America’s Day to Wager: The experts weigh in on betting the 2022 Kentucky Derby

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Betting is a big part of the Kentucky Derby annually and this year’s Run for the Roses is no different. Visit NBC Sports EDGE for a full breakdown of the 1st Leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, including actionable information, the definition of betting terminology, and odds for each horse.   

The Kentucky Derby presents what could be the most complex and difficult wagering situation in the American landscape. Think of all the unknowns:

  • It is the only time these horses will run in a 20-horse field
  • It is the first time they will run a mile and a quarter, and for many, it is the only time they will ever run that distance
  • Not only do horses go through a rapid maturation process from age 2 to 3, but they can also show major leaps forward or backward from start to start in their early 3-year-old season

We have little to no idea of how these horses will handle adversity. About the only thing we know is that with a large field, it is likely that some of the field will have to cope with bumping and other forms of bad trips.

Despite all this complexity, around $300 million in all-sources money will be wagered on Oaks Day and Derby Day combined. Some of the money wagered doesn’t even count into that total.  For example, people who are holding house parties to watch the Derby might have a pool where people put up ten bucks each to pick a horse number out of a hat, with the winner getting all $200 in the pool. It’s a fun bet that requires no expertise and gives everyone a rooting interest in the most important race in the country.

RELATED: How to watch Kentucky Derby 2022: TV channel, start time, live stream online, full race schedule

For serious handicappers, however, the Derby represents a chance at a big score, in great part due to the field size. Their attraction to this race is underscored by some numbers uncovered from the past 25 runnings of the race:

  • The average $2 Win payoff was $30.70. 12 of the 25 winners paid under $15, while 6 paid at odds of 20-1 or more
  • The average $1 Exacta payoff was $494.08. 10 of 25 paid $90 or less, but 5 paid $500 or more.
  • The average $1 Trifecta payoff was $930.37. 8 of 25 paid $500 or less, but 6 paid $5000 or more.

In order to properly tackle the Derby betting situation, I’ve consulted with some of the best handicappers I know. They’ve provided some great stories and some solid advice.

Matt Bernier: Swing for the Fences
I’ll begin with one of the best longshot players I know in NBC’s Matt Bernier. He made two memorable scores on the Derby, but he didn’t bet them on Derby day, as both were bets he made in future pools. In 2012, I’ll Have Another won the Derby at 15-1 odds, but Matt had him locked in several weeks before at 85-1. After a score like that, the following year he went to the Derby in person for the first time. Given his success with a future bet the year before, he topped himself with his 2013 selection. Orb won as a 5-1 shot that year, but Matt had zeroed in on him as early as January. His future bet was at 75-1 odds, and from his vantage point at Churchill Downs, he didn’t see the horse making his move. Then, one of his friends spotted the mud-covered silks of Joel Rosario and hit Matt with an elbow in the ribs and the words “he’s running”. Matt says he will never forget those words and what they meant at that time.

Matt’s advice for Derby bettors is to swing for the fences (like a superfecta bet covering several horses) or go with basic win-place-show betting, where the large field size tends to inflate prices. For example, Orb paid $12.80 to win, but he paid $7.40 to place and $5.40 to show. The larger prices for place and show are definitely a factor of the 20-horse field.

RELATED: What to know about the 2022 Kentucky Derby

Randy Moss: Bet on the Best
For a historical perspective, I went for sage advice from Randy Moss. He pointed out that from 1970 to the present, the best horse won the Derby about 80% of the time. As examples, he pointed to two extreme longshot Derby winners in Canonero II (1971) and Mine That Bird (2009). Canonero II went off at 19-1 that year, but only because he was part of a 6-horse mutuel field, as betting machines at that time could not handle more than 12 betting interests. If he had been an individual entry, experts say he could have gone off as high as 100-1.

After winning the Derby, he went on to win the Preakness and finished 4th in the Belmont Stakes, proving that he was the best horse in that year’s Triple Crown. Mine That Bird was 50-1 in the Derby, but he followed that win with a 2nd in the Preakness and a 3rd place finish in the Belmont Stakes, proving that he was the best horse in the 2009 Triple Crown races. Once again, young 3-year-olds can change quickly in their abilities, and a longshot on Derby Day can emerge as the best of his crop. Randy says that the relative inexperience of these 3-year-olds and their first experience going a mile and a quarter sometimes makes it difficult to identify the best horses, but history has proven that most Kentucky Derby winners, even if they are longshots, are not flukes.

Kenny Rice: Go With Your Gut
Lexington-based Kenny Rice is a reporter for several sports, including horse racing. One of his closest friends is the former University of Kentucky and NBA star Rex Chapman. Kenny covered him as an athlete since his high school days, but most of their discussions are usually about horses instead of hoops. Each year, they exchange their Derby picks, and at 6 am on Derby day in 2005, Rex called Kenny to let him know that he was going with a longshot by the name of Giacomo. Kenny liked the eventual 3rd place horse (Afleet Alex), who went off at 9/2 odds. As handicapping buddies often do, they supported each other’s picks at the windows.  When Giacomo paid $102.60 to win, they both made a nice score. Afterward, Rex told Kenny that he noticed him smiling as he was conducting his post-race interviews.

