This Year’s Kentucky Derby Picks (And a Brand New Way to Bet on Them)

(Photo: Velo Steve)

Every year I post my picks for the Kentucky Derby.  Last year I actually did well, for a change.  In a twenty-horse field, I picked three horses to do well, and two of them ended finishing first and second. The winner was 15-1.  I also made a correct prediction as to which horse would finish last.  I got that one right as well.

So here we go again…

Let me start by saying that the crystal ball (actually the computer algorithm) is a little fuzzy this year.  There are four horses that all look equally good to me: Falling Sky, Java’s War, Itsmyluckyday, and Revolutionary.  All will be longshots, I suspect, with odds between 15-1 and 25-1.

The model also kind of likes Verrazano, who might be the favorite in the race.  If I were betting, I might include him in my exotic bets.

The pick I feel best about is last place:  I think that will be a horse called Giant Finish. More important than my picks is a new mobile website run by my good friends the Hessert brothers.  As far as I know, it is the only legal way to bet on the Kentucky Derby using your phone.  See what you think…they are always eager to hear user feedback.

And if you get the horse racing bug, they have a website where you can legally bet on horses anytime you get the urge.

caleb b

Every year I review the post position as it relates to success. Given that these are the fastest horses in the world AND most often the difference between being a favorite and 20-1 can literally be a length of a nose, I figure that post position is more significant than things like wins, owner, or breeding. Therefore, below is a table of the last 38 races and the wins, winning %, and top four finish %. Notice that if you were to look at this using standard deviations, the 10 post would be 2 standard deviations above the mean, implying that the 10 post is significant in determining success.

Alas, until a few years ago, the post positions were not assigned randomly, so this analysis is not necessarily helpful. However, I find it interesting, so I thought I would share. Of unique interest is the 13th post. This is the first post of the “extended gate,” and thus has a little extra separation from the 12 post. Although it has only one once in 38 years, it has finished in the top four 16 different times.

Post Starts Win Win % Top 4 %
10 38 6 16% 39%
20 9 1 11% 33%
16 36 4 11% 19%
8 38 4 11% 34%
5 38 4 11% 34%
3 38 4 11% 26%
15 38 3 8% 16%
19 17 1 6% 12%
2 38 2 5% 26%
4 38 2 5% 26%
7 38 2 5% 24%
18 20 1 5% 20%
13 38 1 3% 42%
1 38 1 3% 21%
6 38 1 3% 13%
11 38 1 3% 8%
9 38 0 0% 18%
14 38 0 0% 13%
12 38 0 0% 11%
17 36 0 0% 6%

Based on my analysis, I like Goldencents, Normandy Invation, and Revolutionary.

For longer shots I like Mylute and Java’s War. Java’s War has shown that it can come from behind, and on a sloppy track, that might be all that it takes.

The worst horses in the race are Giant Finish and Will Take Charge.



Both and run full legal horse betting sites, including mobile versions.

David Barranco

Sure, I'd play Revolutionary at 15-1. Sadly, the odds are much shorter, like 5-1.

If your model likes Falling Sky, you could clean up.

I like Verrazano at 11-1

Lines of Battle and Vyjack are undervalued.


Does your algorithm take into consideration track conditions? You're 2009 prediction may have been spot on had it not been for the excessive rain/mud. Who saw Mine that Bird being a mudder? The other factor too, is how many (statistically speaking) horses have gone into the Derby with unbeaten records, only to falter. Don't get me wrong Verrazano is a phenomenal horse, but my gut tells me he is going to struggle being on the outside and well as with the conditions. Personally, Im going with two semi-long shots. (Mylute, Orb, Palace Malice).. Odd? Maybe. But their pedigrees shot long lines of mudders. Let's how like father, like son. Best of luck tomorrow!


As DonBoy points out, there are myriad legal ways to bet on racing on mobile devices in the U.S., all of which were operational before DerbyJackpot activated its mobile wagering this week.

Steve Cebalt

The topic fascinates me. The notion of pari-mutuel betting and the "wisdom of crowds" setting the odds to equalize things. (The notion of "matching races" is pure genius at assuring fairness at lower levels). Interesting that your model worked last year, where in prior years you said it did not. Pure luck? An outlier? A new tweak to the model? That's what makes it fascinating!

As others point out, many of us have a system, all of which fail or we'd be super-rich. I gave up on studying and just pick randomly (hunch) and do about as well (which is to say not well, but it's fun).

Picking winners and betting are two different things; the odds tend to level things out so the act of betting, over many races, is really just a random gamble, money-wise.

There are too many variables that can't be isolated for direct comparison; varied track distances, close second-place finishes, track conditions in each race of each horse, the pace of each prior race, the Beyer Speed number which doesn't seem to mean much in a crowded field. Multiply those and dozens of other variables variables x 20 horses who collectively have raced only 100 races +/- and are still in their immature stage of life. The Derby is particularly hard because of the large field. And despite all the analysis and punditry, when the race starts, you have 20 inbred animals supercharched to run like foaming demons, with a small human strapped to their backs to (try to) guide their pace. Add the human "hunch factor" that often leads us to deviate from our logical pick, and you have the greatest sport in the world.

I am not convinced that these variables can be harnessed mathematically. But you just made today much more interesting; I've printed your picks; thanks for going out on a limb for our amusement!


Tabby Caat

> There are four horses that all look equally good to me: Falling Sky, Java’s War, Itsmyluckyday, and
> Revolutionary. All will be longshots, I suspect, with odds between 15-1 and 25-1.
> The model also kind of likes Verrazano, who might be the favorite in the race. If I were betting, I
> might include him in my exotic bets.
> The pick I feel best about is last place: I think that will be a horse called Giant Finish.

Only 1 of your 5 picks placed higher than your pick for last place (which placed 10th, mid-pack)! Back to the drawing board with your computer model...

The complete results from the 2013 Kentucky Derby:

1. Orb
2. Golden Soul
3. Revolutionary
4. Normandy Invasion
5. Mylute
6. Oxbow
7. Lines of Battl
8. Will Take Charge
9. Charming Kitten
10. Giant Finish
11. Overanalyze
12. Palace Malice
13. Java's War
14. Verrazano
15. Itsmyluckyday
16. Frac Daddy
17. Goldencents
18. Vyjack
19. Falling Sky