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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.)