Kentucky Derby Betting Strategy


In 2013, Churchill Downs implemented a new method in which horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby, awarding points to the top four finishers in a series of Kentucky Derby “prep races” spanning from September of the previous year through April of the current year.


Prior to 2013, Churchill Downs used horses’ unrestricted stakes earnings to determine the field of 20 for the First Saturday in May. The major difference: horses could earn money in a wider variety of stakes races than those currently designated specifically as Kentucky Derby preps. Horses could earn money toward qualifying in the Derby in sprint races, or races shorter than a one-mile distance. Experts will argue that the new points system has eliminated a considerable amount of horses with early speed, changing the entire dynamic of how the Derby is run.

The main result? There are, of course, differing arguments to be made as to the impact of the points system, but one statistic has proven true in the last five Kentucky Derby’s: the post time favorite has won every time.

My Best Betting Derby

In 2013, I had my most successful Kentucky Derby from a betting standpoint. For  reasons both sentimental and strategic, I was high on a horse named Orb, who ended up winning that year. I bet $120 to win on Orb at 5.4-1, which yielded $768, or a $648 return on investment (ROI).

I also bet a series of exactas. I wheeled Orb in first and took ALL in the second position, which cost $19.00. I also wheeled the field in an exacta using ALL in first and Orb in second, which also cost $19.00. With Orb as a somewhat high price as a favorite, and longshot Golden Soul finishing second at odds of 34.5-1, I hit the $1 exacta which returned $490.80, good for a $452.80 ROI.


The Strategy

What I have started recommending to people as an approach to betting the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports, is to pick out one horse that you really like, and use that horse in the same betting strategy I used in 2013. If you’re having trouble picking out just one, history suggests that you take the favorite.

Derby Field

In this case, should (7) Justify end up being the post time favorite, you would make the following wagers:

  • $1 Exacta 7 with ALL (19 total bets, cost: $19)
  • $1 Exacta ALL with 7 (19 total bets, cost: $19)

The hope is that, obviously, Justify finishes either first or second, and that a longshot finishes in the opposite position.

The Strategy: Past Five Years

Orb’s exacta was by far the most rewarding in 2013, but if you made this same series of wagers wheeling the favorite with the field and vice versa, you’d still be quite profitable.


The image above illustrates returns if you only did one half of the wager, because the favorite has finished first in each of the last five years. Had you made both bets (favorite with ALL; all with favorite), you still would have made some significant money, you just would have spent more on betting.

If you placed both series of wagers each year, it would have cost a total of $184, with the same total return of $880.50, but would have only netted $696.50, still good for an average of $139.30 in profits over the five-year period.

My Recommendation

I am recommending making both series of bets, just in case a longshot ends up winning the race, you would still have the favorite in second, and would likely get an even greater return if it hits. The $1 series of bets will probably cost you $38 total. If you’re wanting to bet more, do the same series with a $2 exacta, which would cost $76. Or you could use the same betting sequence of $1 exactas for two different horses, also totaling $76.

Note: If this is too confusing, feel free to submit a question to

Of course, because I am writing this post out of the kindness of my heart, I’m sure things won’t work out in this manner for 2018! Which is why I say do your research, pick out one horse YOU really like (regardless of odds), and hope it finishes first or second with a longshot in the opposite position.

Stay Tuned

I plan to post an analysis of both the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby on here in the coming days, as well as for select other stakes races on Churchill Downs’ Friday and Saturday cards. Stay Tuned!




Earlier this week, a bloodstock agent by the name of Tom Ryan (@TomRyanKY) called for a submission of ideas from horse racing fans on Twitter, using the hashtag: #GrowOurSport.

First let me say that I appreciate Mr. Ryan for encouraging this discussion. Several folks from around the Twittersphere weighed in, and although I am a bit late to the party, I had to elaborate on the conversation…

I see it as quite a barrier to entry for new fans to make sense of how the Breeders’ Cup describes itself as the “World Championships of Horse Racing,” when in industry terms, a horse is not considered an actual “champion” unless he or she wins an Eclipse Award…

ChartThe Breeders’ Cup has their idea of what the 14 divisions of championship racing should look like, while the American Graded Stakes Committee’s idea of classifying races differs quite a bit. And the descriptions of the different divisions do not always match up.

Two-year-olds, also called “juveniles,” can run on the dirt or the turf, but the American Graded Stakes Committee doesn’t classify 2-year-old races in terms of turf, dirt, route, or sprint, because there aren’t as many offered, I guess. But the Breeders’ Cup hosts four separate races for Juveniles, Juvenile Fillies, Juvenile Turf, and Juvenile Fillies Turf. The Eclipse Awards go to a Champion 2-year-old male and a Champion 2-year-old filly, but when it comes time to refer to the age group as fillies and/or mares, the term is shortened to just simply “Champion Older Female.” But explaining all of this to a newcomer is a nightmare.

