The Kentucky Derby is one of the most thrilling days in horse racing. The ‘Run for the Roses’ is held on the first Saturday in May, and is billed as ‘The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports’.
Racing fans flock to their favorite tracks to place their bets, in anticipation of possibly witnessing a future Triple Crown hopeful.
The strategy behind placing a Derby wager varies. Some fans watch the race, dressed in their colorful, festive hats and matching outfits, running to the windows to place a wager on their favorite Derby horse based on the horse’s name. Betting on a horse by just picking the number, because it is a fan’s ‘lucky number’ is also common.
Then there are those that place a bet only on a longshot or two, hoping to take home a BIG payday (Hello, Mine That Bird! Rich Strike!)
The more seasoned bettors, however, strategize by studying the Derby prep races**, a full schedule of races on the road to the first leg of the prestigious Triple Crown, analyzing each race and the finish of each horse, waiting to make their wagering decision until the day before the race. Watching the horses’ morning workouts live on social media from Churchill Downs may also factor into a final wagering decision, since a horse may ship in and have difficulties handling the Kentucky surface.
Scratches may also throw a monkey wrench into even the most precise handicapping, with a horse drawing in that may not have been given a second glance, but now, needs some homework before the money hits the betting window.
And let’s not forget the weather forecast!! Some bettors closely watch the weather to gauge the track condition on the day of the race, and then jump on which horses are the proverbial ‘mudders’.
Post position is a major factor when choosing a Derby favorite. The post positions are randomly drawn several days prior to the race, with the connections of each horse in attendance and a lot of anticipation buzzing throughout the crowd.
When the starting gate opens, twenty horses are all looking to make history. According to Bloodhorse*, up until 2020, two starting gates were used. One gate held 14 horses, and the auxiliary gate held six more horses. In 2020, one single gate was in place for the race which was held in September of that year, won by Authentic from post position 15, after three scratches moved him from post 18.
An inside post can be troublesome, since twenty horses are all flying to get a good spot at the start of the race, and as a result, a traffic jam can occur. Outside posts are difficult, since the horses need to make up ground quickly, or fall back tp making wide turns to stay in contention.
Bloodhorse* cites that 12 of the 24 Kentucky Derby winners have broken from gate 13 or higher. From the 70 races that used a gate before 2000, just 10 winners broke from gate 13 or higher. Both Big Brown and Rich Strike won from post 20. No horse has won the Kentucky Derby from gate 1 since Ferdinand  in 1986. The only horse who has won from post 1, 2, or 3 since then is Real Quiet , the 1998 Derby winner who broke from post 3 and came up just a nose shy of winning the Triple Crown.
Ten winners have been from post 5, including Always Dreaming and California Chrome.
Which post has never yielded a Derby winner? Post 17. Tiz The Law drew that post in the 2020 September Kentucky Derby, but due to scratches, he moved up to post 14. The race that year was won by Authentic.
Just like having a favorite horse, some fans have a favorite jockey, and often wager on the horse that the particular jockey is riding in the race.
The winningest jockeys include Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack with 5 wins; and Bill Shoemaker with 4 wins. Isaac Murphy in the 1880’s had 3 wins and Earle Sande in the 1920’s had 3 wins.
John Velazquez, Victor Espinoza, Calvin Borel, Kent Desormeaux, and retired jockeys Gary Stevens and Angel Cordero Jr. all have 3 Derby wins. John Velazquez would have added a 4th win to his resume, but Medina Spirit’s disqualification in 2021 cost him that win.
In this year’s race, the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby, with a record purse of $5 million, John Velazquez has the mount on Fierceness for trainer Todd Pletcher and the Repole Stable. With 3 wins and a 3rd from 5 starts, the winner of the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms looks to be one of the morning line favorites.
Sierra Leone will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione for Chad Brown. The Gun Runner colt has an impressive closing style, and 3 wins and a 2nd from 4 starts.
Florent Geroux rode Mandaloun in the 2021 Derby, and with the disqualification of Medina Spirit, the horse became the Derby winner. Geroux will ride Just A Touch for Brad Cox, the lightly- raced Justify colt. Joel Rosario, also with one Derby win, (2013 with Orb), teams up with trainer Steve Admussen on Track Phantom.
With a cheering section stretching from Parx Racing in Bensalem all the way to Kentucky, the Butch Reid-trained Pennsylvania bred Uncle Heavy needs two horses to scratch to draw into the big dance. The buzz is ‘heavy’ on the Parx backstretch and beyond for the colt, who has three wins in five starts, including the Withers Stakes, and for trainer Reid, who would be making his first Derby start.
Are there any wagering superstitions that have circulated between racetracks? It has been on the lips of even the most seasoned bettor for years to ‘Bet the gray on Derby day’. Not only are they eye-catching, but they sometimes have what it takes to spring an upset in the race!
The Paulick Report points out a long lineage of gray superstars tracing back to England and Ireland with The Tetrarch, a brilliant stud, and then ultimately continuing with his great-grandson Mahmoud in 1946, and onto his descendants.
No gray horse had won the Derby until Determine in 1954. The great Mahmoud’s line continued with gray Kentucky Derby winners Spectacular Bid in 1979 and Gato Del Sol in 1982.
The dynamic Winning Colors became only the third filly to win the Derby, with an eye-popping win in 1988. Other notable grays include Giacomo, the son of the great Holy Bull (descended from Mahmoud) at a tote-board blasting 50/1 odds. Other gray horses entered the starting gate and finished in the money over the years, most notably the brilliant Native Dancer.
Whether you bet the cool, creative and clever names of the horse; your lucky number; a favorite jockey riding the horse; or ‘bet the grey’, there’s a lot to absorb before you don your hat or sip your first Mint Julep. Place your bets, and enjoy every minute of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 4!
Facebook-Kentucky Derby
Facebook-America’s Best Racing
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.