For years, the Kentucky Derby was known as a horrible race for the betting favorite. In fact, there was a time when handicappers would essentially ‘toss out’ the prerace favorite and focus their handicapping elsewhere. That has changed–and favorites winning the Kentucky Derby could become the rule rather than the exception. On Saturday at Churchill Downs, Nyquist became the fourth straight favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.
Nyquist covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01:31 on a fast track in front of 167,227–the second largest crowd in Kentucky Derby history. He’s also followed American Pharoah and California Chrome as the third straight California bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby. California horses have now won four of the last five Kentucky Derby races. Exaggerator held on to finish second, Gun Runner finished third with Mohaymen rallying from deep in the pack to finish fourth. Interestingly the top four finishers were also the top four betting choices in order.
So what has changed that all of a sudden makes the Kentucky Derby favorite a solid play? Simple–there have now been four straight favorites to win the Kentucky Derby and the new qualification process for the race has been in effect for??? You guessed it–four years. In the past, the Kentucky Derby favorite was often the beneficiary of the most pre-race hype. As we saw early in the season with the horse racing media collectively fawning over Mohaymen the hype doesn’t always go to the best horse. In the era when Derby qualification was determined by winnings in graded stakes races it was relatively easy to get an undeserving horse into the race. Even the good horses could reach the starting gate at Churchill Downs without facing any significant competition.
That’s completely different now. Horses have to earn their way into the race. And with the top tier Kentucky Derby prep races offering a whopping 100 points to the winner connections have a vested interest in entering their horses into highly competitive races. You wouldn’t have seen Mohaymen vs. Nyquist in the Florida Derby before the new qualification system.
The result of the new system is that race favorites are more thoroughly ‘vetted’ before Derby Day in the best way possible–on the race track, against many of the other challengers they’ll face on the first Saturday in May. That’s why Nyquist was a deserving favorite and his win on Saturday not a surprise.