And while I’m on my soap box, I have a question for the American Graded Stakes Committee: Do you not take into account the size of the Registered North American Foal Crop when you’re grading these races?

Here’s the quote on TOBA’s website introducing the Committee:

Why bother? Why try to remember which race is better than, or inferior to, another?

Because to improve the breed, to upgrade a broodmare band, to select a stallion, to understand a catalogue page, to evaluate a family – one must be able to recognize racing class.

– Kent Hollingsworth, Editor
The Blood-Horse, January 21, 1974

But shouldn’t class, or the quality of horses depend on the quantity of the crop? At it’s peak, the Jockey Club reported 51,296 foals registered in 1986. How many graded stakes races were approved for the next year? 425. In 1996, there were 35,366 foals born. In 1997, there were 449 graded stakes races. In 2006: 38,104 foals. In 2007: 474 graded stakes races. In 2016, the foal crop was 20,850. In 2017, there were 464 graded stakes races.

Breeders are loving it, because winning a graded stake has never been so easy. But are we really ‘recognizing racing class?’ I’m not so sure. Am I nitpicking these numbers a bit? Perhaps. Maybe you need to go to the foal crop from two or three years before the actual year of the decision to select the amount of graded stakes races…but it’s not going to be that different.

That’s it; I didn’t mean for this to become a segment of “What Grinds My Gears in Racing,” but I had to get these thoughts out there.

I’m sure I will eventually devise more of a comprehensive article offering insight from others, and perhaps even come up with some sort of potential solution to address these issues…But for now, thanks for reading! 🙂

CoxTalks’ Preakness Preview

Nine rivals will line up Saturday at Pimlico in attempts to spoil the Triple Crown bid of Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands-winner Always Dreaming in the 142nd renewal of the Preakness Stakes.

The 4-5 Preakness favorite arrived in Baltimore on May 8, just two days after his Derby triumph, and seems to have been training well over the Pimlico oval.

Four other Derby-runners will return off just two weeks rest to contest for the Triple Crown’s second jewel: Lookin at Lee (2nd in the Derby), Classic Empire (4th), Gunnevera (7th) and Hence (11th). Among those four, Classic Empire at 3-1 looks to have the best shot to take down Always Dreaming. Here’s what his trainer Mark Casse told Churchill Downs Communications after Classic Empire’s rough trip in the Derby:

“I watched the replay a couple of times yesterday,” Casse said. “Initially I had blamed McCraken. And it probably was more Irish War Cry than McCraken. McCraken is who got us. Honestly, I think our horse probably got more respect out of that performance (from) anyone who really watched the race, because he overcame a lot just to finish fourth. I’m proud of him, and look forward to trying Always Dreaming again.

“Classic Empire is very fast. Our intentions were to be up laying close to the pace. In fact, I told Julien (Leparoux) that I’d love to be able to get up and get over. Because I thought there was definitely an advantage to being inside. And 100 yards out of the gate, it was pretty well over, I thought. Now I do have to tell you that we did get a little bit excited about the half-mile pole, because he did start with a run. But the first part of the race was like, ‘Oh boy.’

The Triple Crown newcomers are Illinois Derby (G3)-winner Multiplier; Cloud Computing, who finished third in the Grade-2 Wood Memorial last out; Term of Art, who most recently ran seventh in the Santa Anita Derby (G1); Grade-3 Lexington Stakes-victor Senior Investment; and Conquest Mo Money, who finished runner-up to Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby (G1) in his last effort. Here’s a look at the full field:

Race 13: Preakness S. (Grade I) | Post Time – 6:48 PM | TV: NBC

PP Horse  Jockey Trainer M/L
1 Multiplier (KY)  J Rosario B Walsh 30/1
2 Cloud Computing (KY)  J Castellano C Brown 12/1
3 Hence (KY)  F Geroux S Asmussen 20/1
4 Always Dreaming (KY)  J Velazquez T Pletcher 4/5
5 Classic Empire (KY)  J Leparoux M Casse 3/1
6 Gunnevera (KY)  M Smith A Sano 15/1
7 Term of Art (KY)  J Ortiz D O’Neill 30/1
8 Senior Investment (KY)  C Hill K McPeek 30/1
9 Lookin At Lee (KY)  C Lanerie S Asmussen 10/1
10 Conquest Mo Money (NY)  J Carreno M Hernandez 15/1

A Look at Recent Preakness Trends

I was curious as to how recent Preakness fields have taken shape with regard to the ratio of Derby runners and non-Derby runners. Here’s a look at what I compiled:

Derby-Preakness Fields

Five Derby-to-Preakness runners is just above average (4.6) for the last 10 years, while the average field size has been nearly 11 over the past decade.

