bet against him anyway).
2015 American Pharoah (winner, loved him).
2016 Nyquist (knew he was a contender, but bet against him).

The great thing about wagering on The Kentucky Derby is, if you know how to bet and aren’t scared, then Giacomo, Barbaro, Street Sense, Animal Kingdom, I’ll Have Another or Orb can pay for all the losses and put you way in the black. There were other winners too, but those were the ones that really made it count.

I agree with the popular consensus that this year is, indeed, more of a puzzle than a lot of other years. I think that is due to inconsistency with some of the top contenders, not a lot of separation in ability of the horses competing, issues that have surfaced with some of them and an odd pace scenario.

I’ve watched a lot of the replays including the horses galloping out. I’m convinced there are not a lot of horses this year that truly want to go a mile and a quarter. Even closers that look like they will appreciate more distance often don’t have that same kick stretching out and I think we will see that from more than a few this year. If you can isolate the three or four horses that will be still running that last eighth or sixteenth of a mile, I think there is a good chance you’ll find your winner. That’s easier said than done, but if you can, I think you’ll be in good shape in the stretch.

I also see a lack of a true wire-to-wire type speed horse. Due to the Kentucky Derby distance, we may see some patient jockeys come Saturday. If someone plays it aggressive and says, “come catch me,” the others may not be up to it. They may not have that kick and a speed horse can possibly nurse its way home or even run the others off their heels.

Those are the two most likely scenarios I see this year. Figure out who can get the distance or who can steal the race. I think one of those is the winner. Again, that may sound easy, but it’s a tricky task.

Still, you have until late Saturday afternoon to figure it out. By then, I’m pretty sure I’ll know.

I hope you do as well.

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 www.pastthewire.com.

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