Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Mike Smith aboard Justify (7)
- Game Winner is the betting favorite to win the 2019 Kentucky Derby after Omaha Beach was scratched.
- The 145th "Run for the Roses" is considered to be wide open but history suggests the chalk is the smart wager.
The 2019 Kentucky Derby will take place on Saturday, May 4 (6:50 p.m. ET, NBC) at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The field includes 20 horses, but morning-line favorite Omaha Beach, winner of the Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes, was scratched on Wednesday because of a respiratory condition.
The 145th “Run for the Roses” is now wide open. Twelve contenders have 20-1 or better odds to end up in the winner’s circle. With the favorite out of the race, bettors are going to be tempted to wager on the longshots.
History says that would be a mistake.
Since 1968, 18 favorites have won the Derby. A bettor wagering $2, the minimum bet amount required, on each race for a total of $102 investment would have returned $123.80 (21.4% return). Since 2000, bettors taking the favorite in the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” have won more than half the races. A $2 wager on the 19 races for a $38 investment would have returned $85.60, a 125% return on investment.
So is betting the Kentucky Derby really as easy as going chalk? Well, the favorite has won in six consecutive years and there is evidence this trend isn’t a fluke.
Since 2013, when the winning streak began, horses have started qualifying for America’s Greatest Race using a new points system. They now have to participate in a series of designated races that award points to the top four finishers. The 20 horses with the most points earn a spot at the starting gate. This is called the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The new qualifying system helps ensure the best horses run the first Saturday in May. By eliminating those that don’t belong there is less variance in the outcome of the race, making it more likely the favorite crosses the line first.
Game Winner (5-1) is now the favorite to win after Omaha Beach pulled out. The 2018 Eclipse Juvenile Champion is No. 1 in Paul Lo Duca’s Kentucky Derby Power Rankings. He is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who is trying for a record-tying sixth Derby win.
Game Winner has already won more than $1 million and will look to begin a Triple Crown run by besting the field at the Kentucky Derby. Bettors may be hesitant to back the colt as he’s lost his last two outings, but those were narrow defeats and he finished second in both races.
So while casual bettors are eyeing longshots in a race many expect to be wide open, the betting market thinks Game Winner will emerge as the champion and as the favorite, history suggests he will.