Finding the Right Kentucky Derby Key Horse

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D.S. Williamson

April 18th, 2015

Last week's article described how using a key horse in the Kentucky Derby can lead to riches. The fact is that every pool in the Kentucky Derby is so large that putting most of your Derby Day bankroll on who you think will win the race constitute's bad money management.

Money management is the key to profiting when wagering on horses. Without sound money management, no matter how large the bankroll is, eventually it will be in jeopardy.

But, how do horseplayers find the key horse that will lead to those Derby Day riches?  As with any day at the race track, it starts with strategy. If the strategy is to put $200 specifically into the Derby, finding the key horse becomes a matter of handicapping principals. For example, the 2001 Kentucky Derby had a seriously good looking favorite in Point Given. Not only had Point Given won the Santa Anita Derby, but he was trained by Bob Baffert. Baffert had won the Derby with Silver Charm in 1997, and Real Quiet in 1998. Point Given's sire is Thunder Gulch who won the Kentucky Derby in 1995.

The betting public made Point Given a huge favorite. He seemed unbeatable. If anything, he qualified as the key horse in the race since his pedigree, connections and brilliant Santa Anita Derby victory signaled his talent. Point Given was a $1.80 favorite to win the 2001 Kentucky DerbyHe didn't hit the board. Maybe, Point Given wasn't ready for the rough and tumble event that is the Kentucky Derby. Or, he simply got a terrible trip (which is true!), or, maybe he shouldn't have been the key horse that handicappers chose to begin with.

The first rule when betting on a horse race, much less a horse race with 20 entrants, is to never take underlay odds. In this case, Point Given represented a horse with underlay odds. Again, the way to make money betting on the Derby is to find the key horse, the horse that will finish in the exacta, trifecta, or superfecta. Putting $10 on Point Given to win made sense if $10 was your only investment in the race. But if you were investing $200 into the race, Monarchos set up as the perfect key horse.

After breaking his maiden, Monarchos won an allowance at Gulfstream Park by 4 3/4 lengths. He won the Florida Derby by 4 1/4 lengths. The key thing to notice about Monarchos' Florida Derby victory is that he closed from over 7 lengths at the second call and still won by 4 1/2 lengths. Monarchos had also run as fast, based on Beyer Speed Figures, as Point Given going into the Derby. What horseplayers had was a better than 10 to 1 shot that had won 3 races in a row before finishing second to a speedball in Congaree in the Wood Memorial and had the perfect style to win the Kentucky Derby. Point Given's future success on the Triple Crown trail proves the point. Point Given peaked 5 weeks later in the Belmont Stakes after destroying his competition in the Preakness. He turned out to be the best horse of his generation by far but he was still a massive underlay and bad key horse in the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby is the most unique race of the year for horseplayers. Let sound handicapping principles, starting with an understanding of what constitutes an underlay, lead you to the right Kentucky Derby key horse.