Recent history indicates that a Preakness winner is much more likely to have come from the Derby than anywhere else.

Kentucky Oaks-winner Rachel Alexandra is the only non-Derby starter to win the Preakness since 2007, defeating 2009 Kentucky Derby-winner Mine That Bird by a length.

If you go back an additional 15 years, only two other horses have won the Preakness that didn’t participate in the Derby. 2006 Preakness-winner Bernardini ran the week before the Derby in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. That was the same Preakness when Derby-winner Barbaro tragically broke down. Red Bullet, who ran second in the 2000 Wood Memorial but skipped the Derby, galloped away in the Preakness that year 3-3/4 lengths ahead of Derby-winner Fusaichi Pegasus, who held on for second.

Past Race History of 2017 Preakness Jockeys and Trainers

Past Preakness

Only two jockeys in the 2017 Preakness have ever won the race before: Javier Castellano and Mike Smith. Joel Rosario, John Velazquez, and Corey Lanerie have all been close, recording five runner-up finishes between the three of them. Three jockeys are making their debut in the Triple Crown’s second jewel: Jose Ortiz, Channing Hill, and Jorge Carreno.

As for the trainers, Steve Asmussen has captured the race twice, while Doug O’Neill has one previous Preakness win. Todd Pletcher is the only other trainer to have previously hit the board. First-time trainers are Brendan Walsh, Chad Brown, Antonio Sano, and Miguel Hernandez.

How does the race setup?

Conquest Mo Money has shown the most early speed of anyone in the field not named Always Dreaming. Conquest Mo Money will break from the far outside in post 10, similar to his post in the Arkansas Derby, when he broke from 11th in a 12-horse field. I think the connections of Always Dreaming would love to see Conquest Mo Money come over from the outside and grab the early lead, allowing the Derby winner to sit behind in stalking position in a close-second.

But I would think Classic Empire’s connections wouldn’t mind a similar, stalking trip, and may even try to challenge Always Dreaming early for that early second-place position. If I’m Todd Pletcher, I’m telling jockey John Velazquez to get out in front of the three to your inside and get to the rail, and hope that Conquest Mo Money comes from the outside and maybe squeezes Classic Empire in between horses to keep him away from the front early on.

Cloud Computing is another horse I expect to be closer to the pace early on maybe in third or fourth through the opening quarter and half-mile. This is a lightly raced colt making just his fourth career start, so you have to think he’s got room to improve. Trainer Chad Brown could have entered him in the Derby, but he obviously thought the Preakness would be a better spot for this inexperienced young colt.

Gunnevera I expect to have a better showing and will close late, but I think he’s still only fourth or fifth best in this field. To me, Lookin at Lee is the closer that deserves a closer look. He ran third behind Classic Empire and Conquest Mo Money in the Arkansas Derby before finishing second in the Kentucky Derby. I think he should benefit from a 10-horse field, the smallest he’s faced since last September. Lookin at Lee’s sire, Lookin at Lucky won the Preakness in 2010, ending the Triple Crown hopes of Todd Pletcher’s last Derby-winner, Super Saver.

So I expect Conquest Mo Money to lead early and then give way to Always Dreaming and Classic Empire at the top of the stretch, making for an exciting late duel from the two seemingly best horses in the race. I think Cloud Computing will be right behind them, but then Lookin at Lee and Gunnevera will likely pass Conquest Mo Money and Cloud Computing in the final furlong or so. I think there’s a scenario where Lookin at Lee could get up for second, or even win the race, but there would have to be some pretty fast early fractions with the two favorites close to the front the whole way in order for that to happen.

My Pick

Classic EmpireI have to think Classic Empire would have been right there with Always Dreaming in the Kentucky Derby if not for the bad start. It sounds like both horses have come out of the Derby well, but Todd Pletcher admittedly likes to give his horses more time than even three weeks, much less two, to prepare for their next race. In each of Always Dreaming’s four wins, he has handily taken the lead in the stretch, but really hasn’t had a horse come out to challenge him late like I think Classic Empire will Saturday. Classic Empire hasn’t had many wins where he’s had to pass horses in the final furlong either, but the way he powered by Conquest Mo Money in the Arkansas Derby was impressive.

With that said, I’m taking Classic Empire to win. He’s going to be a bit better of a price than Always Dreaming, although it probably won’t be as high as the 3-1 he was given on the morning line. I’d say more like 2-1 or 9-5. I think Always Dreaming probably holds for second, but don’t sleep on Lookin At Lee, who I think should hit the wire at least third with a much higher price. I may even bet against myself and put some side money across the board on Lookin at Lee depending on his price. I don’t think a $5 Trifecta Box using Classic Empire, Always Dreaming, and Lookin At Lee would be a terrible bet, especially if Lookin At Lee could get up for second. A $5 Tri Box (4, 5, 9) would cost $30 total.

