How to pick a Kentucky Derby horse if you're not a handicapper

April 16th, 2021

Part of the thrill of the most exciting two minutes in sports is the chance to collect big money if you bet on the winning horse!

While some Kentucky Derby devotees boast a wealth of knowledge on racing and know exactly which Thoroughbred to peg for a first-place finish, many casual fans rely on a number of unique methods to pick a horse in the Run for the Roses.

From meaningful moniker to lucky number to coat color, here are a few alternate ways to find a winning Kentucky Derby contender if you're not an expert handicapper.

Pick a name, any name

Chestnut colt I'll Have Another became a popular pick with the party crowd on the first Saturday in May of 2012, which happened to fall on Cinco De Mayo.

Those who wagered $2 to win on the Doug O'Neill-trained Thoroughbred โ€” whose name was inspired by his owner's response when offered extra cookies, not a second drink โ€” walked home with an extra $32.50 in cash.

Likewise, in 2011, those enticed by the Disney theme park connection to Animal Kingdom earned $43.80 on a winning $2 bet.

The moniker method does work, at times. Simply look for a name with a personal link to your own, a family member's, a type of hobby you enjoy, or a common catchphrase.

In the 2021 Kentucky Derby, you may feel inclined to back a cool name like Hot Rod Charlie, if you're a car enthusiast. Or, if you want another libation theme like I'll Have Another, consider the Todd Pletcher-trained Bourbonic, or Steve Asmussen trainee Midnight Bourbon. 

What's your lucky number?

Do you have a lucky number between 1 and 20? If so, match it up with the horse that drew the same post number.

In the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby, each horse entered in the race will be assigned a post position, drawn at random.

If you like the number 5, you are in especially good luck, because that post position has resulted in the highest win percentage in event history. California Chrome (2014) and Always Dreaming (2017) are two of the recent horses to win while running out of Gate 5.

On the other hand, if you like the number 17, you are better off trying out a different method for picking a winning horse. No entrant has triumphed after starting from Gate 17.

Choose a horse based on coat color

Some Derby fans simply like to cheer on a horse based on its appearance.

Bay horses win the most often at the Derby, including last year's champ Authentic. Chestnut-colored Thoroughbreds are also historically successful, like Country House in 2019, and Justify the year prior.

Gray or roan horses have tasted victory just eight times in past Derby races, but this year Essential Quality is a prime contender to add to the win total. Projected longshot Soup and Sandwich is another gray contender whose name may be popular with foodies too.

Dark bay or brown Thoroughbreds anticipated in the field include Hot Rod Charlie, Rock Your World, and Medina Spirit. Midnight Bourbon, Mandaloun, and Highly Motivated are among the bay horses likely to run. 

Search for a winning sire

Another way to narrow down a winner is too look at a horse's sire, or father.

For instance, Mandaloun, Highly Motivated, and Soup and Sandwich were all sired by Into Mischief, who is also father to last year's Derby winner Authentic.

Wesley Ward trainee Like the King is a descendant of Preakness stakes winner Curlin, as well as the son of Belmont Stakes champion Palace Malice.

Essential Quality also has a strong bloodline as the son of Tapit, who was named leading sire in North America from 2014-16. 

Look for storylines with the trainer

Sometimes a sentimental storyline with a trainer or jockey can sway the betting public toward a particular horse.

Kentucky native Brad H. Cox has yet to win his hometown Triple Crown race, but is on the cusp of a huge breakthrough as a trainer. His horse, Essential Quality, will surely pull in a ton of wagers, not just because of the horse's undefeated track record, but also Cox's connection to the city of Louisville.

Six-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert is another trainer fans tend to eye on race day. He won last year's event with Authentic and secured Triple Crown titles with American Pharoah and Justify in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

This year, Concert Tour and Medina Spirit are two of his horses expected to compete. Should Baffert win again in 2021, he will break the tie he shares with Ben Jones for most Kentucky Derby victories by a trainer. 

Also of note, no female trainer has finished first in the Kentucky Derby, but Victoria Oliver could make a run at history with Hidden Stash.