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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It’s that time of year again where the boss tells me to enrich the lives and bank accounts of the readership by telling you all how to bet the Kentucky Derby. I’ve actually laid out money-making strategies two years in a row, which means I’m overdue to eat sand this year. But let’s give it a shot anyway.
Here’s how to bet $100 on the Derby:
The outlook for the race, which will be run Saturday evening, took a dramatic turn Wednesday when favorite Omaha Beach scratched. It looks semi-wide open now. My conviction in how the race will be run has lessened appreciably, but the payouts could be very handsome.
At first glance, this looks like the Bob Baffert Invitational. The superstar trainer who has won five Kentucky Derbies now has a great chance at a record-tying sixth, saddling three horses in the race.
Baffert’s trio starts with Game Winner, the new favorite at 9-2. He’s a talented, long-striding horse but also resembles the kid who started shaving in eighth grade — he may have matured before the rest of his classmates, and they’re catching up to him now. Baffert himself said that if this race had been run in January, Game Winner would have destroyed the field. Now, he’s not so sure.
Baffert’s other two, Improbable (5-1) and Roadster (5-1), certainly merit consideration. Roadster defeated Game Winner last month in the Santa Anita Derby, and Improbable was second to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby after being restless in the starting gate.
All three Baffert horses must be accounted for. His animals rarely throw in clunkers in Triple Crown races.
That said, I’m taking Tacitus (8-1) to win. The Wood Memorial winner endured a brutal early trip in that race and still got to the wire first, and he’s looked the part in training since arriving at Churchill Downs.
So the first wager will be $10 to win on Tacitus. Not a big sum, because I don’t feel absolute conviction in the choice here. But you always want to be able to say you had the Derby winner, so there will be a win bet and Tacitus is the choice.
Then I will do a pair of exacta bets, boxing three horses in each. (Boxing means that the horses can come in either first or second and you still have a winning ticket.) Let’s go with a $3 exacta box with Tacitus, Game Winner and Improbable — an $18 wager. Then a $2 exacta box with Tacitus, Game Winner and Roadster — a $12 wager.
That leaves $60 for the big bet, a trifecta. Derby trifectas have often paid in the thousands of dollars, so they’re worth taking a shot at. This one isn’t likely to pay that much, but it still would be a lucrative hit. So let’s box five horses at $1 and hope we have the top three in that mix.
I’m going with Tacitus, the Baffert trio and Tax (20-1), who was a game second in the Wood Memorial. Tax starts on the inside and needs to avoid being buried on the rail in the early going, but the scratch of Haikal means that everyone will move out one spot and have a little more breathing room leaving the gate. That puts Tax in the No. 3 post.
The horse that could ruin everything: Maximum Security. He won the Florida Derby wire to wire, and the thought was that Omaha Beach’s natural speed would prevent Maximum Security from getting a loose early lead the way he did in that race. With Omaha Beach out, we’ll see if anyone can pressure Maximum Security and prevent him from having everything his way.
If he gets a lead on a soft pace, look out — but the Derby pace is rarely soft. If the leaders run the first half mile in 45 or 46 seconds, they will have a hard time holding up for the full 1 1/4 miles. If it’s 47-plus, the race might be won on the front end.
The exception to that was last year, when Justify was on the lead in a blistering 45 and change and still held up to win. “It was a ridiculous pace,” Baffert said. “Fortunately, I had a ridiculous horse.”
Justify went on to win the Triple Crown. There doesn’t appear to be a Triple Crown winner in this year’s crop of 3-year-olds, but the betting opportunities could be profitable as always. Go to the windows!
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