Timing is Everything: Find Value in Early Kentucky Derby Contenders

The 145th Kentucky Derby is coming up on May 4th. Although the big race is still weeks away, there’s already plenty of interest in the results of early qualifiers. Because as history demonstrates, winning big on the Kentucky Derby isn’t just about picking the winner, it’s about when you have the winner picked.

The early interest is largely because of the four annual Kentucky Derby ‘Future Wager’ pools. These futures pools offer an opportunity to get much longer odds and potential payouts on winning horses than what betting on a winning horse will pay out by Kentucky Derby weekend.

Each Kentucky Derby Futures pool offers 24 wagering options, consisting of “23 individual horses and a mutual field, or “all others” interest.” The wagering options are available for 3 days before closing.

The “morning line odds” for each option listed at the open of the wagering period and the “final odds” listed at the end can vary dramatically if major preliminary races take place while the pools are open. The dates for the 2018-19 Kentucky Derby season are/were:

  • Pool 1: November 22 – 25, 2018
  • Pool 2: February 8 – 10, 2019
  • Pool 3: March 8 – 10, 2019
  • Pool 4: April 5 – 7, 2019

Futures Wager Payouts for 2017-18 Derby Winners

If you were fortunate enough to have wagered on Always Dreaming or Justify in Futures pools over the last two years, the payout was likely much better than what the casual bettor got at the window on race day.


Two years after American Pharoah’s dominant Triple Crown performance, trainer Todd Pletcher’s Always Dreaming slogged his way to a 2 ¾ length victory as a 9-2 favorite on race day.

Always Dreaming 1st appeared in the 2016-17 Futures pools in Pool 3, starting the 3-day wagering period at 50-1 odds and marginally increasing to 42-1 by the close of Pool 3. At the open of the fourth and final Futures pool, the colt opened at similarly long, 50-1 odds. However, a massive 5 lengths victory at the prestigious Florida Derby on April 1st, 2017 (the 2nd day of the 3-day wagering period) transformed Always Dreaming into the prohibitive favorite at 6-1 by the close of Pool 4.

Below were the winning payouts on a $2 wager made on Always Dreaming during 2016-17 at various dates leading up to the 2017 Derby:

  • Pool 1: $4.40 (field bet)
  • Pool 2: $7.00 (field bet)
  • Pool 3: $86.40
  • Pool 4: $14.20
  • Derby Day: $11.40

JUSTIFY – 2018

Perhaps the most impressive part of Justify’s Triple Crown run in 2018 was the fact that the colt did not even run his first professional race until mid-February, just two-and-a-half months before the Derby. After a couple of impressive tune-ups races, Justify certified his credentials with a win over a multiple stakes winner, Bolt d’Oro at the Santa Anita Derby on April 7th.

Like Always Dreaming, Justify first emerged as an individual wagering option in the 2017-18 Futures pools in Pool 3. Pegged at 15-1 in the morning line odds at the open of the wagering period, the final odds listed him as the favorite for Pool 3 at 6-1. By the end of Pool 4, Justify was a favorite at 3-1, where the line would more or less hold firm up to and throughout Derby Day.

Below were the winning payouts on a $2 wager made on Justify during 2017-18 at various dates leading up to the 2018 Derby:

  • Pool 1: $4.40 (field bet)
  • Pool 2: $7.00 (field bet)
  • Pool 3: $14.40
  • Pool 4: $8.40
  • Derby Day: $7.80

What to Look for in 2019 and Beyond

To really look for trends, one would ideally look beyond just the last two years and study a decade of results or more. However, just looking at the last two years, if recent form holds, look for value with a horse like Galilean, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer.

With three wins in four starts, and a real test forthcoming on March 16th at the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Galilean first appeared in Pool 3 of this 2018-19 Kentucky Derby Future Wager season. Appearing in the morning line odds at 50-1, and attracted enough interest over the three day wagering period to drop all the way down to 22-1 by the close of the pool.

If history repeats itself in 2019, even 22-1 may look like an incredible value on Derby Day come May 4th.

{Image Credit: 123rf.com / Brenda Kean)

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.