Kenny’s advice to people wagering on the big race it to go with your gut instinct, as he’s seen too many people change from their original selections on Derby day and end up regretting it. He also says to pay attention to established trainers who don’t send horses to the Derby unless they think they have a chance. As examples, he points out Charlie Whittingham with Ferdinand in 1986, Mack Miller with Sea Hero in 1993, and Art Sherman with California Chrome in 2014.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby: Explaining a Win Bet

Eddie Olczyk: Don’t Forget Your Straight Bets
Next up was the man of hockey and horses, Eddie Olczyk. He feels that one of the factors that led to his being hired on horse racing for NBC was something he did on a hockey telecast. The great Mike Emrick was doing a promo for the Derby on a hockey telecast in 2013, and they put up a graphic showing the Derby field.  He asked Edzo who he liked, and Edzo named 4 horses in the field of 20. If you boxed them, you would’ve hit the win ticket, the exacta and the trifecta. With the 34-1 shot Golden Soul running 2nd to Orb, there were some very large payoffs at the windows. He says that one of the camera guys on the hockey telecast followed his advice and had a large 5-figure payout.

Edzo’s advice for bettors is in sync with his handicapping pal, Matt Bernier. He says that win-place-show wagering is an “under-the-radar” value in the Derby. He says that some serious players that he knows only bet win-place-show on the Derby because of the generous prices.

RELATED: Key Storylines to Watch as 148th Kentucky Derby Comes Into Focus

Peter Rotondo: Pace Makes the Race
The last of the people I spoke to had the greatest story of all. Peter Rotondo has been an executive for the Breeders’ Cup, and he currently works for the 1st corporation, which owns several race tracks, including Santa Anita and Gulfstream. Pete is a whiz on social media and he has lots of friends. For the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he posts approximately $100 worth of bets for his friends to follow and wager on. He made a lot of people very happy when Country House was put up on a disqualification to win the 2019 Derby at 65-1 odds. If you followed him to the letter, you cashed on a $10 win and place bets on Country House, as well as a $2 Exacta and a $1 Trifecta. The $100 investment returned $15,429.90. One friend of Pete’s multiplied each of the suggested bets by 10, investing $1,000 and returning over $154,000. Pete estimates that between the people he knew of that cashed on his wagering strategy and the people they passed it on to who made the same bets, they all cashed for somewhere between a half-million and a million dollars.

Betting Strategy
Pete Rotondo’s betting strategy for the 2019 Kentucky Derby featured the #20 horse, Country House, who paid off at 65-1 odds

Pete says that in the Derby, pace makes the race. He points out that in some runnings of the Derby, there are only a couple of legitimate front-runners, and they could run 1-2 around the track. In 2019, he felt that there were several horses with front-end ability, and if a horse like Country House made a late run, he had a legitimate chance to close into the pace and hit the board, even at odds like 65-1. He took a swing for the fences, and he hit a home run for himself and a lot of his friends. Remarkable!

Country House
In 2019, $10 win tickets on Country House returned $662

Finally, a personal note. I have two examples out of my past that represent the extremes of wagering strategy on the Derby. In 2000, I knew that the favorite, Fusaichi Pegasus, was the dominant horse in the race. I also was impressed by the closing finish of a horse named Aptitude in the Wood Memorial. I only made one bet on the race, and it cost me $42. It was a $1 key superfecta that had Fusaichi Pegasus in the first hole, Aptitude in the second hole, and boxed 7 different horses for 3rd and 4th.

My two big horses ran 1-2, and I managed to nail 3rd and 4th from the 7 horses I had boxed in those positions. The payoff was $1635 for a $42 investment. The other example comes from the same 2019 Derby that Pete and his friends got rich on. I was asked on a broadcast outlet for a relatively inexpensive bet that would give novices a good run for their money. I suggested a $1 exacta box of ten horses, a bet which would cost $90. It was a bet on half the horses in the field, but I also had to eliminate 10 horses. The last horse I eliminated was Country House, as I proved that even with a bet involving 10 of the 20 horses, I couldn’t hit the exacta.

So, if you’re wondering who I like this year, the answer is Epicenter, who will be my key horse in a lot of different types of wagers. I’m targeting Zandon, Messier, Taiba, Charge It, Zozos and Smile Happy as the horses I will place underneath the favored Epicenter. The Kentucky Derby only happens once a year. Wagering on this race is not really gambling…it is participating in an American tradition.

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

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To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

RELATED: Mo Donegal rewards team’s confidence at Belmont

Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Qatar Prix de Arc de Triomphe
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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.