Kentucky Derby Time

Despite a complete lack of expertise and insight, I’ve made it an annual tradition here at the Freakonomics blog to offer my picks in horse racing’s Triple Crown. I’ve had some lucky successes (like Giacomo at 50-1), and, not surprisingly, some duds.

My buddy Bill Hessert and I actually invested a little time over the last few months trying to figure out how to pick horses, so this year’s picks are my most informed ever. That doesn’t mean they’re any good, but they are better than the total garbage I’ve offered in the past (for instance, even though I correctly picked Giacomo to win two years ago, now that I’ve crunched some numbers I discovered that he didn’t look like a very good bet after all — I just got incredibly lucky).

The bad news with respect to this year’s Kentucky Derby is that no horses really stand out as a great betting value, in the sense that if you bet $2 to win you will expect to have more than $2 in your pocket after the race. There are two horses that look like they have a small positive expected return: Hard Spun (who we predict will go off at about 18-1) and Sam P. (who is likely to go off at odds upwards of 50-1). There are five horses that look like almost fair bets even after the track takeout (my predicted final odds in parentheses): Stormello (14-1), Zanjero (33-1), Scat Daddy (6-1), Any Given Saturday (14-1), and Nobiz Like Shobiz (9-1).The two likely favorites are Street Sense and Curlin (both about 4-1). I wouldn’t touch them.

The absolute duds look like Bwana Bull, Tiago, and Storm in May.

So how might I bet tomorrow? I will probably put a little money on Hard Spun and Sam P., and then, just for fun, I think I’ll play a trifecta box over the seven horses who look okay to me. If that comes through, it will be a big payday.

(A much better race for betting is actually the race right before the Kentucky Derby, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. The likely favorite there is Better Talk Now. My numbers say he’s not that good. So in that race Brilliant, Defer, Einstein, Milk it Mick, and Go Between all look like positive expected value bets.)


i couldn't post my comments. try again. sorry if repetition occurs.

i wonder if i should bet based on this blog.:) i recall freakonomics described you very good at horse betting. i also wonder why you publish your analysis here. is there a bet on your bets?:)

ps, i love how the owners name their horses. i wish our dog owners were more creative in naming their dogs, not in dressing them.


Hard Spun looks good, but is less accustomed to the distance than some of the other entries and has not raced since March 24th, nor does he appear to have raced in a Grade 1 race.

Sam P. has never raced at anything near this distance and won. Horses that do well over short distances don't always hold up over the long haul. That's what makes the Kentucky Derby special, its a distance race.

I like Nobiz like Shobiz and Street Sense, but I agree their odds are unlikely to pay well. Both horses have won at distances over one mile and appear to be in good form with recent fast workouts. Both have also won grade 1 races before. I think Curlin may surprise everyone, so I plan to slip him into an exacta bet.

Good Luck everybody!!


I would have thought you would take Imawildandcrazyguy Guidry 50-1 ?

Maybe SJD is betting him?

Here is another prediction, you may want to think twice about Hard Spun

Simpson, a former Heisman Trophy winner, said he was friends with Tiago jockey Mike Smith, and that the horse's bloodlines make him a favorite pick for the NFL Hall of Famer. Tiago is the half brother of Giacomo, the 2005 longshot winner.

"I'm kind of going with him right now, even though I like Hard Spun," Simpson said. "He's been training well."

What about Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

Floyd M. in a decision.

A Great Sports Day!!!



"The two likely favorites are Street Sense and Curlin (both about 4-1). I wouldn't touch them."

Don't quit the day job.


How did your bets pay out?

My friends and I bet about $500 and didn't win a single thing. I think I'll stick with the table games at the casino.


I bet $8 to show on my 4 favorites. My horses came in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 10th. I collected $17.20 in winnings.

If you learn to handicap properly and bet conservatively while at the track, you can always go home with money in your pocket.