Good luck, and happy Preakness!

The Dream comes true for Kentucky Derby winning connections

Two sets of longtime friends and colleagues all sat together facing dozens of cameras and reporters on Saturday evening in Louisville. On the far left was a trainer from Texas, and to his right, a jockey from Puerto Rico. Together the two had teamed up to win over 1,600 races over the last 20 years, but this was their first time sitting next to each other on this stage, after this significant of a feat.

To the right of the jockey were two successful businessmen who were childhood friends that grew up in Brooklyn, both of whom remember attending races as kids with their fathers.


Together, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, Vinnie Viola, and Anthony Bonomo, with the help of their wives, families, friends, colleagues and fellow business partners, had just won the 143rd Running of the Kentucky Derby with a colt fittingly named Always Dreaming.

“Growing up as kids, we’ve won a lot of Kentucky Derby’s, but never in reality,” Bonomo said, yielding laughter from the crowd. “But I think we just knew when we got together that something special was going to happen.”

Always Dreaming had the perfect trip, breaking from post position five with Velazquez guiding him the whole way. State of Honor, who broke just outside of Always Dreaming from the six-post, got out to the early lead, as Velazquez kept his horse close behind in second through the races’ early stages.

“Out of the gate we didn’t have any trouble,” Velazquez said. “The first step, I wasn’t too happy with. The second step I had to ask him to break. And he got into a good rhythm right away. Once I was going forward, for the first time, I was happy where I was. And so the other horse, obviously, showed some speed. So I let him go into the first turn. I eased away from him. On the back stretch, I took a hold of him. And, as soon as I got it in the back stretch, he was going really comfortable.”

Always Dreaming got a head in front of State of Honor with a half-mile left in the 1 1/4-mile Derby, and never looked back, crossing the finish line ahead 2 3/4 lengths.

For co-owners Viola and Bonomo, the dream had finally come true.

“For Anthony and I, I think we represent everybody who went to the racetrack for the first time with their Dads and were just astonished by the brilliance of these equine athletes and never fell out of love with the sport,” Viola said. “To sit up here, you have to say that we’re really still two kids at heart, who grew up in Brooklyn New York in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn who always dreamed and this was one of the dreams that came true.”

Bonomo elaborated on how the name “Always Dreaming” was conceived.

“For me, it’s just a dream and my wife picked out the greatest name,” Bonomo said. “I mean, how do you pick out a name, attach it to a horse, and this happens?”

When asked what was the inspiration for the name, Bonomo pointed to his wife and said, “you’ll have to ask her.”

When the audience looked to Mary Ellen Bonomo in her white floral Derby hat and white dress, she got choked up for a moment and had to fight back tears of joy before taking the mic.

“I’m a little overwhelmed,” she said. “I just, I always daydream, I probably daydream a little too much and kind of live in Xanadu sometimes and I said, ‘why don’t we name it dreaming?’ Everybody dreams of something, whether its a big event, a special day, the birth of their child, winning the Kentucky Derby…So I just said, you know, let’s just…’Always Dreaming.’ And it just took off. And now we’ve said that when this horse has it’s first baby, we’re gonna name it ‘Keep On Dreaming.'”

It marked the second Derby victory for Pletcher, who had won with Super Saver in 2010. It was also the second Derby win for Velazquez, having won on Animal Kingdom in 2011. But to win it together, after having so much success in other races past, was something special for both of them.

“Very special,” Velazquez said. “Todd mentioned earlier that we had won important races. But winning this one is definitely a big one. And I really think being behind me for 24 years together, something like that, a long time for him to still trust in me and give me the opportunity, it’s not very often it happens in this business.”

Pletcher reflected on his stable’s history in the race before elaborating on the significance to win with Velazquez.

“You know, when you look at it now, we have been here — I think this was our 17th Derby,” Pletcher said. “To be fortunate enough to have two wins in two seconds and I think three thirds, it looked a little better. To me, it felt like I really needed that second one, you know? One more. And the first one was extra special. I have a tremendous respect for the race, tremendous respect for how difficult it is to win.”

“But I felt like we needed another one as a team to put it together,” the trainer added.
“And I felt like Johnny and I needed one together as well.”

The room erupted in applause from family members of the winning connections and reporters/media personalities alike.

“We have had a great relationship for a long time now, and we have won a lot of races together,” Pletcher said. “This one we hadn’t, and this is the one we wanted to win together. And I’m glad we could do it.”

Always Dreaming is expected to be shipped to Baltimore on Monday, where he will begin preparations for the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. The 141st Preakness at Pimlico Race Course will be held Saturday, May 20, and will be broadcast live on NBC.

