Kentucky Derby 2017: the Wisdom of an Expert Crowd

churchill downs racing photo

Churchill Downs and its famed twin spires will host the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. (photo courtesy churchill downs)

I’ve been watching the Kentucky Derby every year since I was a wee lad, and every year I struggle to figure out which horse(s) to bet on. I’ve got a pretty good handle on NASCAR handicapping, but I don’t know jack about horse racing.

Tomorrow will mark the 143rd running of the Derby. This year I put in a little more effort into my pre-race research than usual, and I thought I’d share the results. These aren’t my numbers or data, but they should get you in the ballpark. It’s not just the wisdom of crowds, it’s the wisdom of an expert crowd—that might be even better, right?

OK, first I’ve compiled the opening odds of Mike Battaglia (Churchill Downs’ handicapper), Mike Watchmaker (the Daily Racing Form’s handicapper) and the Bovada sportsbook into a spreadsheet. I then calculated the average odds from all three sources on each horse, and I’ve sorted the spreadsheet from best average odds to worst. If you’re on a small-screen device, scroll the table horizontally with a finger drag to see all the columns:

HORSES BATTAGLIA MATCHMAKER BOVADA AVERAGE
Classic Empire 4-1 5-1 4-1 4.3-1
Always Dreaming 5-1 6-1 4.5-1 5.17-1
McCraken 5-1 8-1 6-1 6.3-1
Irish War Cry 6-1 8-1 6-1 6.7-1
Gunnevera 15-1 12-1 12-1 13-1
Girvin 15-1 20-1 16-1 17-1
Gormley 15-1 20-1 16-1 17-1
Hence 15-1 20-1 16-1 17-1
Practical Joke 20-1 15-1 20-1 18.3-1
Irap 20-1 20-1 18-1 19.3-1
Thunder Snow 20-1 20-1 18-1 19.3-1
Tapwrit 20-1 15-1 25-1 20-1
J Boys Echo 20-1 20-1 25-1 21.7-1
Lookin at Lee 20-1 20-1 33-1 24.3-1
Battle of Midway 20-1 20-1 33-1 27.7-1
State of Honor 20-1 20-1 33-1 27.7-1
Patch 20-1 30-1 33-1 31-1
Untrapped 30-1 50-1 40-1 40-1
Sonneteer 50-1 50-1 40-1 46.7-1
Fast and Accurate 50-1 50-1 66-1 55.3-1

Next, this table shows each horse with the best Beyer figure it’s ever recorded. It’s also sorted from best to worst:

HORSES BEST BEYER FIGURE
Classic Empire 102
J Boys Echo 102
Irish War Cry 101
Always Dreaming 97
Gunnevera 97
Hence 97
Tapwrit 96
McCraken 95
Gormley 94
Thunder Snow 94
Girvin 93
Irap 93
Practical Joke 92
Lookin At Lee 91
State of Honor 91
Untrapped 91
Sonneteer 90
Patch 89
Battle of Midway 88
Fast and Accurate 82

Finally, if you want to go beyond the numbers, this article by the Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman provides some background on the race and each horse.

To watch the race, tune in to NBC tomorrow afternoon or stream it via NBC Sport Live. The race card begins around 2:30 p.m., and the Derby’s post time should occur around 6:34 p.m. ET.

Oh, and just for fun, here’s the greatest of all time, Secretariat, setting the Kentucky Derby track record in 1973 while dusting Sham and the rest of the field (with appropriately dramatic music, too!):

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