How we're betting the 2016 Kentucky Downs meeting

Profile Picture: Ed DeRosa

Ed DeRosa

September 1st, 2016

Kentucky Downs is utterly unique as a racetrack in North America, but handicapping this all-turf racecourse in bucolic Kentucky does not require a unique approach to handicapping.

Kentucky Downs begins its five-day all-turf meeting on Saturday, Sept. 3, and the action will be fast and furious through Sept. 15 (racing 9/3, 9/8, 9/10, 9/11, and 9/15) with ten races daily, several major stakes, and most importantly for this multi-race-centric horseplayer: full fields of $0.50 rolling Pick 3s with plenty of Pick 4 and Pick 5 opportunities as well.

The opening day card attracted 136 entries for an average of 13.6 before scratches. The all-stakes Pick 4 is on races 7-10 with $1.4-million in purses (four races at $350,000 each) attracting more than 11 horses per race. We’ll be back later in the week for wagering strategy on the card (including on-site coverage Saturdays, September 3 & 10), but for now here is our general approach to playing Kentucky Downs based on data going back to 2006.

The Speed Ratings are reliable

Some think performance indicators such as Speed Ratings are at their best on dirt, and while that could be true from an accuracy standpoint because there is a much larger sample size, it’s not necessarily the case from a gambling standpoint because betting the best last-out Speed Rating in any Kentucky Downs race going back go 2006, and even in the short term that wagering strategy worked, as it produced a +11% ROI in 2015.

The Prime Power ranking is reliable

Speed Ratings assess a horse’s performance while Prime Power compares horses’ abilities within a race. The best last-out Speed Rating is looking for the horse who ran fastest in his/her previous start regardless of surface, distance, and/or class while Prime Power accounts for all those variables. And like the best last-out Speed Rating has produced a positive ROI when betting the top-ranked horse in every race going back to 2006.

The multi-race wagering approach

With double digit fields routine, it’s not enough to just go 1-2 deep every race and hope to connect. Yeah you’re keeping your costs down, but at least you’re 20- or 25-to-1 to hit a Pick 3 that’s more likely to include top 3 wagering choices, which for a $4 bet would need to pay $80, and even with big fields that’s unlikely without a decent-priced horse.

But Speed Rating and Prime Power success gives us confidence that horses in form run well. The stats above include maiden races, which means horses who have run well are winning their fair share over first-time starters.

Best Bet for opening day

When the same horse is ranked 1st in both best last-out Speed Rating AND Prime Power, s/he has won 38% of races with a +6% ROI. There are two such plays on Saturday: #12 Lovely Bernadette in race 3 and #4 Belomor in race 5—both ridden by Carlos Marquez Jr.

Speaking of jockeys

Longtime Turf writer and fantastic turf sprint handicapper Frank Angst is a big fan of jockeys who have shown an affinity for Kentucky Downs, and an under-the-radar pilot at this meeting (with known names like Florent Geroux on the docket) could be Joe Rocco. I’ll definitely play him on any horse that makes sense and any ridiculous longshot who doesn’t.