CoxTalks Kentucky Derby Preview

Featured Image: May 7, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; Mike Smith aboard Danzing Candy (20) leads Mario Gutierrez aboard Nyquist (13) into the first turn during the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock

The field has been drawn, morning-line odds have been assigned, spring has officially sprung, and the first Saturday in May is rapidly approaching. The 143rd Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands is about as wide open as ever, although the betting favorite has taken the first leg of the Triple Crown in each of the last four editions. Mother nature may look to shake things up this year for Derby athletes and spectators alike, as the forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of showers in Louisville on Saturday, mainly after 8 a.m., with partly sunny skies, and a high near 63.

There is a 70 percent chance of precipitation on Kentucky Oaks Day (Friday), which could make for an already wet track by the time Saturday rolls along. Will it have an affect on the horses? Who knows? But it’s always something to consider when looking at the program.

What makes the race unique?

From a racing perspective, the Kentucky Derby is unique because of the field size and the distance. Most races you see at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, or any other track around the country, limit their field size (number of horses in the race) to either 12 or 14 starters. The Kentucky Derby allows for a field of 20 starters, which makes for absolute chaos in terms of positioning.

The Derby is limited to only 3-year-old horses, which is why you see a new crop of names with each renewal. The earliest you see horses start racing is in the spring of their 2-year-old year, so these Derby horses have only been racing for a year at most. The Derby is also the first notable race for 3-year-olds held at the distance of 1 14 miles, which is a long way to go for any horse in the modern era of racing. It will take endurance, an experienced jockey, a game horse, and the perfect trip in order to take home the roses on Saturday.

How did they get here?

A series of 37 Kentucky Derby prep races were held from September of 2016 through April of 2017. Each race awards a number of qualifying points to the top four finishers of each race. Each horse in the 143rd edition of the Kentucky Derby recorded their final prep start in one of eight significant races. Here’s a look at how each Kentucky Derby contender fared in those eight “final Derby preps:”

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 6.46.51 PM

Some notes on the preps:

  • Irap was perhaps the biggest surprise in this series of prep races, upsetting four other Derby contenders in the Blue Grass at Keeneland at odds of 31-1.
  • Always Dreaming recorded the fastest time for 1 1/8 miles of any other prep race at that distance, winning in 1:47.47.
  • Always Dreaming also had the largest margin of victory of any of these eight preps, winning by five lengths.
  • The Florida Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes have each produced 23 Kentucky Derby winners over the years, tied for the most of any other prep races.
  • In the last 10 years, the Florida Derby has produced the most Kentucky Derby winners with three, followed by the Arkansas Derby and Santa Anita Derby (two each), and then the Blue Grass Stakes, Spiral Stakes, and Sunland Derby have each produced one winner since 2007.
  • Seven of the last 10 Kentucky Derby winners also won their final prep race.
  • The last time the Wood Memorial or Louisiana Derby produced a Kentucky Derby winner was in 2003, when Funny Cide finished second in both races (the Louisiana Derby was held a month before the Wood Memorial back then).
  • The UAE Derby, held in Dubai, has never produced a Kentucky Derby winner (best finish from a UAE Derby horse was Master of Hounds, who finished fifth in the 2011 Kentucky Derby).

Derby Betting Strategy

Since the field of 20 horses makes the Kentucky Derby such a crap shoot, I find it best to stick with one horse that you really like, and bet it across the board (Win, Place, and Show). The most money I ever won on a Kentucky Derby was when I picked Orb in 2013. At odds of 5.40-1, Orb returned $12.80 on a $2 win bet.

I really liked Orb that day, because I know his trainer’s two sons very well and had seen him run in past races. So I put a lot of money to win on him and also did two $1 exactas. One exacta was Orb with ALL, and the other was ALL with Orb. Each exacta bet cost me $19, and I was guaranteed to get some money back if Orb finished either first or second. I got lucky because a 35-1 long shot (Golden Soul) finished second, and the $1 Orb-Golden Soul exacta paid $490.80. I ended up betting $120 on Orb to win, and netted just over $1,100 on that one race. This was the height of my horse gambling career, and I gave a lot of those winnings back betting Orb in the Preakness and Belmont.

But I suggest doing a similar set of exacta wagers once you figure out which horse you like the most, and pray for a long shot to finish first or second. The price for each exacta is $19.

