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Zen and the Art of Finding a Kentucky Derby Winner


So you want make a winning Kentucky Derby wager? Well it’s going to take more than basic handicapping skill, knowledge of the culture, customs and lingo of horse racing and/or a lifetime spent watching horses run around a circular track to cash a winning Derby ticket. In fact, sometimes none of that matters and lucky numbers, names will do. See Kentucky Derby of 2009 when absolutely no “professional” pundit I know of picked the winner, Mine That Bird.


But there is an art form toward finding and cashing a winning Derby ticket for most runnings, if you’re willing to put in the work and then cancel out all the white noise that comes with the most wagered on race in America. We start with the state-of-mind that intersects with your talent and knowledge to make that winning bet – Zen.


The Urban Dictionary defines Zen this way:

a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.


The last line is crucial; it’s up to you! You need to do your homework, take in limited insight from knowledgeable sources, apply historical data, read past performances and re-watch some key prep races. Then you need to find a quiet place and reach inside yourself for an answer.


A common Derby betting error of weekend warriors and professional gamblers alike is taking in too much information. This might sound like an oxymoron, because isn’t more information, better than less? Not necessarily, allow me to illustrate why.


There is absolutely no way you can know everything about the horses you will wager on in the Kentucky Derby or for that matter any race you bet on. Stuff like how the horse is feeling that day, if he kicked his stall that morning, missed workout time was planned or necessary, etc. Whether you know it or not, you’re already working with a limited knowledge set.


This ignorance must be embraced, because there is no way around it. So instead of trying to commitment one’s self tolearning everything by listening, reading or watching at The Daily Racing Form, Bloodhorse, ESPN, TVG, heck, this outlet, you must strictly limit your information and apply it accordingly. If you don’t stay disciplined in your approach you will surely suffer from a paralysis of too much information.


Consider this analogy from a psychological study in which researchers show a fuzzy picture of fire hydrant (unbeknownst to the viewer) and then either show a handful of slightly clearer pictures or many more pictures with incremental clarity. Two conclusions were drawn from the study:

1.   The group shown many more pictures slowly brought into focus took much longer to guess what the picture was and had higher error rate compared to those that saw only a few pictures and

2.   The clarity of the initial picture mattered – the clearer it was the more likely it was for the subject to correctly figure out the picture


It matters what your initial picture of the Kentucky Derby is and then it matters more what forms of incremental information you use to assist you in bringing your Kentucky Derby wagers into focus. Conversely, everything (or your want of every piece of data possible) equals noting.


My recommendation is simple as the oft-repeated line in the sports world – keep it simply stupid. Do your own long-form studying first, a few uninterrupted hours of homework in which a picture of pace and price, conscientious conjecture and openness to the many possible outcomes emerges. Then, and only then, tap into some trusted outside sources.


You may purchase private clocker reporters, do a daily check into handicappers here or venture to others that have been recommended. In the expansive world of the Internet I have a few key handicappers (all free) that I check out this time of year and may look into one or two more that have popped up recently that have shown a deftness for handicapping skill.


If we hypothetically cast five hours for your alone data dig, then I’d say put three or less for your collection of outside sources. A clear picture only enhanced by limited sources.


You now have a little more than a week to compile charts, past performances, video links and the such. Buy into or come upon free expertise, before you make that last step toward Kentucky Derby Zen.


Sometime following the May 1 Kentucky Derby draw find that quiet place, tap into Louisville Derby Day weather, gather a few final anecdotes and wall yourself off from the world for a brief time – an hour or less – to pick your winner and formulate your bets. Who knows you just might thank me for my help…or not.



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Older Comments about Zen and the Art of Finding a Kentucky Derby Winner...

Time to reread this year's best advice>>imo.
^^In other words, Andy :).
with NO weather, no post position, no posible bias from observation of Oaks Day, no odds? Crazily unsophisticated.
Thoughtful concept, Tony>>Andy, yes it’s OK, but you are thinking contrary to the Zen thrust of the article.
Is it OK if I already have my Derby horse picked?

Tony Bada Bing began his lifelong quest of finding winners more than 35 years ago as a fifth grade student. This is when his grandfather first took him to the many Off Track Betting facilities sprinkled throughout Long Island, NY. While many kids his age were clamoring to hit the beach or an amusement park during summer vacation, Bada Bing was spending it in stuffy, smoked-filled rooms filled with retirees and reprobates listening to Marshall Cassidy on tape delay calling Saratoga.

This passion was further lit by his father, who took Bada Bing to East Boston's Suffolk Downs, only after Bada Bing learned to read the Racing Form. For most of his young adult life a summer rotation of NY OTB, Suffolk, and the now shuddered Rockingham Park in Salem, NH filled his betting days. 

Notable winners along the way: Willow Hour's and Runaway Groom's Travers wins as well as Derby winners Grindstone, Thunder Gulch (which he called in print the day before) and Super Saver. His latest quest is to hit the Kentucky Derby superfecta.

Bada Bing plays tournaments at Derby Wars, bets through several account wagering sites and has blogged about Thoroughbred racing for the past four years. He prefers the bigger meets of NYRA and California as well as seasonal meets of Gulfstream, Churchill and Oaklawn. He likes vertical, multirace wagers like Pick 4s.

He has produced several Horse Racing Nation videos, in addition to blogging. He can be found at Twitter @tonycbadabing. While away from the track Bada Bing enjoys time with his wife, who tolerates and supports his passion, and his two children.


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