On Days Like Derby Day, Give Me a Contest Player’s Opinion Anytime

Earlier this week, I heard a horse racing pundit assess the chances of one of the Kentucky Derby outsiders by saying, “This is one of the few that I really can’t see as a win candidate, but I’ll definitely be using him in my superfectas, tris and possibly exactas.”


I’m not sure what percentage of his annual betting bankroll (annual income?) he bets on the Kentucky Derby, but if he was telling the truth, it sounds like it’s way too much.

At least the pundit bets, though. Some of those you will hear weigh in on the Derby do not. Some others will bet on the Derby and few—if any—other races, and those wagers will be placed after little—if any—interaction with the past performances. Opinions will often be based not on the study of past performances or race replays but on…talking points.

Every horse has two or three talking points, of course. “This horse has been looking good in the morning! That one’s pedigree screams a mile and a quarter! This colt had trouble last out! That one picks up a top jock! That horse’s trainer has won the Derby before!”

(Incidentally many of these talking points are used not just by the non-handicapping media, but often by trainers themselves in putting on a happy face to their owners—via the media—about their chances. In a weird sort-of horse racing ecosystem, the talking points then get re-purposed by the media into reasons why John Q. Public should like this horse or that horse. This is part of the reason why you very rarely hear media say anything negative about a horse—that and the fear of being publicly wrong…which the very best racing analysts do not fear, but many do, I think. Otherwise we would hear more critical thought expressed, even if just to eliminate some horses from tri and super consideration.)

A sharp contest handicapper is very good at blocking out the noise and homing in on the signal. A contest player also knows that not all horses worth betting on come with made-for-TV talking points attached. And if they do, it could mean that others will be on the same scent, making the horse an underlay.

Many horses that appeal to contest players do so because of trouble or a pace dynamic or a speed figure pattern that the player—and that player alone—has noticed. Or because of something that reminds him or her of a similar situation involving a winning longshot from 15 years ago. These situations may not be easy to explain to someone else, but you know them when you see them. Media people need to be cogent and logical in their presentations because they are speaking to the masses, who generally appreciate things being kept simple. Good contest players are under no such requirements or predispositions. They know that part of success involves zigging when others are zagging, and I think this gives them a significant edge, especially on big days.

Those of us here at HorseTourneys are eager for the Oaks and Derby day cards to be drawn so we can start handicapping and also, of course, so we can get cracking on constructing our Friday and Saturday tourneys.

When we do construct thosee Saturday featured tourneys, though, the Derby will represent one race out of 10 or 12. While the field size of the Run for the Roses will be nearly twice that of any other race that day, Race 12 on Saturday is just that—Churchill Race 12—one of many opportunities to make money and/or earn contest points.

Those supporting races can really make or break your day (or contest). I’ll promise you that there are some out there who remember the 2016 Derby Day as much for Fish Trappe Road as for Nyquist. Or last year’s Breeders’ Cup for Frank Conversation or Champagne Room as much as Arrogate.

A mandatory-race contest player intuitively knows that the Derby is just one race—and even those in the high-end Kentucky Derby Betting Championship know this. That exciting two-day competition concludes with the Derby and, as a result, many players at the KDBC will be at the windows going all-in precisely when others are tearing up to “My Old Kentucky Home”. Still, virtually all the KDBC participants will be zeroing in on some prime plays prior to the Derby to help ensure that one’s bankroll is suitably significant heading into that last contest race.

Ask a random bettor who he likes on Saturday, and he’ll probably give you a Derby horse (or two or five). Ask a contest player, and he’s likely to ask you whether you’re asking about the Derby or the rest of the card…”because there’s a horse I really like in the 4th.”

Those are my kind of players!