Ranking the 2017 Derby Field in terms of Tiers

For this year’s Derby, I have broken down the horses into four tiers and ranked each tier. They are as follows:

Top Tier Horses:

  • 5 – Always Dreaming
  • 15 – McCraken
  • 17 – Irish War Cry
  • 14 – Classic Empire
  • 8 – Hence

Knocking on the Door (2nd Tier Horses):

  • 9 – Irap
  • 11 – Battle of Midway
  • 18 – Gormley
  • 6 – State of Honor
  • 10 – Gunnevera

You Never Know (3rd Tier Horses):

  • 2 – Thunder Snow
  • 16 – Tapwrit
  • 13 – J Boys Echo
  • 7 – Girvin
  • 1 – Lookin at Lee

I’d Be Shocked (But I’ve been ‘shocked’ plenty of times in this race) – 4th Tier Horses:

  • 19 – Practical Joke
  • 20 – Patch
  • 4 – Untrapped
  • 3 – Fast and Accurate
  • 12 – Sonneteer

5-1 co-second choice – Always Dreaming – is my top pick. I thought his Florida Derby performance was the most impressive of the final prep races and his last official training workout at Churchill Downs was among the best of the Derby contenders. He has an experienced jockey in Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who won the Derby on Animal Kingdom in 2011. Trainer Todd Pletcher will tie his former mentor D. Wayne Lukas for most Kentucky Derby starters all-time (48) on Saturday in saddling Always Dreaming, Tapwrit, and Patch. But Pletcher has won only one Kentucky Derby from 45 starters to date, the 2010 edition with Super Saver. I believe he is due for another.

One thing I’ll be watching closely is how Always Dreaming acts in the paddock leading up to the race. He has reacted a bit feisty to the big crowds at Churchill Downs since arriving, and Pletcher has had to put draw reigns on him and take him out to the track at 5:45 a.m. most mornings in order to get him to calm down and settle into his routine. So if he’s acting up, bucking, and/or looking a little sweaty or “washed out” in the paddock, I may switch my pick to McCraken.

Bonus – Wet Track Stats

Remember how I mentioned the rain playing a factor? Here’s a look at how horses have fared over a wet surface:

  1. Lookin at Lee – finished second in his only try over a muddy track in the Iroquois Stakes last September at Churchill Downs.
  2. Thunder Snow – won his only start over a muddy track in his most recent effort, the UAE Derby.
  3. Fast and Accurate – has never raced on a wet surface.
  4. Untrapped – finished second in the LeComte Stakes as his only start over a muddy track.
  5. Always Dreaming – has never raced on a wet surface.
  6. State of Honor – has never raced on a wet surface.
  7. Girvin – has never raced on a wet surface.
  8. Hence – Won his maiden race in the slop at Oaklawn Park in January.
  9. Irap – finished fourth in a maiden race in his lone start in the slop.
  10. Gunnevera – Finished second in his maiden debut at Gulfstream Park last June.
  11. Battle of Midway – won his maiden debut over a “wet fast” track at Santa Anita Park.
  12. Sonneteer – Finished second in a maiden race at Del Mar over a “good” track.
  13. J Boys Echo – has never raced on a wet surface.
  14. Classic Empire – Won his maiden debut at Churchill Downs last May over a sloppy track.
  15. McCraken – has never raced on a wet surface.
  16. Tapwrit – Won the Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park over a sloppy track.
  17. Irish War Cry – has never raced on a wet surface.
  18. Gormley – Won the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita over a sloppy track.
  19. Practical Joke – has never raced on a wet surface.
  20. Patch – has never raced on a wet surface.

So if the track is labeled “muddy” or “sloppy” on Saturday, I may look at Thunder Snow, Hence, Tapwrit, and Gormley as potential top picks.

Double Bonus – Kentucky Oaks Picks

Here are my top three picks if it’s a wet track:

7 – Farrell/4 – Paradise Woods/12 – Daddys Lil Darling

And if it’s a dry track:

13 – Abel Tasman/4 – Paradise Woods/10 – Miss Sky Warrior

Good luck to all and happy Derby!

CoxTalks Friday Keeneland Picks

Back in the glory days when I was the emcee/handicapper on “The Hill” at Keeneland in 2013.

As always, I’m pretty jacked up for Keeneland’s Spring Meet which opens Friday, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have the time over the past few evenings to get some handicapping done, at least for day one.

While Friday doesn’t appear to be the ideal weather scenario for Opening Day, Saturday and Sunday show promise. The latest Friday forecast I’ve seen showed cloudy skies early that will turn into only partly cloudy as we move into the afternoon. The high is supposed to be 54 but it always feels colder at Keeneland. Winds from 15-25 mph don’t help. According to my app, “Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph.” Yikes.

Luckily for me, I will have the option of staying cooped up in the press box for most of the day, as I’ll be covering the stakes races for thisishorseracing.comWhile I’ve covered the Kentucky Derby every year since 2013, this will be my first time actually covering Keeneland in about four years. It’s fun to go as a spectator, but I don’t pay as much attention as I’d like to the actual racing between casual conversations and cocktails.

Anyway, here are my notes/picks for opening Friday:

RACE 1 – 1:05 p.m.

