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Written by: Tom Amello and The Wizard

Facts! The Associated Press reported a 13% increase in Derby viewership from 14.8 million in 2023 to 16.7million, the largest audience since 1989. Parent company CDI announced, and Bloodhorse reported, “Betting on this year’s 20-horse Derby race totaled $210.7 million, up 11% compared with last year’s previous record of $188.7 million for that 18-horse race. Handle typically rises with larger fields.” 

Betting on this year’s 20-horse Derby race totaled $210.7 million, up 11% compared with last year’s previous record of $188.7 million for that 18-horse race. Handle typically rises with larger fields.


The popularity of the Kentucky Derby defies the public’s overall lack of interest in Thoroughbred Racing’s weekday/weekend product, save “Big-Race Day events. Picking and wagering on one’s Derby horse, the chill and thrill of a 20-horse field breaking from the gate, watching the race unfold, and the run to the wire magically presents all that Thoroughbred Racing is…Equine/Human excellence in combination with the risk of the gamble. When Who do ya Like? is the question, why ya like who ya like at what odds is the answer.

What are the clues to placing a potentially winning Derby wager? Which factor or factors, after prep race analysis, pre-race hype, workouts over the track, interviews, and past performance perusal prove most informative? In my opinion, it all comes down to opinion, “The Crowd” and the Odds Board.

Historically, a Kentucky Derby is won by a horse ranked in the top 7 public betting choices. Said another way, if the two public favorites are vulnerable, the place to look for the winner is among the next 5 betting choices. And in a 20-horse field with a long run to the clubhouse turn, favorites are near always vulnerable to the vagaries and chaos of a large herd on the move…opinion be damned.

In 2024, advanced wagering became available to “The Crowd” on Wednesday, May 2nd. With a mere $365K wagered, the public established the following order: (17) Fierceness, (2) Sierre Leone, (3) Catching Freedom, (11) Forever Young, (8) Just a Touch, (7) Honor Marie, (1) Dornock, (3) Mystik Dan, and (6) Just Steel. By late Thursday, (4) Catching Freedom and (11) Forever Young flipped positions; the rest remained the same. Moving on to Derby Day, (1) Dornock floated up as (3) Mystik Dan took significant money moving from 27-1 to 15-1 and into 7th position. 

Post time off odds and position were the following: (17) Fierceness @3-1, (2) Sierre Leone@9-2, (11) Forever Young @7-1, (3) Catching Freedom @8-1, (8) Just a Touch 11-1, (7) Honor Marie 15-1, (3) Mystk Dan @18-1, (1) Dornock @23-1, Hall of Fame trainer, octogenarian, and sentimental favorite D. Wayne Lukas’ runner (6) Just Steel dropped from 34-1 to 25-1. Trainer Larry Demeritte, a cancer survivor and the 2nd African American trainer to have a Derby horse since 1951 was the “feel-good” story of the day. His (13) West Saratoga took what I would characterize as sentimental/hope money, dropping in odds from @ 33-1 to post time 23-1.

So, what’s the point? First, “The Crowd” is efficient and formidable. Contention was near accurately aligned and defined by “The Crowd” as early as Wednesday. Contention continued to be clarified from day-to-day as the major portion of the $200+ million wagered on the race filtered into the win pool up to post time. Second, it takes significant money to move odds and change positions. Notably, of the top 7 public choices, (3) Mystik Dan took significant money, bet from 27-1 early on to his off odds of 18-1. Third, do horses at longer odds outside the top 7 betting choices win the Derby? Of course. And if you can find a reason and have an opinion, certainly wager on those runners. But these 25-1 and up runners don’t win often enough. 

The learning from this discussion about “The Crowd” supports the thesis that, after your pre-work, however cursory or time consuming, the Derby winner usually “lives” among the first 7 public betting choices.  

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Last updated: February, 2024

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