2020 Lazy Bettor Kentucky Derby Preview: Honoring the law

Regardless of pandemics, political protests and schedule changes, the Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby remains the most likely path to cashing a ticket on the Derby winner. With 5 winners in the 6 years since its publication, the book’s Gold Standard ‘tis practically the law.

Tiz The Law, this year’s favorite, ranks as the best of only two Gold Standard horses among the original entries in 2020.

Yes, race fans will complain that selecting the favorite is boring. Most race analysts will warn there’s no value in betting the favorite in a large field (18 entries this year). Both groups are viewing this race the wrong way.

I make that claim backed up by decades of Kentucky Derby results and by a public record of success. (See Smashwords.com for all the date-stamped publications of my annual Kentucky Derby previews. My predictions each year also were broadcast on KJR-Seattle’s Win Place Show.)

Here’s the flaw in flatly rejecting favorites in the Derby, even when they’ve clearly dominated the competition in Derby prep races:

  • A “boring” bet on the 5 favorites that fit my Gold Standard, yielded a 100% success rate and a huge return on investment. Payouts on the winning favorites, including two eventual Triple Crown champions, ranged from $6 to $11. A perfect selection record at average odds greater than 5-2! Not so boring, really.
  • There’s no statistical basis for believing the Derby’s large field size (usually between 15 to 20 horses) diminishes a favorite’s chance of success. Ten of the past 20 races were won by favorites, outpacing the typical 35% to 38% win rate for favorites at most race tracks. Going back to the Derby’s beginnings, favorites have won about 40% of the time. Going by decade, the most crowded fields were in the 2010s, with an average of 19.7 horses and a favorites’ win percentage of 60%. The second-most crowded decade was from 2000 to 2009, with 18.7 entrants on average and 40% winning favorites. That was also the success rate in the fourth-most-crowded decade, the 1920s.

The Lazy Bettor’s Guide pinpoints top-notch speed, which points you to contenders likely to race on or near the lead. That means 15 to 18 trailing horses each year have zero impact on how the book’s Gold Standard qualifiers perform. Wouldn’t you love to take 5-2 odds on American Pharoah or Justify in a four-horse race? That’s pretty much the offer that was on the table in the Kentucky Derby portion of their Triple Crown campaigns.

The 2020 Gold Standard Qualifiers

The list is short this year, and the gap between Gold and whatever other standard you care to define is enormous. The parameters I set up for my Gold Standard were designed to capture great performances by relatively young and still-developing 3-year-olds. With this year’s contest being run in September rather than early May, the standard should be raised. These more mature horses should be posting much better fractional and final times than early-spring contenders of past years.

But with only two horses measuring up to the Gold standard (Tiz The Law and King Guillermo), I see no need to raise the bar. And with King Guillermo scratched from the race, one horse stands out.

Tiz The Law qualified as pure Gold long ago in the Holy Bull Stakes in February. But that was just a warmup:

  • With the Belmont Stakes shortened to a mile and an eighth this year from its usual mile and a half, comparisons to his winning time are tough to find. Using Belmont’s Peter Pan Stakes as a barometer, we see that Tiz The Law joins the three fastest winners of that race as the only three-year-olds to run that one-turn distance in under 1:47.00.
  • Tiz The Law followed that display of brilliance with an easy victory in the Travers Stakes at a mile and a quarter. He finished the final quarter in a stunning :24.2 seconds despite being under wraps through about half of the stretch.

His morning-line odds stand at 3-5, which is too low to justify a win wager. Given that this appeared to be a two-horse race and now is down to one standout contender, consider anything above even money as a bargain.

The Bets

If Tiz The Law is offered at 6-5 or higher, the bulk of your money should be on Tiz The Law to win. For the remainder of your bankroll (say, 33% of it), take a shot at the trifectas. If the odds on Tiz drop to even money or lower, just bet the trifectas.

The value opportunity in this race is to bet against the horses the crowd sees as most likely to run second: Honor A.P (5-1) and Authentic (8-1).

Authentic is a need-to-lead horse without true Grade 1 early speed. He also seems distance challenged, losing ground in the stretch in both tries at a mile and an eighth. Honor A.P. is a closer with only mediocre final quarter times and final times.

By keying Tiz The Law in the top spot in trifectas, eliminating Honor A.P. and Authentic, and using the other 14 entrants in the second spot, you might land a decent trifecta payout. The bet is #17 over #1 through #15 over All. A 50-cent combo will cost $105.

If you can’t afford to back that up with a $200 Win bet on Tiz The Law, split the trifecta combos with a friend and then bet $100 win. Or split the trifectas with two friends and bet $50 win.

Let’s see how boring that is.