  • I hate giving out chalky picks, but after looking at this field, how can you get away from Wesley Ward’s pair of fillies 8 – KITTY KAT KATE and 10 – FAIRYLAND? Ward has a history of success with 2-year-olds at Keeneland in the Spring, so why should this meet be any different? Those two are clearly the class of this big field of first timers.
  • I’d go heavy on an 8-10 Exacta Box, expecting the two favorites to run first and second. Looking at the remainder of the field, I circled 3 – BAYTOWN LEX and 6 – JUST BE FRANK as the best of the rest.
  • SCRATCHED: #1a I’m Corfu, #2b Jersey Town Cat, & #5 Mugrosito

RACE 2 – 1:39 p.m.

  • Not a lot of value here and I’m going chalk once again. 2 – RHODIUM has posted the highest speed figures of any other filly/mare in this field, and she’s also been running in more competitive races so far this year. 3 – ANNOY is the other one I like here, as she comes off a 5-length victory at Fair Grounds in her last start. Annoy’s Fair Grounds win on February 28 was the first and only start she’s made under current trainer Eric Heitzmann. Annoy has had more of a layoff than most of her rivals in this one, which makes me think Heitzmann was aiming for Keeneland with her and maybe taking a more methodical approach. Maybe I’m making too much of it, but I like the two favorites once again.
  • 2-3 EXACTA BOX, 1-2-3 TRIFECTA BOX. Put a little more money down on these exotics when you using strictly favorites.

RACE 3 – 2:12 p.m.

  • 1 – MONEY FLOWS has been working well since finishing a respectable third beaten 4 1/2 lengths in the Maxim Gold Cup at Sam Houston on Feb. 25. He probably would have run better had that race been only a mile. I like the fact that he’s cutting back to a mile today and think he should be able to stalk 3 – CLEAR THE MINE and 5 – DECEMBER SEVEN for most of the way and make a late charging move with Joel Rosario in the saddle.
  • If I’m only using two horses in an exacta box here, I’m taking the second and third choice in 1-3 EXACTA BOX and leaving out the favorite for the first time today. I’d also maybe bet the 1 to WPS.
  • CHANGES: #6 Rated R Superstar, Medication change: no Lasix

RACE 4 – 2:45 p.m.

  • With my first somewhat long shot play of the day, I’m taking a shot on 8 – BARRY’S SWING here for Mike Maker and Jose Ortiz. Barry’s Swing placed third and second in his last two starts at Gulfstream, knocking on the door late. Without a ton of speed in this one, I think he has a big chance. My second choice would be the favorite 1 – ROUSTABOUT for Al Stall Jr. I could see Roustabout going to the lead early and I’m hoping Barry’s Swing can stalk and get him at the wire. I might also throw 3 – STARINTHEMAKING into the exotic mix, hoping he can improve when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time.

RACE 5 – 3:18 p.m.

  • Once again, I found it difficult to get away from the chalk here. 7 – DELUSIONAL K K, 8 – SMART KIT, and 9 – LOVETHISLIFE all seem to be a step above the rest of the field. But at least with 10 horses in here (hopefully) we can get some value. If you’re looking for more value with some of the others, or if any of those three scratch, I’d say 6 – PRINCESS DINAH and 3 – SECONDHAND JUSTICE are the best bets of the rest.
  • CHANGES: #6 Princess Dinah, jockey change-Corey Lanerie will ride

RACE 6 – 3:51 p.m.

  • I look for this one to be the most fun betting race of the day, simply because there are so many promising fillies and I think all but four have a chance to win. The four NOT to bet: 1, 5, 6, 7.
  • When making a case for the best one of the eight contenders I think are legit, I had to give the advantage to 4 – DANCELAND. I would say she is my PLAY OF THE DAY. I don’t know what will happen with the others, but give me Shug McGaughey with a 3-year-old filly in her 2nd start off the layoff against most of the other contenders making just their first start off a layoff. The also-eligibles are a different story, but if I had to categorize the other seven of the ones I think have a shot, 9 – TALAAQY and 3 – CHUBBY STAR are the ones I would put into the second tier right below Danceland.
  • My third tier fillies here are as follows, in this order: 8 – FOLK MAGIC, 12 – SWEEPING DADDY,  10 – LIPSTICK CITY, 13 – SUMMERTIME SKY, and 2 – JOUST is literally my least favorite of all those mentioned, even though she’s listed as the morning-line 4-1 actual favorite.
  • So I’m definitely putting some WPS on 4. Then I may do some exotics where I do a $2 EXACTA 4 with 3,8,9 ($6) and $2 EXACTA 3,8,9 with 4 ($6). If there are a ton of scratches, you’re on your own to make due with my analysis.
  • SCRATCHES: #5 Sky Flower, #11 Enstone, #14 Coco Channel, #15 Grateful, #16 Enchanting Kitten,

RACE 7 – 4:24 p.m.

