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5 Betting Trends for the Kentucky Derby

Updated June 3rd, 2021
Published April 9, 2021

The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby is arriving in the month of May. After last year’s Run for the Roses was delayed until September, there’s a string of interesting betting trends that can help you wager with confidence.

Twenty of the world’s finest racing horses are ready to break the starting gates at Churchill Downs on Saturday May 1, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. These stallions will run one and a quarter mile in the first of three Triple Crown races this year, and there’s plenty of prep races we can look at to get a better sense of each horse’s current form.

Tradition and lineage are an important part of horse racing culture, and that’s a great resource for anyone betting on the sport of kings. Wagering is a foundation of horse racing, and the long history of this sport gives us a rich set of betting trends to work with.

These trends aren’t any guarantee, but they might steer you in the right direction if you’re unsure about which horse to pick. If nothing else, these captivating trends will leave you with a greater appreciation for horse racing.

Cross the wire with these five betting trends you need to know for the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

1) Bay and Chestnut Horses Have Been Dominant

In 146 Kentucky Derbies, 70 percent of the winning horses have been one of two colors: bay and chestnut.

In total, there are seven colors of thoroughbred recognized by The Jockey Club:

  • Bay
  • Chestnut
  • Dark Bay/Brown
  • Gray/Roan
  • Black
  • White
  • Palomino

There have been 55 bay and 48 chestnut winners in the history of the Kentucky Derby. Dark bay/brown horses have the third most wins at 17, so it would take at least 31 years for any other color of horse to catch the leaders.

Research is key when you’re picking a colt or gelding to bet on for the Kentucky Derby. We’ll talk more about prep races, jockeys, trainers, and betting favorites in this guide, but you can’t ignore the fact that two out of the seven thoroughbred colors have dominated the Derby.

2) Most Horses Have Won a Prep Race Leading Up

Here’s another trend with a 70 percent success rate for you: since 1980, 29 of 40 horses won a prep race leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

There are six major prep races heading into the 2021 Kentucky Derby that can affect a horse’s odds of winning the Derby:

Prep Race Date Winning Horse
Florida Derby March 27, 2021 Known Agenda
Blue Grass April 3, 2021 Essential Quality
Santa Anita Derby April 3, 2021 Rock Your World
Wood Memorial April 3, 2021 Bourbonic
Arkansas Derby April 10, 2021 Super Stock
Lexington April 10, 2021 King Fury

Essential Quality has been the steady favorite leading up to the 2021 Kentucky Derby, and has won five straight races he’s participated in. The three-year-old grey colt most recently won at Blue Grass, and while he’s currently favored at 4/1 odds by TVG, Concert Tour isn’t far behind at 5/1.

On another interesting note, since 1980, 22 of 31 jockeys have commanded the same horse in the final prep race before the Kentucky Derby.

Horses aren’t the only important factor in winning a race. In the 2009 Kentucky Derby, jockey Calvin Borel was largely credited for one of the biggest upsets in horse racing history. Borel used a rail-riding technique with 50-1 underdog Mine That Bird, catapulting to the front of the pack in the Kentucky Derby’s final stretch on route to an easy win of over six lengths.

With that in mind, let’s look at notable jockey betting trends for the 2021 Kentucky Derby and see what kind of impact they have on a race.

3) Only Four Jockeys in the 2021 Field Have Won Before

Heading into this year’s race, only four jockeys participating have won the Kentucky Derby before:

  • John Velasquez (2011, 2017, 2020)
  • Mike Smith (2005, 2018)
  • Joel Rosario (2013)
  • Flavien Prat (2019)

So, what can we take from this trend? At the surface level, it might seem like jockeys don’t matter all that much if there are new contenders all the time.

But, when you consider John Velasquez’s dominance and Mike Smith’s experience, it’s clear some jockeys are worth betting on. Keep an eye out for Velasquez (Medina Spirit) and Smith (Midnight Bourbon) in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Of course, the trainer also plays a pivotal role in developing a winning horse.

4) Trainer Bob Baffert Has Won 50 Percent of the Last Six Derbies

Renowned trainer Bob Baffert will be going for a record-setting seventh Kentucky Derby win in 2021.

Baffert has been particularly dominant as of late, as three of his horses have won the last six Kentucky Derbies:

  • Authentic, 2020
  • Justify, 2018
  • American Pharoah, 2015

The final selection of horses for this year’s race hasn’t been determined yet, but we’ll keep this list updated with any horses from Baffert’s stable. His Derby favorite, Life Is Good, was sidelined with an injury and will miss the race, so Baffert will have to rely on the hopes of other contenders like Medina Spirit.

5) Betting Favorites Are 50/50 Recently

Long odds with big payouts can be tempting in the world of horse racing, but they also come with a lot of risk. On the flip side, betting favorites can seem like safe bets that will bring you guaranteed profit, which in reality isn’t true at all.

Take a look at these results from the past 12 Derbies, along with the odds going into the race:

KY Derby Winner Year Odds History Betting Favorite?
Authentic 2020 8-1 No
Country House 2019 65-1 No
Justify 2018 3-1 Yes
Always Dreaming 2017 4-1 Yes
Nyquist 2016 3-1 Yes
American Pharoah 2015 2-1 Yes
California Chrome 2014 5-2 Yes
Orb 2013 5-1 Yes
I’ll Have Another 2012 15-1 No
Animal Kingdom 2011 21-1 No
Super Saver 2010 8-1 No
Mine That Bird 2009 50-1 No

In the past 12 Kentucky Derby’s, only six winning horses were the betting favorite going into the race. That should debunk any misconceptions you have about the betting favorite being automatic money.

As for huge underdogs like Mine That Bird and Country House, don’t let their presence in the table above fool you. These were monumental upsets, and Country House won by a controversial decision that disqualified Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first at the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

The results from the past 12 years show that horses between 3-1 and 8-1 odds are the most common winners. Keep this in mind heading into this year’s Derby.

Get Ahead of the Pack with Inside Knowledge

There’s still a few weeks to go until the 2021 Kentucky Derby, which means you still have time to get caught up on all the knowledge you need to bet with confidence. For further reading on this topic, check out our tips for Kentucky Derby betting .

If you’re new to horse racing and still have a few questions we’ve got you covered! We’ll teach you how to read a racing program along with explaining horse racing jargon. Feeling overwhelmed? read this horse betting 101 guide to get the lay of the land and understand the basics. There’s a ton of considerations unique to horse racing that you’ll have to factor in, and you’ve got to do your homework if you’re hoping to boost your bankroll betting on the ponies.

And remember, check back here as we update these trends leading up to the big race!

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