How to Handicap the Kentucky Derby

A horse-racing expert gives his wagering advice on winning the Run for the Roses.

May 4, 2018 5:00 am
Justify, trained by Bob Baffert, exercises in preparation for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)
Justify, trained by Bob Baffert, exercises in preparation for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)
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The Curse of the Bambino ended in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series.

Twelve years later, the Curse of the Billy Goat ended when the Chicago Cubs did the same.

Will a curse that predates both be broken at this year’s Kentucky Derby? Don’t bet on it …

Set in 1882 when a two-year-old horse named Apollo won the Run for the Rose by defeating 4-5 favorite Runnymede, the Curse of Apollo refers to the fact that no horse that hasn’t raced as a two-year-old before coming to Churchill Downs has won the Derby.

Some have come close – three have taken second and five have grabbed third – but the horses that have entered the Derby without a race at age two are a collective 0-61.

There are many people who expect that to change this year as there is a pair of two-year-olds, Justify and Magnum Moon, with excellent shots to finish first.

Alan Nash, a Triple Crown and horse handicapper at wagering advice website Sports Information Traders, isn’t one of them.

Trained by Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert, Justify is the overall favorite at 3-1 while Magnum Moon, trained by last year’s winning trainer Todd Pletcher, is close behind with 6-1 odds, but it’s the horse in between them odds-wise, Mendelssohn (5-1), that Nash has his eye on.

“Mendelssohn offers tremendous value breaking from Post 14 to win the Kentucky Derby,” Nash told RealClearLife. “He just won the UAE Derby by 18.5  lengths with a 106 Beyer. It was his first dirt race, which is a testament to his trainer Aidan O’Brien, one of the best there is. Justify, a Baffert horse, has never raced as a two-year-old. That is a major red flag.”

The full field is set for the 144th Kentucky Derby during the Kentucky Derby Post Draw at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2018, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)
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Even though last year’s Derby was the fifth in a row to be won by the favorite, Nash said it’s wise not to let past results influence future wagers. “We’ve seen a trend of front-running horses having success over the last few years, but each race is its own event with its own unique set of factors leading up to and during the race. I put very little stock in last year’s race.”

Instead, Nash suggests paying attention to more recent history when trying to pick a winner or a horse that will finish higher than expected.

“Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy is currently 30-1 in the 19 Post,” Nash said. “I saw him train a few times in April down in Palm Beach. Todd Pletcher has his hands full with four horses to prepare for the Derby, but let’s just say Noble has great potential in this field.”

The key to betting long-shot horses like Louisiana Derby is pretty simple: research.

“My approach to betting on long shots, much like favorites, comes down to value,” Nash said. “The horse’s merits, fundamentals, breaking, and the team that’s in place all play a role in determining true ‘potential.’ It’s from there that I identify over and underpriced horses.”

Using that process, Mendelssohn emerged as the front-runner in Nash’s eyes and, if the nearly-three-year-old thoroughbred is able to take care of business this Saturday (and break a curse that has nothing to do with Apollo in the process), Nash believes that a Triple Crown bid is on the table.

“Mendelssohn is a horse that simply just knows how to win,” Nash said. “The measurables and team are in place as well. We know that no European horse has ever won the Derby. I see that streak ending this Saturday.”

Here’s his trifecta:

Win: Mendelssohn
Place: Good Magic
Show: Noble Indy

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