Narrow the field with a balance of information and intuition.
Spring is a beautiful time in Louisville. The weather is warming, trees are blooming and there is excitement in the air: It’s Derby season!
But long before the call to post on the first Saturday in May, Louisvillians and racing enthusiasts across the world start following the field of potential Kentucky Derby runners. When the final field of three-year-old thoroughbreds is announced, the fun really begins.
But how do you pick a winner? Picking a winning horse in the Kentucky Derby is no easy task.
The field is one of the largest in horse racing and it can be overwhelming to narrow your pick to one (or even several horses, depending on your bet). To make a decision, I always turn to what I know best: solving problems with research and analysis.
Here are the steps I use to evaluate the horses and (hopefully) pick a winner:
Step 1: Start With The Data
Every set of data tells a story – so use it.
Luckily, you don’t have to tote your laptop and Excel workbooks to the track with you. The racing program is the only database you’ll need.
There is a lot of data crammed on each race page, but one of the first things I look at is the horse’s jockey. You’ll find the jockey’s record under their name in the racing program.
A jockey with a 10-2-1-4 under his or her name means: They have started in (10) races, won (2), placed (came in second) in (1), and showed (came in third) in (4) races during that racing meet.
A good jockey can make the difference between a winning run and a mediocre one. So, the jockey is important.
But, they wouldn’t make it very far without a horse to ride on. The horse’s record is also a statistic worth consideration.
For each horse in the racing program, there are statistics in the upper right corner that show the horse’s record. Formatted similar to the jockey’s record, it will detail the horse’s record for current and previous years as well as the horse’s lifetime record.
It will also show the horse’s record on various track types. The horse’s record is a broad snapshot of their performance without getting too far in the details of specific race results.
Step 2: Listen To The Experts
Yep, some people do this for a living. The experts don’t have all the answers, but they can provide useful information that is not always available in the racing program.
Before any big race, there is usually a small army of commentators reporting on the horses.
The Kentucky Derby has no shortage of media coverage. Listen to what they have to say. You may learn something about a horse or jockey that you didn’t know.
“The jockey riding #8 won two of the past five Kentucky Derby races…”
Maybe you know it’s scheduled to rain at Churchill Downs – and you learn that “#5 has never won on a sloppy track.”
You’ll probably also learn random stats like “the horse starting in the 17th post position has never won the Kentucky Derby.” Maybe this is the year!
Step 3: Follow Your “Gut” Instincts
Then, there’s your intuition, beliefs and tradition.
Perhaps a jockey is wearing blue silks that match your wife’s hat? Or maybe the horse’s name is “MisterCentric” and you love Centric!
If you’re like my dad, you’ll always bet on the gray horse in the 5th race of the day. Because, well, that’s his tradition.
People use all sorts of legend, lore, and past experiences to select a horse.
In a wide open field like the Kentucky Derby, listening to your gut always has the potential to produce a winning pick.
Making Your Pick
Picking a winner is far from exact science. But, next time you are faced with a complicated decision, whether it is at work, home, or in the grandstand at Churchill Downs, take a look a the data you have, consider consulting an expert, and don’t ignore your gut.
Most importantly, whether you’re watching the race from home or Churchill Downs, make sure to follow some good ol’ Kentucky traditions: sip a Mint Julep, belt out “My Old Kentucky Home” before the big race, and have some fun. Because the most exciting two minutes in sports will have come and gone before you know it.
If you don’t have the winning pick this year, don’t worry. Next spring, Louisville will once again roll out the red carpet and we’ll do it all over again. Better luck next year!