For nearly 150 years, the Kentucky Derby has been a centerpiece of American sport.
Even as the popularity of other sports surpasses that of horse racing as a whole, thousands of people gather together every year to watch the Kentucky Derby, either at Churchill Downs itself, an off-track betting site, or on their television or streaming device. It is an event, a tradition, and most importantly, a celebration.
People love, have loved, and will continue to love the Derby for many reasons. Some take part in it for the love of the horse. Some enjoy Southern hospitality and the freely flowing bourbon. Some gaze at celebrities, socialites, fashionistas, and glorious hats.
And some, of course, come to bet. One need not be a professional gambler to make money at the windows on Derby Day.
The aptly named Rich Strike proved last year that even a two-dollar bet, when placed correctly, can cause a person to “strike” it “rich.”
However, there are certain steps one can take to increase one’s odds of success when placing your wagers.
Kentucky Derby History
So, what is the Kentucky Derby? The Kentucky Derby is a famous horse race held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, United States, and is one of the oldest and most prestigious horse races in the world. The race was first run in 1875, and it has been held every year since then, with the exception of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kentucky Derby was started by a group of wealthy businessmen from Louisville who wanted to create a horse race that would rival the famous races in England. They chose to hold the race in May, which was a traditional time for horse racing in the United States and named it after the state of Kentucky, which was famous for its horse breeding.
The first Kentucky Derby was held on May 17, 1875, and was attended by over 10,000 people. The race was won by a horse named Aristides, ridden by jockey Oliver Lewis. The race was a huge success, and it quickly became one of the most popular sporting events in the United States.
Today, the Kentucky Derby is known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports” and is the first leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, which also includes the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. The race is known for its traditional aspects, including the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” before the race and the wearing of elaborate hats by many of the spectators.
Pay Attention To The Final Preps
According to TwinSpires, horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby by amassing points in smaller qualifying races known commonly as the road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby prep races. These races, which are lucrative and prestigious in their own right, serve as stepping stones to the Run for the Roses. Many horses spend nearly a full calendar year preparing for the Kentucky Derby; the earliest prep races that award Derby points come in the early fall for two-year-olds.
The biggest Derby preps, and therefore those that are worth the most qualifying points, are generally those that horses use as their final springboard into the Derby. Nine of the races, which take place on March 25th, April 1st, and April 8th, provide more points than any others, and all but guarantee that their winners and their runner-ups will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby gate, even if they entered the race with no points at all.
These races, which award points to the first five finishers on a 100-40-30-20-10 scale, are: the Grade II UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse (United Arab Emirates), the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds (Louisiana, USA), the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park (Kentucky, USA), the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park (Florida, USA), the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park (Arkansas, USA), the Grade I Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct (New York, USA), the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland (Kentucky, USA), and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park (California, USA).
History backs up these races as well. Of all of the Kentucky Derby winners in the 21st century, only two did not make their final Kentucky Derby prep in one of these noted final preps. In 2002, War Emblem prepared for his wire-to-wire Derby win in the once-prominent Illinois Derby (then Grade II); seven years later, deep-closing longshot Mine that Bird came out of the Grade III Sunland Derby.
The lesson to be learned here is that the best horses are typically the ones that have been facing, and defeating, the best competition in the most prestigious races.
Listen To The Churchill Downs Gossip
The preps will end on April 15th, but the coverage for the Kentucky Derby itself begins soon after.
Horses will begin making their way to Churchill Downs, and their trainers (as well as sharp prospective bettors) will be paying close attention to how well their horses are handling the surface at Churchill Downs.
Some horses, such as Grade II Rebel Stakes winner Confidence Game and Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner Instant Coffee, have already raced and won over the surface; for others, especially foreign-based horses, it is an entirely new experience- and one they may not like.
This is especially true if the weather also produces conditions the horse is not used to. One infamous example of a horse not liking the Churchill Downs surface occurred in 2017 when the talented Thunder Snow made a splash- in all the wrong ways.
Thunder Snow, who had raced in Great Britain, France, and Dubai, arrived in the United States and encountered something entirely new when the Derby gates flipped open: mud. It was decidedly not to his liking, and he promptly pulled himself up and began bucking, never even attempting the race.
The lesson to be learned here is that horses are creatures of habit, and most do their best running when handling conditions they already have experience with.