Derby Betting: Plenty of Parity at the Top

In a way, it was nice to see a little bit of order restored to the Kentucky Derby picture last weekend after a couple of major upsets the previous week. With the favorites in the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby running one-two, at least we have some semblance of who the top betting choices will be going into the first Saturday in May.

Of course, Hansen has to do his part in the Blue Grass this weekend to keep things status quo, and if he does, we could be looking at another very evenly-matched Derby, in terms of betting, perhaps even more so than last year when five horses went off at single-digit odds. But Dialed in was the 5-1 favorite in 2011; I can't see the favorite being that low this year.

I don't think it will happen, but the last time as many as six horses went off at single-digit odds was back in 2003 when Funny Cide won at 12-1 while six favorites went off between 5-2 and 9-1. But that was with a 16-horse field. The year could resemble 2002 when War Emblem (20-1) won in an 18-horse field. The favorite was Harlan’s Holiday at 6-1, Medaglia d’Oro and Saarland were both 7-1, and Perfect Drift, Came Home, and Johannesburg were all about 8-1.

Assuming Hansen wins the Blue Grass and the other favorites all make the race, here is an educated guess on how the betting might look at the top come post time:

Gemologist: 6-1

Union Rags: 6-1

Hansen: 7-1

Creative Cause: 8-1

I’ll Have Another: 9-1

Alpha: 12-1

Take Charge Indy 12-1

If Bodemeister wins the Arkansas Derby this weekend, he might also be in that 12-1 range, but if he gets beat I don’t see any of the horses coming out of that race being major factors in the betting.

Also, assuming Hansen wins this weekend, it will be a difficult task separating him and the other two likely top choices—Gemologist and Union Rags. Who would go off as the favorite? You’d have the 2-year-old champ coming off two straight wins in major preps and back at a place where he won the Breeders’ Cup; an undefeated horse with two wins at Churchill; and a horse coming off a loss in his final prep but that has been the Derby favorite since last fall. Some of it will depend on how the horses look that week and who is getting the buzz, and also post positions, but my guess is Gemologist will be the slight favorite when all is said and done. The Pletcher/Castellano factor, his undefeated record, and the two wins at Churchill should put him over the top.

The good news is that the parity amongst this year’s potential field is not because of injuries to favorites (knock on wood), rather because the class seems to be pretty deep at this point in the season. If you’re a longshot player, there are going to be plenty of options for you. Consistent horses like Daddy Nose Best, Prospective, and El Padrino (if he gets in) will be big odds, while the two European-based colts will be mostly overlooked.

It’s shaping up to be a great betting race. Let’s see how these final preps play out.

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