Kentucky Derby 2020: Contest pros offer first thoughts

Kentucky Derby 2020: Contest pros offer first thoughts
Photo: Jon Durr/Eclipse Sportswire

It is the most basic question now that will not change much in the three weeks left until the Kentucky Derby. But the answer may be as capricious as a swirling wind.

How would you bet the Derby right now?

Not knowing whether the field will fill and with what horses and with jockeys trying to figure out how they are coming and going, it is not a fair question.

Nevertheless, HRN posed it to some well-known horseplayers who will be seen in a series of stories delivering their insights on betting this unique running of America’s biggest race. Although they spoke in separate telephone conversations, their comments have been grouped where they crossed common ground.

If there was a feeling that Jonathon Kinchen, Judy Wagner, Tony Zhou and David Gutfreund shared, it was not just that it was too soon for a concrete opinion. It was that they have some basic strategy in mind that are the foundation of how they will place their bets Saturday, Sept. 5.

Of course, they all took into account the heavy favorite Tiz The Law.

JONATHON KINCHEN

Winner of the 2015 NHC Tour

Double finalist in the 2016 NHC

Fox Sports/NYRA, Austin, Texas

“I’m different than the casual fan. When I go to sleep on the first Saturday in September, if Tiz The Law wins and I walk away a loser, I can handle that. A lot of people want to see the ball go through the hoop on Derby day. With that said I’m not necessarily going to bet a lot of other horses to win the Derby. What I want to do is something that most people can’t stomach doing with the Kentucky Derby because it’s a 20-horse field. That is to single Tiz The Law in multi-race bets and use other opinions in the surrounding races. If he wins and I lose money, I’m OK with that from a fan standpoint. That’s fine. That’s how I’m going to bet the race. I have not seen anyone with a bad trip, with going a mile-and-a-quarter, with a hidden pedigree, with anything that makes me believe that they can turn the tables on what I saw here (at Saratoga) on Saturday from Tiz The Law.”

TONY ZHOU

Five times in National Horseplayers Championship

Analytics player, professional quantitative analyst

New York

“The Derby is probably going to have one of the most solid lines out there. It’s kind of like the Super Bowl. Everyone is analyzing lines and players. All that money whips the market into shape unless you have some public darling horse. Typically with that much money flowing into the pool, the lines are going to be pretty solid. I never view the Kentucky Derby as a great betting proposition. But it’s just a great race to watch.”

JUDY WAGNER

Winner of the 2001 NHC

Member of the Louisiana Racing Commission

New Orleans

“I feel this year’s 3-year-old crop overall is not as strong, but that may be because I can’t tell you four or five 3-year-olds that I feel I’m excited about for the Derby. I loved seeing Tiz The Law. I really was concerned about him when they turned for home last week in the Travers. But all doubt was removed very quickly, especially by the sixteenth pole.”

DAVID GUTFREUND

Winner of the 2018 NHC Tour

15-time NHC player

Las Vegas

“The Derby is a unique race unto itself because the field size. You just don’t get that in any other races. The one thing about the Derby this year is the Kentucky horses all ran at Ellis Park last week. The New York horses ran in the Belmont and the Travers. For the most part the west-coast horses have stayed out on the west coast except for Uncle Chuck going in the Travers. So the one thing you do have going into this Derby is that you are going to see which region has the best horses. Everybody is just under the impression that Tiz The Law has been beating up on decent competition. But maybe the horses that Art Collector beat on Sunday at Ellis Park are better than the ones that Tiz The Law beat on Saturday.”

TONY ZHOU

“I think the undercard is where it’s at. Everyone spends all their time on the Derby and forgets about the rest. They spend hours and hours to analyze the Derby, and then they spend two minutes on the other races. Where it gets sloppy is the undercard. If I were to bet horizontally, it would probably be a Pick 6, because the pools are big and juicy. But aside from just wanting some action on a big pool in the Derby, I would tend to just avoid the race. Money is as green in the Derby as it is in the first maiden special weight on the card. I don’t care what race it comes from. I’m not going to force my action just because it’s the Derby. If it’s a terrible race and I have no opinion, I just won’t put much money into it. I may bet just because it’s the Derby and because it’s fun, but I’m not going to put any significant amount into it. It’s a great race for the sport. But it’s like the fan vs. gambler mentality.”

JUDY WAGNER

“My biggest excitement about the Derby is the fact that Churchill Downs is allowing a 10-cent superfecta this year. In the past you could only get a $1 superfecta. If there’s somebody I really like I key him. But when you get that many horses you can’t always do that. The biggest superfecta that I ever played in the Derby (in 2009) I had to completely rule out five or six horses. One of the horses was Mine That Bird. Needless to say you know what happened to me. That kind of cooked me on those $1 superfectas. But I think I will get a lot more interested with the 10-cent superfecta. They’re having 50-cent trifectas, too, which is nice, because you have some good opportunities to make money. I’m a serious handicapper, but I’m not a huge bettor, and I have a budget. If my budget doesn’t spread to all the races on the card, it doesn’t spread. Definitely there’s value to be had in the Derby. I still think you get good value if you can get past a prohibitive favorite like Tiz The Law.”

TONY ZHOU

“I don’t know how I will bet until literally the day before. I see how the pools move the day of. On a normal day in a normal Grade 1, I normally don’t know the names of the horses until the day before. Then I ask myself, first of all, if it’s even worth a bet. Number two, is there an opportunity to be had? Meaning I think if the public is missing something on the horse or the situation it’ll be highlighted. The next day, once I see how the odds flow, then I make the decision whether it’s worthwhile putting in a bet or not. I see what I see in the pools, and that’s when I make my decision. It’s like just like any other day actually.”

JONATHON KINCHEN

“I am a speed-figure guy through and through. Tiz The Law’s best (Beyer), which is much better than Art Collector’s or Honor A. P.’s or Thousand Words’s, was earned a mile-and-a-quarter. Even if the other three make a big improvement off of their figure when they get to the mile-and-a-quarter, it’s going to be Tiz The Law’s second time. I already know he can do it. and he did it geared down. If Honor A. P. couldn’t beat Thousand Words, he ain’t beating Tiz The Law.”

DAVID GUTFREUND

“Just a random thought on Tiz The Law. He’s had absolutely everything his own way in 2020. He has run out of his own stall, in short fields and gotten dreamy trips. The Derby is going to be 15, 16, 18, 20 horses. It’s on a track where he already flopped. The jockey (Manny Franco) is going to be under severe pressure; he has sometimes dropped the ball at the Saratoga meeting. The horses never run back on only four-weeks rest. I do think there’s a lot of question marks around Tiz The Law. He hasn’t faced anybody like Art Collector or Honor A. P. or Thousand Words. He’s had pushover fields in the Belmont and the Travers, which were the Belmont and the Travers in name only. I’d be inclined to play against Tiz The Law. I have no idea with who, though.”

JONATHON KINCHEN

“It’s Kentucky Derby day. Since Giacomo and since Mine That Bird, a lot of people think that any horse can win the Derby. I’m actually different than that. I think every year there’s just a handful of horses that can win the Derby. It has become very formal for various reasons. I just don’t see how they’re going to beat him.”

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