How to Handicap the Kentucky Derby: The experts explain what to look for

Ed DeRosa of TwinSpires explains how to handicap the Kentucky Derby

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When it comes to handicapping the Kentucky Derby, there’s what you know, what you think you know and what everyone else thinks they know. That list also happens to be in order of importance, too.

Whether you play the horses every day or just check in for the Kentucky Derby, this is the one race a year everyone wants to get right. That means a lot of extra analysis, and some of it is actually worth listening to!

From a beginner’s standpoint, one of the best pieces of advice is: winners win. The last eight Kentucky Derby winners all won their final race before the Derby, and the previous six winners were undefeated as 3-year-olds before winning the Derby.

In this year’s field, the undefeated-at-3 group is Maximum Security, Roadster and Tacitus, and the other last-out winners (with previous losses this year) are By My Standards, Cutting Humor, Omaha Beach, Plus Que Parfait and Vekoma.

At 1 1/4 miles, the 2019 Kentucky Derby is the longest race any of the entrants will have run in, except for the Japanese contender Master Fencer. Couple that with Churchill Downs’ long, 1,234.5-foot stretch and the perception is that closers (come-from-behind types) can be at advantage, but the results don’t support that conventional wisdom.

Even deep closers, such as Mine That Bird in 2009 and Orb in 2013, were on the lead by the eighth pole in the race. What does that mean for trying to find the winner of this year’s race? Prefer horses who do their best running in the middle part of the race.

This year that’s Tacitus, with the most consistency by virtue of his moves in winning both the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial Stakes. By My Standards also qualifies based on his Louisiana Derby victory.

In general, post position is an overrated handicapping angle. That’s not to say it’s not important, but it is typically overvalued. The one exception when it comes to the Kentucky Derby is post position No. 1. Historically that post is not so bad, but the era of “small” Kentucky Derby fields are long gone. When more than 14 horses enter, the track uses an auxiliary gate that pushes the main gate closer to the inside rail. This is absolutely a handicap for the rail horse, and with the inside post position, I will downgrade a horse’s chance to win no matter what.

by The Racing Analysts of TwinSpires.com

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