The 142nd Kentucky Derby takes place this Saturday, which means it’s officially the time of year for you to pretend to care about horse racing.
Of course, like most American sporting events, the Derby is mostly fun because of gambling. Unfortunately, like other American sports, most of us don’t really follow horse racing except for a few weeks in May and June, so you probably don’t know where to begin when it comes to picking a winner.
Look at the odds, duh
If you’re lazy and don’t want to read our beautiful prose, just look at the odds and pick the favorite. Handicappers literally make a living deciding which horses have the best chances of winning a race, so they probably know what they’re doing. The favorites for the race are: Nyquist at 3–1, Exaggerator at 8–1, Mohaymen at 10–1, Gun Runner at 10–1 and Creator at 10–1.
Still unsure what to do with these numbers? We talked to actual professional handicapper Michael Dempsey, the editor in chief of TurfNSport.com, about the race.
My reluctant selection this year is going to be Mor Spirit. No. 17 trained by Bob Baffert. [Because] it’s a wide open race. Nyquist is going to be the betting favorite. [...] But really there’s about eight or nine horses that all look like they have a legitimate chance to win the race. I was looking for a little better price with Mor Spirit who of course is trained by Bob Baffert who has won the Kentucky Derby four times including last year with American Pharoah, who of course went on to win the Triple Crown. He’s run fast enough. He’s lost his last two races but I think Baffert is going to have him cranked up for a career-top effort on Saturday. He’s 12-1 in the morning line so I think he’s going to offer a pretty decent betting value.
If you want to be super hipster about your horse racing pick (or you have a serious debt to pay), you can gamble on these long shots: Majesto at 40–1, Tom’s Ready at 50–1 and Trojan Nation at 50–1.
Learn your horse history
If you want to make a more sophisticated pick, you can begin by learning about these horses’ past performances. For example, you wouldn’t bet on Shaquille O’Neal in a free-throw contest if you knew about his history of failure at the line. How can you apply this to the Derby?
Well, you probably don’t want to bet on My Man Sam, Majesto or Trojan Nation, because they’ve never won a race. And Shagaf's name is hard to pronounce, so don't pick him.
Nyquist is undefeated in seven races, with a spotless 7–0 record. Some other good bets: Mor Spirit has three first-place wins, and has never finished lower than second in seven races. Mohaymen has won five of six races, while Exaggerator has won four of nine. (Also undefeated? Lani, who’s only won one race. But your friends don’t have to know that when you convince them to bet on Lani.)
Consider how they were raised
You know those doomsday scenarios where people always pick the two people they want to re-populate the Earth? That’s basically what horse racing is. Bloodlines are important—you want a horse with a family history of winning.
For this particular Derby, 11 of 20 horses share blood with Secretariat. Seriously, Secretariat is like the Wilt Chamberlain of horses. Other famous horses in the bloodline mix include Affirmed, Seattle Slew and Northern Dancer.
With so many Secretariat kids in the mix, it’s hard to go wrong here. Some of the favorites we’ve been talking about—Mor Spirit, Nyquist, Lani—are all Secretariat offspring. Exaggerator is like a weird, distant cousin of Secretariat who shows up to reunions uninvited.
It’s a team sport
Whitmore’s jockey is Victor Espinoza, probably the only jockey you actually know—because he has ridden the past two Derby winners, American Pharoah and California Chrome. American Pharoah's trainer, Bob Baffert, is training Mor Spirit. Nyquist’s team of Doug O’Neill and Mario Gutierrez brought I’ll Have Another within one win of the Crown in 2012.
Don’t bet on Outwork, whose trainer Todd Pletcher has previously trained 42 Derby horses—and won only once.
Eh, maybe you have no one to impress and money to burn. In which case, pick your horse by the color of its jockey’s uniform. This is known in the business as “jockey silks.” The most interesting silks that will apparently feature at this year's Derby: Suddenbreakingnews in orange and white diamonds, and Lani in red and blue.
Completely at random
Leave it all to chance.