How to Play the Kentucky Derby card

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

April 20th, 2018

Total handle on the Kentucky Derby Day program at Churchill Downs exceeded $200 million for the first time in 2017. Already the biggest business day on the American racing calendar, the crossing of that previously unbroken threshold emphasized even more what an attraction the Derby and its corresponding undercard has become in the eyes of horseplayers across the continent.

Roughly two-thirds of the day's handle will be on the Derby itself. That includes multi-race wagers that end in the Kentucky Derby. The other third will be handled across 13 races, all of which are graded stakes, allowances, or maiden special weights.

The first couple hours of the day are generally taken up by overnight events before the graded action begins. As is customary, supporting features before the Derby include the:

*Old Forester Turf Classic (G1), a 1 1/8-mile race for older horses.

*Humana Distaff (G1), a seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares.

*Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) for fillies and mares.

*American Turf (G2), a 1 1/16-mile race for three-year-olds.

*Churchill Downs (G2), a seven-furlong sprint for older horses.

*Pat Day Mile (G3) for three-year-olds.

Bettors who enjoy partaking in multi-race exotics involving only stakes should again have a plethora of betting options, including rolling Doubles and Pick 3s, plus an all-stakes Pick 4 and Pick 5. There will be other Pick 4s and Pick 5s on the menu during the day, with those wagers overlapping both stakes and overnight events.

With the Pick 5 takeout reportedly being lowered to 15 percent for the entire Churchill Downs Spring meet, there will be no better time to take a swing at it than on Derby Day. A trio of 50-cent Pick 5s were offered on the 2017 Derby card, with returns of $557.55, $50,063.35 on the all-stakes version ending in the Derby, and $10,232.30 on the final five races which included an allowance and a maiden run after the Derby.

With deep, contentious fields the norm in the graded events, especially the one-turn dashes on the main track, it's best to be on the lookout for live longshots. For example, Win payoffs in the last two editions of the Pat Day Mile have been $19.40 and $28.20, while in the Churchill Downs it's been $28.40 and $30.20.

Of the three graded turf events, the American Turf has been the most prone for upsets. Win mutuels the last two years have been $32 and $39.40. Class and established grass form more generally carry the day in the Turf Classic and Distaff Turf Mile, but a field of three-year-olds that have yet to establish a pecking order among themselves can yield some surprises.