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The Era of Big Derby Payouts is Over

I wrote this last year but never posted it – but here we are again with a high-chalk Derby result, so here goes:


Hope you had a piece of that Giacomo Derby, where the Mike Smith-piloted grey won at 50-1 by a nose over the 75-1 Closing Argument. Ditto that California Chrome/Commanding Curve Exacta that paid for your summer vacation. The era of big Derby payouts is over – and it’s all Twitter’s fault.

The 2015 Kentucky Derby returned a paltry $101 for a $1 Trifecta, the lowest in 25 years. The $1 Superfecta wasn’t much better, paying out a modest $634.10 for the 18-10-8-15 combination that included the 5-2 Favorite, American Pharoah, his 9-2 stablemate, Dortmund, Firing Line, at 9-1 and Frosted, the priciest of the bunch, at 10-1. Danzig Moon would have been the “bomber” had he hit the Super, but at 21-1, he was far less of a longshot than many past bombers – remember 37-1 Golden Soul in 2013?

This year could be the bellwether to big change in Derby betting trends – and it won’t be fun for the regular gamblers who keep the game afloat throughout the year. What happened? The main driver of this change is technology – and the access modern communication devices have given racing fans to the horses that make up the Derby field.

Twenty years ago, Thunder Gulch won the Derby at odds of 25-1. That year, he was considered the third-stringer to trainer D. Wayne Lukas’s more highly regarded colt, Timber Country, and the super filly, Serena’s Song. Thunder Gulch was no slouch, however, having won speedy editions of the Fountain of Youth stakes and the Florida Derby early in the season. The main knock against his otherwise solid record was an unimpressive third in the Blue Grass at the old, inside-speed-biased Keeneland. It is safe to say that had the chestnut colt, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, been in yesterday’s field, he would have been one of the favorites.

In 1995, there was no such thing as YouTube, where free race replays are easily found to analyze the preps. There was no Twitter, where early-bird clockers routinely opine on the morning workouts happening at tracks from coast to coast. There was no Facebook, where fans get first-hand, official news updates from the racing stables themselves. And there was certainly no instagram, where anyone with a phone posts pictures of the horses in the lead-up to each stakes race. This just scratches the surface of information fans and bettors had – all of it free – before the 141st running of the Derby. And this information lead to the truest final odds ever in the race.

My back of the napkin calculations are thus:

social media + points system + animal welfare-influenced med rule changes + declining foal crops + loss of many big-money betting syndicates due to unfavorable takeout/field sizes/etc = true odds = low Derby payoffs



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