This Year’s Kentucky Derby Picks

Dubner and I have been thinking a lot these days about pundits who make predictions. The incentives surrounding predictions are completely skewed. If I make a wild prediction, and it just happens to come true, I have strong incentives to constantly remind the world about how my prediction came true. If, as is much more often the case, the prediction is wrong, it is likely to be quickly forgotten because there is typically no one else who cares enough about my failed prediction to go to the time and effort to continually remind others that I was wrong. Thus, even if I am rarely correct, it makes sense to make a lot of crazy predictions.

Which leads me, of course, to the Kentucky Derby. I’ve made Kentucky Derby predictions every year since we started the blog. Rarely have I been correct. But I did, many years ago, publicly and correctly predict that a 50-1 shot would win the race. I cannot tell you how many times I have mentioned that to people. I have been much quieter about the time that the horse I predicted would finish dead last actually won the race, although in its own way that is also quite a feat.

Despite my mediocre record, demand for my picks remains strong. Well, actually, not too strong. Exactly one person emailed me this year asking me who I like in the Kentucky Derby this year. For that gentleman, here are my prognostications. My model identifies four horses (out of twenty) that look like good bets this year. Mucho Macho Man is my number one pick, followed by Brilliant Speed, ArchArchArch, and Comma to the Top. Except for Brilliant Speed, who will be a huge long shot, the other three should have odds of around 15-1 or 20-1.

I don’t like the two favorites, Uncle Mo and Dialed In.

My pick to finish dead last is Twice the Appeal.


Animal Kingdom, Dialed In, ArchArchArch & Nehro.
Love Animal Kingdom to win it all. Take it to the bank.


Great pick!


Which matters more, the horse or the rider? I'll bet on whichever horse Calvin Borel is riding. I've been a believer in the importance of the rider since Mine That Bird.

Caleb B

Dialed In is at a disadvantage starting out of the 1 gate as recent history hasn’t been kind to the 1 gate. What will be really interesting to study is how the starting gate affects the race now that the gate position is selected randomly (only since last year). This will probably add a level of accuracy to model predictions.

You would think that favorites would win more often in the Kentucky Derby because it is the race with the most action, and hypothetically the most eyeballs analyzing the data. BUT it is also a the race with the least amount of information (of the triple crown races) AND the most casual money (i.e. dumb money).

Given the level of data, the excitement, and all of the game theory at present in horse racing, is it common for young economists to go through a horse racing phase? I would imagine that it is….and casually reader (non-academic) I have noticed several of the economist that I regularly read have at least one sports paper under their belt, with several about horse racing. Despite reading them, I habitually lose. But alas, the tradition of the Mint Julep always make me feel better.

Thank you Levitt for posting!


caleb b

Sorry, I meant ArchArchArch is the 1 gate.....


What is your model ?


I don't like Uncle Mo either, mostly because he scratched this morning. :P

Brilliant Speed to win it all. Mucho Macho Man and ArchArchArch to round it out.

caleb b

Dead last for me is Decisive Movement.

I like Twinspired, Mightnight Interlude, and Soldat.


Twice the Appeal to finish dead last? Mother get the deed we're betting Twice the Appeal to win the Derby!

Sky Eales

MuchoMachoMan for the human interest story


Certainly no claim to horse racing expertise here but having grown up in Southern Indiana I have followed the Derby for over 40 years. In all that time I have picked the winner exactly once. Thunder Gulch in 1995. I notice the the 'experts' they trot in for the coverage have similar records. I think it must be an incredibly difficult sport to predict so you are in good company. It must be a tough business to be in as well. I read a quote from one owner who said that 95% of the people in this business are losing money. The other 5% are liars.