Now that the Kentucky Derby prep season has come to an end, handicappers can focus on the 20 probable starters and try to decide which one of them will be fortunate enough to win the run for the roses.
That quest for success at the betting windows promises to be as challenging as ever, but there is one somewhat logical way to start.
Bet against the favorite – at least to win.
That might sound foolish on one level, but the law of averages would seem to mandate it.
Let’s face it. In the last four years most handicappers have probably improved their Kentucky Derby batting average. That tends to happen when favorites win the Derby in four straight years. The ball started with Orb in 2013, then kept on rolling with California Chrome, followed by American Pharoah and Nyquist.
While that streak might convince some folks to hop on the bandwagon for the drive for five, favorites might be living on borrowed time.
The last time five straight favorites won the Derby, according to the official Kentucky Derby media guide, was back in 1891-96 when the chalk prevailed six times in a row. That’s right, a timeframe that spanned the presidencies of James Harrison and Grover Cleveland. President Cleveland’s second term, mind you. But ESPN Stats & Info reported that the favorite has never won five times in a row, and upon further review it appears Azra in 1892 won as the 3-2 second choice behind a coupled entry that was sent off at 11-20 odds in a three-horse field.
Even four in a row is a rare event. Aside from now and the 1890s, the only other time four straight favorites won the Derby was from 1972-1975 with Riva Ridge, the Secretariat-Angle Light entry, the Cannonade-Judger entry, and Foolish Pleasure accomplishing the feat.
What has also been obscured in recent years is that the last three decades have been a little bit hard on Kentucky Derby favorites.
After six of eight favorites captured the run for the roses from 1972-79, Spectacular Bid’s win in 1979 ushered in a steak of 20 straight years to close out the 1900s in which the favorite went down to defeat.
Fusaichi Pegasus ended the drought in 2000, and since then eight of 17 favorites have won the Derby. That’s a winning percentage of 47 percent, which is well above the standard odds of victory for a favorite on a typical day the races.
Yet as much as that bodes well for the favorite on May 6 at Churchill Downs, all good things cannot last forever and the current streak is already rather improbable. At some point, a longshot will once again sneak into the picture, and, with no disrespect to Always Dreaming or whoever is sent off as the favorite in the Derby, chances are it will happen this year.
After four years of bliss for chalk players, this just might be the time when the odds work against the Kentucky Derby favorite.