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It’s Kentucky Derby Day: Five Ways to Pick a Winner

On Saturday, the 145th “greatest two minutes in sports” occurs at the famed Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Start time is 6:50 p.m. EST. The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Secretariat, arguably the best thoroughbred horse of all time [1], still holds the Kentucky Derby record at 1:59.40, set back in 1973.

Update: The horse known as Maximum Security led nearly wire-to-wire on Saturday, May 4, in the 2019 Kentucky Derby — but a ruling upon objection caused the horse to be the first winner ever disqualified in the American Triple Crown race due to a rider’s objection. As a result, Country House has won the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

“The second-biggest underdog ever to win at 65-1 came out ahead in part because it stayed wide while previously undefeated Maximum Security caused a ruckus inside,” as CBS Sports [2] put it.  

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The first Saturday of May is here once again — and Kentucky Derby festivities are already well underway.

Between trying to keep your hat on at — or in acknowledgment of — the Saturday sporting event [3] and having one too many mint juleps, you may be tempted to bet on a horse or at least root for one.

With some 20 thoroughbreds racing in the Kentucky Derby, how does anyone choose the winner?

A few serious people will study the Daily Racing Form and its carefully constructed algorithms.

If you have the time and inclination to do this, by all means do so.

You can make some serious money by betting.

But as a seasoned amateur, I recommend sticking with one of the following methods.

1.) Play it safe. If you want to be as boring as the guy with a graphing calculator tweaking his algorithms at the track, stick with betting on the favorite. Statistically, it’s the wisest thing to do — though given the many who use the same strategy, winning bets often earn small change.

2.) Choose by color. Those who have great taste may want to bet based on the color of the jockey silks. The colors are typically listed in the Racing Form. However, it’s highly unlikely that a horse will be motivated by its assigned color. Horses, like other animals, do not appreciate color as we do, which is something to consider.

3.) Choose by name. This is a method for those with great intuition. The latest updates and insights can be found at The Sporting News [4].

4.) Bet on the horse with the best story. The crowd loves an inspiring personal story of overcoming the odds to pull at America’s heartstrings.

In 2017, Patch had hands-down the best tale of the bunch. The half-blind horse lost its left eye after it developed an ulcer. The eye was removed in June of 2016, but the horse then recovered and qualified to run in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. (He finished 14th — but won the hearts of millions.)

5.) Know about paddock relief. The paddock is where the horses get saddled prior to the race. After they’re saddled, the horses are walked around a ring so that those at the track can observe how the animals are looking.

On occasion, a horse relieves itself and urinates in the ring. I don’t tempt fate at this point. This is a sure sign the horse is very relaxed and not at all stressed about the most important two minutes of its career.

Whichever method you choose for picking your horse — stick to it. Your friends may laugh at your pick — but who cares? Your hat for sure looks better than theirs!

Check out these tweets about this year’s Kentucky Derby:

This article appeared earlier in LifeZette and has been updated.