By Chet Fussman | | 7 mins
What Makes Kentucky Derby 2020 Different For Bettors
Everything about this year’s Kentucky Derby is different.
The date, its order in the Triple Crown races, and how to handicap it.
The world’s most famous horse race will be run mostly in silence on Saturday evening in front of an empty Churchill Downs grandstand, without the annual roar of 150,000-plus fans that is so much a part of the Derby experience.
The handicapping factor is different in 2020 because we know more about every horse in the field during the first week of September than during the first week of May. We have a better idea about which horses can get the demanding 1-1/4-mile distance — in fact, some have already attempted and/or won a 10-furlong race.
And later-developing horses, which often blossom too late to even qualify for the Derby field, must now be considered, having benefited from the date change caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s Run for the Roses will have an overwhelming favorite in Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law, but that doesn’t mean constructing a winning ticket will be easy. Cashing a lucrative wager on the Derby never is, and the 146th Kentucky Derby is no exception. Finnick the Fierce was scratched on Friday but the No. 1 gate that he drew will be left vacant. Program numbers remained unchanged, a Derby news release said.
Kentucky Derby 2020 Betting Tips
Be prepared to take a very short price on betting favorite Tiz the Law: That means less than even money. The New York-bred is deserving of his 3-5 morning-line odds with six wins in seven career starts, including recent romps in the Belmont Stakes (run as the first leg of the Triple Crown this year) and Travers Stakes, which is run at the same distance as the Kentucky Derby. Tiz the Law’s odds shrunk even further when likely second-choice Art Collector was not entered after suffering a minor foot injury early this week.
The last time a Derby horse went to the post at less than even-money was 1992 when Arazi struggled home eighth at 4-5 odds. Since 1912, 14 Derby horses were sent off at odds of less than even-money and seven won (50%). Recent history is less kind — odds-on favorites are only 2-for-their-last-7 (28%).
Derby exotics pay well: Even if Tiz the Law wins, exotic wagers such as exactas (top two in exact order) trifectas (top three) and superfectas (top four) can still return lucrative payouts for horse racing bettors. The large number of betting interests in the Derby field increases the number of possible outcomes, creating higher potential payoffs even when favorites win.
From 2013 through 2018, when the betting favorite was the Kentucky Derby winner six consecutive years, the $2 exacta payoff was lower than $69 only once. The $1 superfecta ranged from $542 to $75,974. And in the last 25 runnings, the average $1 Derby trifecta payoff is $5,850.
Pedigree still matters: If a horse can’t handle the Derby distance the first Saturday in May, he won’t handle it the first Saturday in September, either. The race’s later date has given horses additional time to mature, but it doesn’t improve their breeding to run longer distances.
Horses for courses: A popular handicapping angle is horses perform better over some tracks than others. The lone defeat in Tiz the Law’s racing career occurred at Churchill Downs in the 2019 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, when he finished third, beaten less than a length. That was also Tiz the Law’s lone race on a sloppy track.
Longshot Necker Island is the only horse in the field to have won at Churchill Downs, and did it twice in 2019. He is 0-for-2 at the Louisville oval this year.
Be tactical: Being positioned close to the early pace has been a winning Derby formula in recent years. From 2014-2018, the Kentucky Derby winner was running second or third at the half-mile mark, no more than four lengths behind the leader. The streak would have continued last year had Maximum Security not been disqualified.
Tiz the Law has tactical speed and figures to be reasonably close to likely pacesetter Authentic. Closers such as Dr. Post, Max Player, Solo Volante and Major Fed will be launching from farther back and will need a reasonably fast early pace to have a chance to win. Of note: The three betting favorites in the race drew the three outside posts.
California strong: Southern California-based horses won the Kentucky Derby five of the past eight years, with trainers Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill accounting for four of those wins. Both Baffert horses, American Pharoah and Justify, went on to win the Triple Crown.
This year’s West Coast contingent arrived in Louisville without much buzz. The group includes a pair of Baffert entrants in Authentic and Thousand Words, along with Honor A.P., trained by John Shirreffs, who won the 2005 Derby with Giacomo. There are no American Pharoahs in this So-Cal group, but don’t sleep on this bunch when considering how to bet the race.
Kentucky Derby 2020 Storylines
Hold all tickets until race is declared official: The most exciting two minutes in sports took 22 minutes last year when stewards disqualified betting favorite Maximum Security for interference and declared 65-1 longshot County House the winner. It was a controversial decision — its merits are still being debated — and the first time a winning horse was taken down since they started running the Derby in 1875. Best to wait until the race goes official before celebrating any bet time.
Should the winner’s name be followed by an asterisk? The same can be asked of the entire 2020 Triple Crown series. The race sequence is out of order, with different amounts of time between races and the Belmont Stakes run at a shorter distance. Though the Kentucky Derby distance is unchanged, everything else about this year’s race seems out of whack. The Preakness Stakes will be four weeks after the Derby, on October 3.
No fans: No over-the-top garish hats. An empty infield. No pretending to know the words to “My Old Kentucky Home.’’ And can anyone make a decent mint julep from home? The decision to exclude patrons from the grounds impacts not only the fans, but the entire Derby experience, including for the horses. A quiet, more serene environment is likely to benefit the Derby’s more high-strung entrants, who would be far more susceptible to the Derby crowd noise and spectacle.
Manny Franco: The jockey of Tiz the Law has won two winter riding titles in New York, but this is the biggest stage of his career. Franco, 25, has ridden twice previously in the Derby, finishing 17th and 18th on a pair of longshots. One advantage for Franco: Churchill Downs mandated that all riders be in Kentucky by Aug. 31 due to the coronavirus. Several of the nation’s top jockeys, including Joel Rosario, Luis Saez, Flavien Prat and brothers Jose and Irad Ortiz Jr., chose not to travel and aren’t riding Saturday.
Swinging for the fences: Tampa Bay Derby winner King Guillermo is owned by Victor Martinez, a five-time MLB All-Star who played 16 seasons with Cleveland, Boston and Detroit and was second in the AL MVP voting to Mike Trout in 2014.
Kentucky Derby 2020 Field
|PP & Horse||Morning Line|
|2. Max Player||30-1|
|4. Storm the Court||50-1|
|5. Major Fed||50-1|
|6. King Guillermo||20-1|
|7. Money Moves||30-1|
|8. South Bend||50-1|
|9. Mr. Big News||50-1|
|10. Thousand Words||15-1|
|11. Necker Island||50-1|
|12. Sole Volante||30-1|
|13. Attachment Rate||50-1|
|14. Winning Impression||50-1|
|15. Ny Traffic||20-1|
|16. Honor A.P.||5-1|
|17. Tiz the Law||3-5|
Kentucky Derby 2020 Race Information
Post Time: 7:01 p.m., September 5, 2020
Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky
Length of Race: 1-1/4 miles
TV: NBC coverage begins at 2:30 p.m.