Everyone has a winner’s itch, and for me it was the Kentucky Derby. I’d been watching the ponies race for years, always loving a good gamble. Finally, an opportunity arose to put my knack for picking winners to profitable use, and I didn’t hesitate to seize it. As the last race of the 2016 racing season drew near, I looked for promising odds and staked my dollars on a few favorites.
As it turned out, I had a few winners, but none of them hit the jackpot. It was a tough lesson, but at least I walked away with my pride intact—and a few extra bucks in my wallet. So, how much did I win betting on the Kentucky Derby? Let’s take a look.
As the name would suggest, the Kentucky Derby is held annually in Kentucky. Being from New York and growing up around all those horse farms, I was always fascinated by the unique culture surrounding the sport. Since my first love is statistics, I figured there’d be an easy way to find out how much I won by using my favorite pastime to its fullest. By looking at the odds of each horse before the derby, I was able to determine the horse with the best chance of winning. From there, all I had to do was follow my chosen champion throughout the year.
I focused on the 2016 Kentucky Derby, researching the odds of the favorite horses before placing my wagers. Fortunately, the Internet makes information easily accessible, and after an hour of searching, I was able to pinpoint a handful of promising contenders. Fascinatingly, every horse had a different price and nobody was as high as the bookies would have me believe. For example, I saw odds as low as 1.8 and as high as 4.7, so I knew there was a lot of variability in terms of pricing. With that kind of information, it’s easy to see why favorites rarely come in at their “true” odds; they have to be either undervalued or overvalued to make up for the points they’re losing due to their assumed status as a pre-determined winner.
The first horse to which I turned my attention was American Pharoah, who was favored in every race he ran in 2016. He began his campaign on March 5 with a win in the Gulf Coast Handicap, setting the stage for an incredible undefeated streak that lasted until the Kentucky Derby. This eventually made him the 6/5 favorite for the prestigious race. Unfortunately, American Pharoah came in second to champion Arrogate, finishing just 1/2 length behind the victor.
I was less fortunate in my second pick, Orb, who came in last in the Kentucky Derby. However, I did manage to gain some profit from my wagering on him, as he was one of the few horses I bet on that finished in the money. Still, it was clearly a losing venture, as he was 18.8 points worse than the average winning ticket. His poor showing in the Derby was likely due to his ill-temper, which caused him to injure himself during the race. This set him back weeks, draining all my winnings from his subsequent races.
While the losses were certainly frustrating, I walked away knowing that I made the right choice in backing my chosen horses. American Pharoah and Orb were the exact same age, and when choosing between the two, I decided that the experience of the former was worth the risk. He was undefeated except for one bout of illness, and his previous accomplishments in other races spoke for themselves.
Orb was a real rascal, always creating problems. No wonder his jockey was suspended for a day following the Derby. Sadly, I didn’t get to see much of either horse in the later part of the year, as American Pharoah’s career was tragically ended by a train accident. It’s probably for the best that they didn’t both outlive their usefulness. Luckily, I was able to salvage some winnings from his last race; he won the Pan American Handicap by a neck for a profit of $23.80.
To conclude, I would advise against wagering on the Kentucky Derby unless you’re prepared to lose a lot of money. The fact is that even the favorites rarely come in at their “true” odds. This is mostly due to the fact that the bookies have to make up for the points they’re losing because of their assumed status as front-runners. This can leave them open to sharp betting strategies from motivated bettors who are aware of this fact.