Using Stats to Pick the 2017 Kentucky Derby Winner

California Chrome and connections after his 2014 Kentucky Derby win. (Eclipse Sportswire)

One of the easiest ways to pick your horse for a given race is a hunch bet – based on the weather, or your sister’s birthday, or the fact that a certain jockey has won three races in a row. Very little (if any) real handicapping is involved, and if your horse is a longshot it can pay handsomely.

Here, I decided to take a shot at a statistical hunch bet for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, eliminating one horse at a time until the field is whittled down to one, using Derby statistics and facts. Follow my “logic” below, but be sure to take it all with a grain of salt – this method is far from scientific!

In case you haven’t been keeping track, the field has been cut to nine potential winners from 20 starters. Continuing …

  • Trainer Steve Asmussen is winless in the Kentucky Derby from 15 tries, so we’ll remove his two remaining runners, Untrapped and Lookin At Lee, from consideration.
  • Jockey Mike Smith has one win from 22 mounts in the Derby, so his mount Girvin probably won’t win.
  • No maiden (horse with zero career wins) has won the Derby since 1933, so Sonneteer can be eliminated.
  • Just one horse this century (California Chrome) won the Derby having already made 10 or more career starts, so State of Honor probably won’t wear the roses.

We have our superfecta: Always Dreaming, Gunnevera, Battle of Midway and Patch.

  • Every Kentucky Derby winner after Apollo in 1882 has raced as a 2-year-old. Patch didn’t, so he can be crossed off our list.
  • It’s been 12 years since a horse won the Derby without a graded stakes win under his belt, so Battle of Midway is eliminated.
  • In the last 21 years, just two Derby winners finished worse than second in their final prep race, meaning Gunnevera probably won’t be successful.

And now, we have a winner: Based on a few statistical hunches, Always Dreaming will win the 2017 Kentucky Derby. But remember, as Evan Esar said, statistics is the science of producing unreliable facts from reliable figures.

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