May 5 2014

2014 Derby Lesson – You Have To Get Creative With Heavy Favorites

Spa Stretch and Tote Board

A 2-1 Favorite On The Board

About 24 hours before the 2014 Kentucky Derby I received an e-mail from an old horse racing buddy that said, “I need to bet an Oaks-Derby Double.  Do you think Untapable is unbeatable?  And, can you give me some horses and thoughts on the Derby?”

Regarding Untapable in the Kentucky Oaks, I replied that she had to overcome the outside post position, but I felt she had enough tactical speed to do that. She has the best Beyer Speed Figures in the field, by far, and in her last race Rosie was peeking back in mid-stretch.  I wrote in my trip notes “done with ease.”  Untapable was solid, albeit a heavy favorite at 1-1 on the tote board.

Regarding the Kentucky Derby, I replied:

  1. California Chrome (#5) has just looked so darn impressive visually.  He seems like the real deal.
  2. Have to use Danza (#4) after the way he finished in the Arkansas Derby.
  3. Can’t argue with Wicked Strong (#20). It appears he just didn’t like Gulfstream Park.

I ended my reply with, “I know that’s kind of boring, but I’m starting to get the feeling that the logical horses might prevail this year.”

24 hours later, I’m sitting here thinking,  how could I have cashed so little in the Kentucky Derby?  My choices, in order were 5-4-20.  The result of the Kentucky Derby was 5-17-4-20.  Commanding Curve (#17) blew up my exotic bets.  But, what really hurt me the most was my lack of creativity.

Anyone who knows my style, knows that I avoid playing short-priced favorites, especially  in a large field.  So, despite having California Chrome as my top selection, I shied away from a Win wager on him. Taking 2-1 or 5-2 was hard to accept in a 19-horse field. I gave some brief consideration to wheeling California Chrome on top of 50-cent Trifectas … an investment of $153.  But hitting the “ALL” button, not just once, but twice, seemed too cowardly to me.  So, five minutes before post time, I made my Kentucky Derby wagers:  A Win-Place-Show wager on my 2nd choice Danza at 9-1 odds and some weighted wagers with my three selected horses (5-4-20)  in exacta combinations.  Conservative wagers and in hindsight, not very creative. Click here to read a prior article explaining Weighted Wagers.

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
-Albert Einstein

So, back to the title of this article, you have to be creative with favorites. I already explained how I did not want to play a California Chrome – ALL – ALL Trifecta play.  But, what eluded me, was a more creative wager that would utilize my 2nd and 3rd choices in the lower rungs of a trifecta play. Combining Danza and Wicked Strong with the ALL button in the opposite position of the Trifecta could have resulted in the following wagers:

Trifecta Part-Wheel
1st 2nd 3rd Combos 50-Cent Trifecta Cost
California Chrome (#5) Danza (#4), Wicked Strong (#20) ALL 34 $17
California Chrome (#5) ALL Danza (#4), Wicked Strong (#20) 34 $17

The above combinations, played for 50-cent Trifectas, would have cost a total of $34.  Much more reasonable than the $153 investment for ALL-ALL in the Place and Show positions.  And, would reflect an opinion beyond the simple one that California Chrome was the horse to beat.  So, how much would the modest investment of $34 have yielded with the resulting 5-17-4 trifecta?  $856.  A more creative result!

Even more disconcerting for me is the fact that Danza and Wicked Strong finished 3rd and 4th.  Making more creative Superfecta plays and rewards difficult to think about.

Click here to read an article that explains in greater detail Trifecta Part-Wheel wagers.

Tom Morley Racing

This article sponsored by Tom Morley Racing Stable.


Rather than dwell on more Woulda-Shoulda thoughts on the Derby, let’s back up to the race that preceded the Derby, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.  Another race with a heavy favorite, as 2-time Horse of the Year, Wise Dan went off at odds of 1-2.

My wife, Deb, an avid 10-cent Superfecta player, had been aggravated all day by the fact that Churchill Downs does not offer a 10-cent Superfecta wager.  Every other major racetrack in this country offers a 10-cent Superfecta.  But, Churchill Downs minimum Superfecta is $1, which is kind of ridiculous when you consider they offer a 50-cent Trifecta wager. But I digress.

So, up until the Wise Dan race, Deb had avoided her beloved Superfecta play. But, in this race she decided to key Wise Dan (#1) on top with her next three choices, numbers 5,7,10 in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th positions.  She made a Superfecta Part-Wheel wager as follows:

1 with 5,7,10 with 5,7,10, with 5,7,10 = 6 combinations at $1 = $6 investment

The race result was 1-10-7-5 … and her $6 wager returned $101.  A much more creative result than just betting on Wise Dan to win.

There might be some of you readers thinking, “Yes, but she had to pick the three horses to finish behind Wise Dan.”  In fact, including Wise Dan finishing first, she had to pick the top four horses.  But, as someone who has witnessed her collect on countless 10-cent Superfectas, boxing only 4 horses for $2.40 … this is not out of character for her.  In fact, rare is a day we go to the racetrack that she does not cash at least one of these tickets.  As a result of her uncanny ability, it has been suggested by more than one of our friends that Deb should be running this website instead of me!

For the rest of us mortals, I recommend adding a few more horses in the lower rungs of your Superfecta wager.  So, rather than a 1 x 3 x 3 x 3 Superfecta Part-Wheel like Deb played … maybe you play a 1 x 3 x 5 x 5 Part- Wheel for a total of $36.  A return of $101 on a $36 wager (approximately 2-1 odds) is still better than the 1-2 odds you would get by playing Wise Dan on a Win ticket.  And … more creative.

Click here to read an article that explains some Superfecta Part-Wheel strategies.

Well, the bottom line is this.  When you are faced with short-priced favorites (e.g. California Chrome, Wise Dan, and Untapable), you have to get creative and use your imagination to construct wagers that give you a chance of cashing tickets with payouts that return more than their Win odds.  This is of course presuming that you like the favorite!  If you don’t … well, then that’s a topic for another day.

Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

8 comments on “2014 Derby Lesson – You Have To Get Creative With Heavy Favorites

  1. my buddy remembered that dallas stewart ran second last year and keyed him under california chrome, in both the exactas and tri’s. he told me he was doing this, but i did not listen. my keys ran as yours did: 3rd, 4th and 5th.

    andy aaron on
  2. Commanding Curve screwed up my verticals, too (and probably a lot of others). My biggest regret not betting the horse that was obviously going to win (and did). 5-2 looked pretty good after the race.

    Kelley Sample on
    • I hear you, but settling for 5-2 in a 19-horse field is something that is hard for us “value” bettors to accept. I don’t think there is anything wrong with trying to create value in our vertical wagers. Sometimes it works out, this time it didn’t. 🙂

    • Commanding Curve was my pick for a longshot in the field. My doubts were whether or not Cal Chrome was a Smarty Jones or a Big Brown. I just couldn’t see it. But, I was wrong. I left out Danza was 1st, 2nd and 4th in the tri. But, I did have a nice exacta. I fugured if you don’t insert a longshout in the Derby there’s no use playing the race. I also netted some nice Place and Show money.

      james newberry on
  3. Commanding curve was only closer in field of 19. The rest of field was front runners and stalkers. When picking horses use horses with different running styles not all horses can be on the lead in large field. But when there is only one closer I knew where he would be when race started and was hollering when he came roaring down the stretch at 37-1.

    Jody Thibodeaux on
  4. Agree short price favorites are hard to bet..but 5/2 these days are a gift for a favorite. Too many bettors in a race like the Derby ( myself included) look too deep into exotics..Old School
    At 5/2 as a favorite I concentrate on the value bet Exactas, more often that’s where the value is for ROI…

  5. Neal…As usual good comments. By the way, your research on derby trends of past winners in relation to the length of stretches at various tracks, helped me to nail the derby exacta, using commanding curve, who already won over track, with same jock, and also fit your example. I used him and a few other closers with California chrome, who I also bet to win. Keep your wonderful insight and research coming, I LOVE IT!!!…Thank you….Tony

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