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:

[table caption=”” width=”500″ colwidth=”70|20|20|20|20″ colalign=”left|center|center|center|center”]
“Classic Empire”,”4-1″,”5-1″,”4-1″,”4.3-1″
“Always Dreaming”,”5-1″,”6-1″,”4.5-1″,”5.17-1″
“Irish War Cry”,”6-1″,”8-1″,”6-1″,”6.7-1″
“Practical Joke”,”20-1″,”15-1″,”20-1″,”18.3-1″
“Thunder Snow”,”20-1″,”20-1″,”18-1″,”19.3-1″
“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″
“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:

[table caption=”” width=”275″ colwidth=”70|70″ colalign=”left|center”]
“Classic Empire “,102
“J Boys Echo “,102
“Irish War Cry”,101
“Always Dreaming “,97
“Gunnevera “,97
“Gormley “,94
“Thunder Snow”,94
“Girvin “,93
“Irap “,93
“Practical Joke “,92
“Lookin At Lee “,91
“State of Honor”,91
“Untrapped “,91
“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!):