Look for horses beaten by talented rivals; they can offer nice odds

August 16th, 2023

In many horse races, there is a tendency among bettors to favor horses who enter in winning form. But a horse who ran well in defeat against a talented rival can be just as likely to factor.

The Kentucky Derby (G1) can be a good example of this phenomenon. Take the 2023 edition, in which the first five favorites were the Arkansas Derby (G1) winner, the Blue Grass (G1) winner, the UAE Derby (G2) winner, the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) winner, and the Louisiana Derby (G2) winner. Horses entering off defeats received comparatively little wagering support.

That proved to be a mistake. The morning line favorite for the 2023 Kentucky Derby was reigning champion two-year-old male Forte, who had worked hard to defeat Mage by one length in the Florida Derby (G1) five weeks earlier.

Forte wound up scratching from the Kentucky Derby, but in his absence bettors didn’t rush to support Mage. Despite his gallant runner-up finish against a champion in the Florida Derby, Mage started as the 15-1 eighth choice in the Kentucky Derby and paid $32.42 for every $2 win bet when he rallied to score by one length.

A similar scenario unfolded in the 2023 CTHS Sales S. at Assiniboia Downs. The heavy 4-5 favorite was Justlemmeatem, who owned two of the field's three highest Brisnet Speed ratings after finishing second and first against maiden special weight competition at Assiniboia.

Justlemmeatem was an obvious choice to win, but bettors overlooked Vindictive Miss as a logical runner-up at enticing odds. Justlemmeatem and Vindictive Miss had debuted in the same race, with Justlemmeatem finishing second by a neck and Vindictive Miss coming home another 3 1/2 lengths back in third place. That was a fast race, so the Brisnet Speed rating Vindictive Miss received in defeat stamped her as the second-fastest runner in the CTHS Sales field.

Nevertheless, the fact Vindictive Miss was entering a stakes as a maiden left her as the 7-1 third choice in a six-horse field. The result was a $1 exacta that paid $8.40 after Justlemmeatem and Vindictive Miss ran 1-2 all the way around the track.

The next time you're betting a horse race and think, "This favorite looks like a standout," check if any of the other entrants have recently run well in defeat against the favorite. They can be overlooked in the betting, and there's a chance they'll round out a nice exacta or even steal first prize.