Kentucky Derby Betting Trends: Hidden Value, Speed Figures & Superfectas

Where do you find Kentucky Derby gold in a potential 20-horse field?

We caught up with one “prospector” in Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings. A lifelong racing fan and driving force behind the book’s sponsorship of major races like the Travers Stakes in August, Avello spotted some areas few people talk about.

Here’s a look at the 2024 Kentucky Derby betting trends, which includes his input.

More: Best Horse Racing Betting Apps and Sites in 2024

Hidden Value in the Place Bet Price

Beneath the exciting win collection is the place wager that often pays larger than one thinks.

“The size of the pool will make that work out in your favor,” Avello told Gaming Today.

“You may like Fierceness, the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Let’s say, as an estimate, he goes off 3-1 on Saturday. He would normally get you $8 on the win line (the 3-1 odds and one’s $2 bet returned) and your place price might be $3.50 to $3.60 at most.

“But in the Derby, you are liable to get 5 bucks or very close to it. Not only do you have that big betting pool, but when gamblers handicap a horse to win, they often figure he won’t get second if he loses.

“I always like to back up the win bet with something for second.”

To that point, examine Epicenter in the 2022 Kentucky Derby. He was the lukewarm 4-1 favorite, meaning he would have returned $10 for a $2 wager.

He was shocked in the home stretch by Rich Strike, who seized the race at a stratospheric 80-1. Epicenter finished second but returned an excellent $7.60. That might be about $2 more than one would expect.

Some gamblers put hundreds, even thousands of dollars on him on the place line, becoming huge winners. This underscores a time-honored across-the-board betting strategy (win-place-show) that preceded the age of exactas, trifectas, and superfectas.

Hard to believe, but there was a time when a track would have just two trifectas in a nine-race card.

As the exotics realm mushroomed across the board, wagers began to recede. But they are a powerful tool for those who know how to use it.

Forever Young: Ragozin to Riches?

Bettors can find Beyer speed figures in the Racing Form, which is easily accessible.

A different set called the Ragozin figures measures multiple variants like a horse’s weight, depth of track, distance raced off the track, speed, and direction. These sheets usually cost about double the price of a Racing Form, and most bettors won’t spend that money.

On these sheets, the figures may illustrate something about Forever Young, whom gamblers can’t quantify because he runs on the Japanese circuit.

Forever Young is 5-for-5 lifetime and just captured the UAE Derby in Dubai, but no horse from Japan has ever hit the Kentucky Derby top three.

Avello says that Ragozin figures nonetheless indicate Forever Young could run a bigger race than expected. That will prompt some bettors to include him in exotic wagers.

At 10-1, Forever Young isn’t exactly being overlooked. However, many gamblers will initially shy away because the Japanese entries have not done well.

What Beyer Speed Figures Say

This index measures a horse’s performance on a given day against the track conditions and the track record, among other factors. A figure above 100 is excellent.

Fierceness has a 110 Beyer, towering over the field. He figures to be in front or near the pace throughout most of the 1 1–4-mile race.

Mystik Dan authored a 101 Beyer, second-highest in the race. But he is a 20-1 early-line bomb because his best figure occurred in the slop. Should it rain heavily on Friday and Saturday, his odds will drop.

Catching Freedom won the longest prep race of 1 3-16 miles in the Louisiana Derby. He circled the field from last to first and authored a powerful 97 Beyer figure. He will be dangerous if there is a speed duel up front.

Sierra Leone’s 98 Beyer includes an excellent closing victory in the Blue Grass. His improvement arc in 2024 has been excellent.

Honor Marie is a strong closer, and Just a Touch figures to be with the leaders most of the way.

All these horses can be viewed as viable. The question is how bettors want to play them.

Is It Worthwhile to Invest in Superfectas?

They pay telephone numbers but may take several wagering combinations to select the top four horses in finishing order.

“To play this pool, you have to spend a little more than you normally would,” Avello noted. “You also have to believe that some of the horses in the middle or the end of the pack will finish in that Top 4 because if you pick all favorites, you won’t get the payout.

“If you spend the money and you can connect the dots, the payout could be astronomical,” he laughed.

Indeed. The $1 super with 80-1 upset winner Rich Strike paid $321,000 in 2022.

How did some people grab a piece of that? They took an “all” ticket in the top spot, with Epicenter, Zandon, and Simplification in the second through fourth spots. Those horses were short and medium-priced. They figured to run well.

Some superfecta selections like this can cost well over $100. But bettors got lucky in the top spot.

Luck, combined with logic, can create a dream payout.

Staying Atop Developments

Epic Ride was entered on Tuesday, with Encino dropping out. He notched a nice third behind Sierra Leone in the Blue Grass Stakes.

Weather updates call for a 70% chance of rain on Friday but only a quarter inch of precipitation. That may be a small enough amount to keep the track listed “fast.”

Saturday calls for a 50% chance of rain.

Given weather conditions, bettors will benefit from analyzing the last hour of racing leading to the 6:57 p.m. ET post to gauge how track conditions are playing vis-à-vis the weather.


About the Author
Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo is an award-winning writer and broadcaster, who has covered the sports industry since the 1970s. He won the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Boxing Broadcasting by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 1997, and is in the New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame. Bontempo has broadcast major fights all over the world. The advent of legalized sports wagering shifted his focus to this exciting new industry in 2018.

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