Opportunities on the KY Oaks and KY Derby Undercards

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By Art Parker

It will not be long before Kentucky Derby weekend is upon us. Derby Day and Oaks Day make up the big week at Churchill Downs. Naturally the talk on the Derby and the Oaks never stops but little is said about the undercards on both days, which are filled with great races and great opportunities.

On Oaks Day the big races on the undercard are the La Troiene for fillies and mares (8.5 furlongs); the Alysheba (8.5 furlongs); the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (5 furlongs on the turf), The Eight Belles for three year old fillies (7 furlongs); The Edgewood for three year old fillies (8.5 furlongs on the turf.)

On Derby Day the big races on the undercard are The Humana Distaff for fillies and mares (7 furlongs); The Churchill Downs Distaff Mile for fillies and mares (8 furlongs on the turf); The Pat Day Mile (8 furlongs); The American Turf (8.5 furlongs on the turf); The Churchill Downs Stakes (7 furlongs); The Old Forester (formally known as the Woodford Reserve at 9 furlongs on the turf.)

churchill downs ky derby dayWhat makes the undercards on these two days exciting is that a player can experience high quality racing with unusually good wagering opportunities. When examining these races over the last few years we find that favorites have won only 8 of 33 times for a subpar 24% win rate. Like so many big days at a race track, many novices and amateurs are in attendance and that usually means more money on the favorites.

Of these races the lowest price to win was Tepin in the 2016 Distaff Mile at odds of .30-1.00. The longest price was 18.70-1.00 by Camelot Kitten in the American Turf in 2016, oddly enough trained by Chad Brown (how many times do you get his horse at that price?)

The median of all winners is 5.30-1.00, which makes the median winner pay more than $12.00. That gets my attention.

Other than Todd Pletcher, no other winning trainer of the undercard races in the last three years has ever won the Derby.  Here are the trainers that have been in the Winner’s Circle after undercard races the last three year (multiple winners number of victories in parenthesis):

Todd Pletcher (4); Mark Casse (4); Buff Bradley (3); Brad Cox (3); Jorge Navarro (3); Chad Brown (2); Dale Romans; Brian Lynch; Bret Calhoun; Bill Mott; Vann Belvoir; Paul McGhee; Tom Amoss; Ian Wilkes; Peter Miller; Rusty Arnold; Ben Colebrook; Simon Callaghan.

I’ve always been told that horses that like the Matt Winn Turf Couse at Churchill Downs really, really like it. Upon examination of turf races we see some truth to that. Trainer Buff Bradley won three races on the turf course with the same horse, 2015-2017. Divisidero won the American Turf once and the Woodford Reserve twice. That happened to be three of his five lifetime wins. Trainer Mark Casse’s Tepin won back to back editions of the Distaff Mile in 2015 and 2016.

What isn’t true about the Matt Winn Turf Course is that far outside posts cannot win going short. The 2015 Twin Spires Turf Sprint at 5 furlongs was captured by Power Alert that broke from the 10 post. In the same race in 2017 Green Mask won the race from the 12 post.

The dirt sprints have experienced one gate-to-wire winner, which was Private Zone in 2015. All sprint winners have been in the top three runners when they get to the quarter pole. The Pat Day Mile, similar to an extended sprint, has had the same results. A horse needs to be close and in contention when running one turn on the dirt.

Where do winning horses come from for the undercards? Keeneland has produced almost half of the winners over the last three years (16 of 33). Gulfstream is next (7 of 33), then Oaklawn and Southern California (each with 4 of the 33 total), Tampa and Fairgrounds one each. Strangely New York has not been the sight of a last race for an undercard winner during these years.

The undercards at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day and Derby Day are always outstanding. There are plenty of opportunities with the undercard stakes races. Remember it is just as nice to win money on something other than the Oaks and the Derby.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 14-time qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He recently won a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is also a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program. He is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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