2022 Triple Crown odds: how favorites and field size impact each race
Like most U.S. betting outlets, you won’t find any single bets available on a horse to win the 2022 Triple Crown with TwinSpires. But you can bet on each individual race.
The first point to make for all races is that most betting options in the United States, including TwinSpires, use parimutuel betting. For the purpose of this article, the main thing to know about parimutuel betting is that the odds are not finalized until betting on the race is closed.
However, with that in mind, there are still some patterns that can be seen with Triple Crown odds, which is what we look at here. Note that 2020, the year when COVID-19 disrupted the normal Triple Crown schedule, has been discounted in this analysis because usual circumstances did not apply.
Unlike most races in the United States, where field size is limited to about 14, the Kentucky Derby can have up to 20 runners, and it usually has on or near that number. With more horses to bet on, the betting is spread around more widely, meaning the odds are normally longer than for most races.
For example, in a regular 14-horse race, such as the Breeders’ Cup Classic, favorites tend to range in price between about 0.80-1, or 4-5 (meaning that for every $1 invested, you get a profit of 80 cents, or a total return of $1.80) and 3-1. For the Kentucky Derby, the odds for the favorite range higher; in the last 10 years, the favorite’s odds for all the Derbys run on the first Saturday in May have ranged from 2.3-1 up to 5.4-1.
In addition, there is usually a greater proportion of the field at odds of 25-1 or more in the Kentucky Derby than for the races with smaller fields.
What, however, about the likely odds for the winner?
That has changed quite a bit in recent years. For a 20-year stretch from 1980 to 1999, the favorite was beaten every time. Odds of the winners in this stretch averaged around 10-1, though some were at longer odds, such as 31-1 shot Charismatic in 1999.
This century has seen three of the longest-priced Derby winners ever — Rich Strike (80-1 in 2022), Country House (65-1 odds in 2019), and Mine That Bird (50-1 in 2009). But favorites have also had a good record, including six in a row from 2013 — the year the Road to the Kentucky Derby series began — to 2018.
The odds for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, have a different character than the Kentucky Derby.
Firstly, with a smaller maximum field size of 14 horses, compared to 20 in the Derby, the betting money is spread among fewer horses. This is exacerbated by the fact the actual field size is usually below the maximum — only once in the last 10 years has there been more than 11 runners.
Odds for favorites are usually shorter. Because the Kentucky Derby is usually the first meeting of all the best three-year-olds in the land, the pecking order is not fully established and longer odds for the favorite reflect this uncertainty. For the Preakness, however, the Derby winner has usually become a clear No. 1.
In addition, with many people hoping for a Triple Crown winner, the Derby winner is often backed into shorter odds than might otherwise be the case.
These two factors mean the Derby winner is almost always the Preakness favorite, and at shorter odds than at Churchill Downs. In the last 10 years, the first horse home on the first Saturday in May ran nine times, and was favorite on eight occasions. Odds for the Preakness favorite ranged from 0.4-1 to 2.5-1.
Of those favorites in the last 10 years, just three — California Chrome, American Pharoah, and Justify, all Derby winners — won the race. Among the other winners, five had run in the Derby, while just two (Cloud Computing and Rombauer) did not. The longest price for a Preakness winner in that time was just 13.4-1.
The desire for a Triple Crown winner has an even stronger impact on Belmont Stakes odds than for the Preakness. In the past 10 stagings of the race at 1 1/2 miles, three horses have run with the Triple Crown on the line, and none started at longer than 0.85 to 1.
Many are known to back the Triple Crown contender with the intention of keeping the ticket as a souvenir, rather than cashing it, should that horse win.
However, if there is no Triple Crown on the go, the favorite usually starts at slightly longer odds than the Preakness favorite; the odds range for these seven horses in the past 10 runnings at 1 1/2 miles has been from 1.3-1 up to 2.75-1.
Given that the Belmont provides an extra stamina test, there is usually more doubt about the result than for the Preakness, and the odds on the winner can be a little longer. Three favorites have won the past 10 Belmonts staged at 1 1/2 miles: Triple Crown heroes American Pharoah and Justify, and last year’s 1.3-1 winner Elusive Quality, who hadn’t run since his Derby effort.
Of the other winners, four were at odds of more than 10-1, the highest being Ruler On Ice at 24.75-1. Some longer shots won in the previous decade, the highest being Sarava at 70-1 in 2002.