Apr 30 2018

Kentucky Derby Trends 2018

This article includes some trends about recent Kentucky Derby winners and other horses that have finished in the money for the Derby.  Part of this discussion has to include the special challenge of distance for Derby contestants and related to that, the added challenge of horses facing a stretch run that is quite long at Churchill Downs.

As most people are aware, the Kentucky Derby is 1 1/4 mile (10 furlongs) long.  A distance that no horse in the field has ever run prior to the Derby.  That alone is challenge enough.  In addition to that, many of the horses are coming from racetracks that have a stretch run considerably shorter than at Churchill Downs.  The diagrams below shows the stretch runs for Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park.  The length of the stretch runs are shown in feet beneath the blue arrows.

Stretch Runs GP and SA

Let’s compare that to the stretch run at Churchill Downs.

Churchill Downs Stretch Run

I often hear people talking about the “speed favoring” surfaces of Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park.  I think these diagrams point out nicely that it might be more than just the surface.  Unlike Gulfstream and Santa Anita, at Churchill Downs, after horses make that final turn for home, they have much more ground (and opportunity) to catch the pacesetters in the race.  That might explain why in the past 32 years, only three times has a “Wire” type horse won the Kentucky Derby on a fast track.

In case you’re wondering how Churchill Downs compares to some other major racetracks in stretch runs, click here to read an article that has a chart of most major tracks in the United States and their stretch run size.

So how many favorites have won the Kentucky Derby? Surprisingly, in recent years, eight of the last fourteen favorites have won the Kentucky Derby, including the last five in a row.  A 57% win rate for favorites is a bit surprising, especially given the size of the Derby fields. And, if you go back further, prior to Fusaichi Pegasus’ win in the year 2000, from 1980 to 1999 (twenty years) there were exactly ZERO favorites that won the Derby.

Here’s a look at the average payouts in recent years. Going back 25 years, we found the average Win Price to be around $28.  The last five years however have been well below that average ($11.40, $6.60, $7.80, $7.00, and $12.80).

What was a little more surprising was the average payout for the Exacta was around $800. And, although the gigantic exacta payout of $9,800 in 2005 (Giacomo and Closing Argument) skews that a bit, consider that despite favorites winning in the past five years, three (Orb, California Chrome, and Always Dreaming) were involved in exactas that paid $981, $340, and $336 respectively.

Trifecta payouts have averaged around $11,500 in the past 25 years, and 8 of the last 10 Derby trifectas have paid more than $2,300.  And once again, despite favorites winning in the past five years, three (Orb, California Chrome, and Always Dreaming) were involved in trifectas that paid $6925, $3424, and $16,594 respectively.

I started thinking about the high payouts for Win, Exacta, and Trifecta wagers on the Derby (all bets dependent on knowing the horses that finish In-The-Money).  Considering the variations in stretch runs discussed previously, I decided to go back several years and chart the 1-2-3 finishers in each Kentucky Derby … showing the racetrack where they had run their previous race.  I found some surprising results.  Below is a chart – showing year by year the race track where the top three finishers in the Derby had their prior race.

Kentucky Derby Finishers Prior Race
Year Win Place Show
2017 Gulfstream Oaklawn Santa Anita
2016 Gulfstream Santa Anita Fairgrounds
2015 Oaklawn Sunland Santa Anita
2014 Santa Anita Fairgrounds Oaklawn
2013 Gulfstream Fairgrounds Fairgrounds
2012 Santa Anita Oaklawn Keeneland
2011 Turfway Oaklawn Fairgrounds
2010 Oaklawn Gulfstream Keeneland
2009 Sunland Santa Anita Hawthorne
2008 Gulfstream Oaklawn Hawthorne
2007 Keeneland Turfway Oaklawn
2006 Gulfstream Keeneland Oaklawn
2005 Santa Anita Keeneland Oaklawn
2004 Oaklawn Keeneland Santa Anita

Just glancing down this list, it might not jump out at you, but the racetrack that has sent the most number of In-The-Money finishers to the Kentucky Derby in the last fourteen years is Oaklawn Park. Below is a summary of the above chart that points this out much clearer. For reference, relating back to what was discussed at the top of the article are the stretch runs for each of these racetracks.

Prep Racetrack Derby ITM Finishers Stretch Run (in feet)
Oaklawn 11 1155
Santa Anita 8 990
Keeneland 6 1174
Gulfstream 6 898
Fairgrounds 5 1346
Turfway 2 970
Hawthorne 2 1320
Sunland 2 990

What I find most interesting from this summary is the racetrack (Oaklawn 1,155 feet) that has sent the most In-The-Money finishers to the Kentucky Derby has a stretch run very similar in length to that of Churchill Downs (1,234 feet).

The next logical question is how many starters were in the Kentucky Derby with prior races from the above tracks, and what was the percentage of times they hit the board?  Below is the chart, sorted by Percentage ITM.  I included only tracks with at least twenty starters in the Derby in the past fourteen years.

Prep Racetrack Derby ITM Finishers Starters Percentage ITM
Fairgrounds 5 20 25%
Oaklawn 11 45 24%
Santa Anita 8 34 24%
Gulfstream 6 36 17%
Keeneland 6 64 9%
Aqueduct 0 31 0%

A few things stand out on this chart:

  1. Once again Oaklawn Park is near the top of the list, this time in terms of percentage of ITM finishes at the Kentucky Derby.
  2. Fairgrounds, another track with a stretch run very similar to Churchill Downs, had only twenty horses make their next start in the Derby, yet five of them hit the board for a 25% rate.
  3. The low percentage of ITM finishes from horses who ran their prior races at Keeneland, only 9%.
  4. Horses coming out of Aqueduct prep races are 0 for 31 hitting the board in the Kentucky Derby!

You can’t argue that eight of the last fourteen Derby winners had their prior race at Gulfstream or Santa Anita Park. But, with that said, only six other GP or SA horses finished in the top three.  So, if you’re looking for horses to include in your exacta, trifecta, or superfecta wagers … I’d give a look to horses coming from racetracks like Oaklawn and Fairgrounds.

Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

8 comments on “Kentucky Derby Trends 2018

  1. Something else stands out. Except for 2013, when you had two Fairgrounds horses finish in the top 3, there was not one other year where more than one runner from any one prep hit the top 3. Could be an interesting angle when constructing vertical tickets. Thanks Neal.

    Scott Calabrese on
      • You bet. If you care to do a follow-up with some ideas on the best/most cost effective way to construct tickets for the trifecta using that angle, I’m sure that would be helpful to many folks. Ticket construction is one of the areas where most people, even good handicappers, have trouble.

        Scott Calabrese on
  2. Great article Neal! Wonder how this translates for the Oaks race….

    I love the Kentucky Oaks/Derby bet….

    Linda Perryman on
    • Good question. There is a difference in distance of course. The fillies only run 9 furlongs in the Kentucky Oaks. But the difference in stretch runs remains the same from the various tracks where the Prep races occur. Let me do a little homework and maybe I’ll post another article on the Oaks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *