If the zenith for horseplayers in a horizontal wager is the $2 Pick 6, its vertical complement could certainly be nailing the superfecta in the Kentucky Derby. The superfecta on Derby Day is one of those bets that a horseplayer would earn bragging rights for later years if successful. The Kentucky Derby superfecta complexity is manifested not only in the minimum $1 bet, but also by encompassing the largest field in American horse racing. Take, for example, that a “full field” at many North American tracks would stand at 12 entries. This amount of entries (12) will produce 11,880 potential superfecta combinations. To compare, if all 20 horses make it to the starting gate on Derby Day, that number exponentially increases to 116,280 possibilities. To calculate these numbers and understand a little bit about combinatorics (combinations and permutations), visit Math is Fun.
A player wishing to realistically attempt this bet must be well-funded and willing to test their handicapping prowess through a study of math, risk, and confidence. For your Derby superfecta to be something “super,” consider some of the tactics below that have worked for my wife and I:
1. Determine if you have the adequate bankroll
Please note, the Kentucky Derby superfecta is not a 10-cent minimum bet, but a $1 minimum. As you start to craft out potential bets, each turn of the permutations can be staggering and total hundreds of dollars. If the total bet becomes cost-prohibitive, play this as a “fantasy” bet, saving your hard-earned dollars for other opportunities. Alternatively, you could form a small syndicate with friends.
2. Find one key horse (or better yet, two)
In dissecting entries, we decided to take stands on the horse or two that must be in the top four. If you can choose two with confidence, it will significantly lower the overall bet amount. In 2015, Deborah and I successfully handicapped Dortmund and American Pharoah as our two keys. In 2016, we could not confidently choose two and used Exaggerator as the lone key. I either label these horses by name or label them as A1 when crafting out the bets.
3. Determine your throw-out list
Be careful here, as you probably do not have the capital to flippantly bring in the ALL button and cycle it through the positions. Part of your job as a handicapper and wise bettor is to correctly exclude those horses who do not have a chance in the top 4 positions. Coupled with the key horses, this will again bring the bet into a manageable budget.
4. Handicap and rank
I completed my first pass for this year’s Derby and started the dissection and placement into those that can win, get 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. This ranking will be used in subsequent steps as the permutations are individually crafted and edited. For each Ak or ALL variable, the ranking will be used to custom-edit that position in the superfecta.
5. Write out the permutations in groups
We start this process by assigning our main key horses with A1, assigning the second tier that are mandatory for the top four spots with Ak, and the “ALL” button. The ALL with be the entire field, excluding those horses removed in step 3 with consideration given to their individual rank. With this grouping of 4 different assignments of A1, Ak, Ak, and ALL, that is 12 potential permutations. We reduced this to 9 potential permutations as we did not believe it was necessary to put ALL in the top position. This is where you have to trust your handicapping. If your budget is large enough to play all 12 permutations, then go for it.
6. Decide which permutations to play
Put your money on the line! In recent years, we have reduced the 9 potential permutations to 4-5. The other non-played permutations can be hedged with a cheaper trifecta. This will be an exercise in wagering theory as you work through the potentials and assess your opinion through position rankings. I try to have at least 2 of the five permutations with the ALL in the second position. Ideally, a horse with double-digit odds places and produces a boxcar payout, causing bettors everywhere to salivate. The remaining permutations will move the ALL into the show position once and the 4th position twice. This arrangement is built around permutations of how the odds of previous horses accounted for in previous Derby superfectas. Once again, for the permutations that are not played, a trifecta should be utilized in lieu of another expensive turn of the superfecta. It gives us comfort that, if we are beaten by an excluded superfecta permutation, then a complementing trifecta would still be in play. Figure 1 is a colorful pictorial of the permutations:
In total last year, we played 5 superfecta bets and 5 trifecta bets. A big part of our bet was the running of 25-1 Suddenbreakingnews, an Ak, who was a 1/4-length short of winning our superfecta. Although we lost last year, it was a great exercise in wagering theory. I keep records of our plays, but from that day, I kept every scrap of paper with any notes and detailed bet scenarios.
I hope this will guide you in producing a cost-effective superfecta bet, given the difficulty of a 20-horse field with $1 minimums. Look for Part II next week, after the field is more defined, with assignments of each category for an actual wagering example. See you at the post!