The 142nd Kentucky Derby posts at 6:34 ET Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and the first leg of the Triple Crown is ready to perhaps set new records for both viewership and total money wagered.
Of the 22 horses scheduled to post in the gate, California owner Paul Reddam’s Nyquist is the favorite with odds at 3-1. Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012 with I’ll Have Another, but they were forced to withdraw the horse from the Belmont Stakes, the third and final leg after he suffered a tendon injury.
California Chrome finished fourth at Belmont in 2014 to keep the Triple Crown drought alive, but the feat was finally accomplished for the first time since Affirmed in 1978 when American Pharoah crossed the finish line first in New York last June.
Pharoah’s historical run rejuvenated interest in horse racing from sports fans that are otherwise casual and periodic observers. The hype surrounding the storied colt’s “Grand Slam” victory has extended into 2016.
Following Nyquist, Exaggerated is the second odds-on favorite at 8-1, followed by Creator, Gun Runner, and Mohaymen at 10-1.
Horse racing enthusiasts look to find the sleeper of the field and a candidate whose odds are seemingly in their favor. With the three predominant races, the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, an influx of bettors enter the fray at tracks and off-track betting facilities across the country.
Because many casual fans often pick the favorite, especially in the case of a horse chasing the Triple Crown, attractive lines are created for the racing aficionado.
You might think you’re betting on the horses, but in reality, a pari-mutuel wager is actually betting against the pool of bettors.
According to OffTrackBetting.com, the favorite in a horse race only wins about one-third of the time. Though the last two winners, Pharoah and California Chrome, entered as the favorite, just 12 favorites have crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby since 1970.
That equates to just a 26 percent win percentage for Derby favorites.
Let It Ride
With some calling the 2016 Kentucky Derby wide open, numerous horses could be attractive bets. Paired with coming off a Triple Crown year and a television audience average of 16 million (17.8 million peak), the 2016 Kentucky Derby is primed for a potential record-setting performance.
Of the five experts publishing their picks on KentuckyDerby.com, not one went with the favorite Nyquist largely due to an unfavorable No. 13 post position. Mor Spirit (12-1) is picked to win by Jill Byrne and James Scully, while Exaggerator (8-1), Mohaymen (10-1), and Destin (15-1) received the other nods.
If Nyquist holds at 3-1, it would be the highest odds for a favorite over the last three Kentucky Derby races and seven of the last 16.
Horse training icon Bob Baffert credits the apprehension to get behind Nyquist as Pharoah hangover, but he says enthusiasm for the sport is unified.
“I think a lot more people will be watching the Derby this year,” Baffert told reporters this week. “Whoever wins it, they’ll all be watching him in the Preakness.”