  • Maybe I should have titled this post, “CoxTalks Chalk at Keeneland Friday,” because I have the morning-line favorite circled as my top choice once again in this one. 6 – TIGER EYES is the only horse in this field that has done anything to really impress me in a prior start, finishing second by a half-length in her debut at Fair Grounds last month. As for my second choice, I’ll roll the dice on a first time starter in 2 – MISS ADELE for trainer Roger Attfield. Attfield has a decent in-the-money percentage with first timers this year and the filly has logged some solid works of late down at Payson Park. I also think that 11 – TRUE BOOTS has improved with each start of this year and could run even better going an extra furlong.
  • 2-6-11 EXACTA/TRIFECTA BOX and maybe throw some WPS money on 2 with hopes she hits at a price.
  • Oh yeah, and if we’re looking to play a ticket in the $200,000 Guaranteed Pick 4 ($0.50 minimum), here’s an impromptu ticket using not much effort:
  • $0.50 Pick 4: 2,6,11 w/2,3,8 w/4,5 w/3,7,9,11 – It’ll cost you $36.
  • SCRATCHES: #10 Fairybrook and #14 Shoyoya

RACE 8 – 4:57 p.m.

  • I went with the 2 – FORGE AHEAD FRANKI in this one as my top choice. Can’t go chalk on top every time and his last start was against as good of competition as any of the rest of the field has seen. I thought he ran well last out and I think he should improve in his second start off the layoff. You’ll notice that is a bit of a theme for my picks today, taking a horse in its second start off a layoff. My second choice was the favorite, 3 – MUTARAAMY who was pretty impressive in taking his maiden in February at Gulfstream by 3 1/2 lengths. I think 8 – LOOKIN FOR A KISS has the ability to win this, but his style has been inconsistent and I just can’t really figure him out. He tries to stalk, he tries to come from behind, he runs at 1 1/16 miles, 6 furlongs, and 7 furlongs. He just seems like a wild card.

RACE 9 – THE TRANSYLVANIA (G3) presented by Keeneland Select – 5:30 p.m.

  • There’s a pretty decent chance the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner 4 – OSCAR PERFORMANCE gets out to an early lead as the lone speed in this race and goes wire-to-wire. But if anyone in this field can beat him, it’s the 5 – TICONDEROGA, who I am circling as my pick to pull off a slight upset in the featured race on Friday. Remember how I said you’d see a theme with horses in their second start off the layoff? That happens to be the case for Ticonderoga, who enters the Transylvania off an impressive victory in the Grade-3 Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream on March 4.
  • While Ticonderoga finished fourth 4 3/4 lengths behind Oscar Performance in the Breeders’ Cup, he got a crappy break and a less-than-ideal trip overall, starting the race in 14th and last and going into the stretch six-wide still trailing by 10 lengths in 12th. It certainly benefits Ticonderoga to have less horses (nine total) in this one.
  • Oscar Performance is the lone speed in this race, but he’s going an extra eighth of a mile longer than he did in the Breeders’ Cup. If Ticonderoga is going to challenge Oscar Performance late, he needs a decent break, and needs someone else in this field to press the pace a little in hopes of wearing Oscar Performance down with a :22 opening quarter-mile. Will it happen? Who knows? But I’m still going to take a chance on TICONDEROGA.
  • WPS on 5EXACTA BOX 4-5.
  • CHANGES: #2 MaKarios, jockey change-Corey Lanerie will ride

RACE 10 – 6:03 p.m.

  • It’s late and I’ve already spent entirely too much time on some mediocre handicapping for the past couple evenings. I like 3 – HEARTBREAK HILL and 7 – BAYSHORE DRIVE in the Friday finale. Just because.
  • EXACTA BOX 3-7.
  • SCRATCHES: #13 Cold Hearted Pearl and #14 Score Babe.

CoxTalks Episode 9

The boys are back for the ninth edition of the CoxTalks Podcast…

They recap Kentucky Basketball’s huge win over Michigan State, Kentucky Football’s loss to Tennessee and give out awards from both to the “Player of the Lame” and the “Grit Guy of the Game,” both new segments. Other new segments include the “Pork Belly Plays of the Week” and “Show Me My Opponent,” in previewing the rest of the upcoming football and basketball action of the weekend.

Episode 8 is LIVE

  1. Recap of Kentucky vs. Georgia Football
  2. Brief Breeders’ Cup recap
  3. NFL Week 10 preview/picks
  4. Call from Caleb & Christian
  5. College Football preview/picks
  6. Kentucky Basketball weekend preview (Stephen F. Austin, Canisius, Michigan State)
  7. Kentucky vs. Tennessee Football Preview/Predictions

Hot Off The Grill: Breeders’ Cup Edition

What a weekend it was for horse racing, culminating in the upset victory of California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at the hands of Arrogate, a three-year-old trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert (marking his third consecutive Classic score) and ridden by the winningest Breeders’ Cup jockey of all time, Mike Smith.


Horse Racing, Kentucky Sports, etc.