The Kentucky Derby For The Amateur Horse Race Fan

By Ross Everett

The Kentucky Derby takes place every year on its traditional date of the first Saturday in May. This is a race that many people follow and try to handicap even if theyre not typically horse racing enthusiasts. Understanding race horses is hard work, and a discipline unto itself.

While understanding and predicting horse races is a very complex discipline, here are some basics that can help the amateur understand the Kentucky Derby. Back during the seventies, it was a race dominated by the favorite including three great Triple Crown winners"Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed"and a great horse that came close, Spectacular Bid. Since Spectacular Bid won the Derby in 1979, however, you can count the favorites who've won the race on one hand with fingers left over. If I was a serious horseplayer, I might not advise you to do this but since I'm just worried about predicting the outcome of this one race Im going to suggest that you forget about the favorite altogether. Not only will you not be flying in the face of recent history, but also it allows you to concentrate on the horses offering greater value.

So why has the favorite done so poorly in recent years? One theory suggests that it is a by-product of the hype surrounding the race. Novice horse fans back the favorite, making it more of a popularity contest than anything else. The reality is that the horse with the most hype is not always the best horse.

Post position is also something that the horse racing neophyte should pay attention to. Obviously post position number 1 is an advantage relative to the outer ones, but it hasnt been a strong edge over the other inside positions. Twelve Derby winners have had the #1 position going into the race (the most of any position) but positions #4 and #5 have had ten winners each. In terms of percentages, positions #1 through #5 have yielded 49 winners (or just under 40%). On the other hand, the outermost positions (#11 through #20) have had just 16 winners (or just under 13%). It is important to note that theres not always that many horses in the race, which would obviously result in few higher posts winning. Still, concentrating on horses with favorable post positions is another way to pare down a field that you know little about.

A horse's lineage and breeding is also an important factor in the race. While this may be the most complex and demanding area of horse racing, there is a simple rule of thumb that can help a novice for this race. Most high level race horses are born in Kentucky. Well over 80% of Derby winners have also been born in the Bluegrass State. So just eliminate all horses that weren't born in Kentucky. Then consider a horse's gender and eliminate any horse that isn't an intact male (geldings and fillies). Over 90% of all Derby winners have been intact males, though a gelding did win the race in 2003 (Funny Cide). For the horse racing novice, however,this is another good way to pare down the field.

Dosage index numbers have also taken on a great deal of significance in recent years. What are dosage numbers you ask? I have no clue, beyond the fact that theyre a complex mathematical measurement that reflects the quality of the horses family tree, as well as his performance as a two-year-old. The conventional wisdom is that horses with a dosage index over 4.00 are not supposed to be competitive at the long 1 mile distance. This isnt always the case, of course, but for the dilettante its a good factor to consider. Since 1984 (when dosage systems first came into vogue), the winners of nine Derby races were dosage system selections.

If you want to learn about horse racing in more depth, there are countless books available to introduce you to the subject. For a recreational fan who just wants to have a better understanding of the Kentucky Derby, these rules can help. - 31490

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