The big hit: Keys to a $75,000 Kentucky Derby superfecta

January 07, 2020 10:27am
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Among the many reasons the Kentucky Derby is so exciting for horseplayers is the field size, which makes it difficult to pick a winner but handily rewards those who do. The challenge becomes that much more difficult to hit the superfecta, a $1 minimum wager with a high risk/reward opportunity, and the payouts have remained lofty even when favorites win the race.
Over the last 10 years, the Derby superfecta payout has averaged $56,746 with a low of $542 in 2016 and the high in 2010 at $202,569. Scott Calabrese hit the Kentucky Derby superfecta in 2017, which (before taxes) paid a cool $75,974. His winning ticket cost $72, but he played six superfecta tickets in all for a $450 investment. The Texas resident made his way to Sam Houston Race Park earlier in the day to make his wagers, then settled in at his neighbor’s house for a Kentucky Derby party.
RELATED: More bettors share their big hit stories “The way I approach it is, when I make my tickets, once I narrow the field down I look for a key that I can single,” Calabrese said. “I felt pretty confident with Always Dreaming that year even though some folks that I know didn’t like him even after the Florida Derby.” Calabrese was afforded what he considered a better opportunity to hit because he had high hopes for another horse in the Kentucky Derby, too. “I actually singled two horses in two spots which allowed me to go a lot deeper in the two remaining spots,” he said. “I felt pretty good about Classic Empire making the top four as well, although he did make me a little nervous.” Calabrese crafted superfecta tickets singling Always Dreaming one spot and Classic Empire in another, while using a multitude of other contenders in the remaining positions. On each ticket, he rearranged the order of his singles, making it necessary for both of his keys to finish in the top four. He then needed his “other” horses to combine with Always Dreaming and Classic Empire to complete the superfecta, and of course they did. But the Derby’s third-place finisher was nearly left off Calabrese’s tickets entirely.  “Battle of Midway, when I looked at him at first, I almost bypassed him,” he said. “A lot of what I do is I look at energy distribution, and I calculate feet-per-second fractions for every one of the runner’s preps. So when I looked at him in the Santa Anita Derby, I almost tossed him because he had run out front of a really hot pace and finished second. I thought if he ran that same pattern in the Derby he was going to burn out by the end. I wasn’t crazy about that.” Calabrese talked himself into using Battle of Midway when he was reminded that focusing too much on one prep race could be detrimental. “It was actually a conversation I had with (racing analyst) Scott Shapiro that got me looking back at him again. He still to this day doesn’t let me forget that,” Calabrese said. “There’s so much information going into the Derby and so many preps, and so many horses it’s easy to lose sight. I try not to take an attitude that I know everything and I try to listen to people that I respect because it is very easy to miss something. “And sure enough, Battle of Midway had run a little bit differently in other races and distributed his energy differently so that got me back on that horse.” While he wasn’t overly confident with Battle of Midway, he was more sure of Lookin at Lee, who went off at 33-1 odds and finished second. “A lot of people wrote him off because he drew the No. 1 hole,” Calabrese said. “He was a sustained runner, and I had confidence that (jockey Corey) Lanerie could do what he did and save ground. I think the only question for him was whether or not he was going to be able to navigate through traffic in a 20-horse field.” When Calabrese arrived to his neighbor’s party, there was plenty of food, drink and merriment, but the bettor plopped himself in front of the television as one of only a few in attendance to soak in the full pre-race. and was one of the few in attendance paying attention to the pre-race broadcast. “When a race goes off, I usually watch the horse that I singled, and Always Dreaming being the first was the one I focused in on especially since he was out front,” Calabrese said. “I kind of lost all of the other runners until they got into the stretch run. Then I picked up Lookin at Lee riding the rail and Battle of Midway was up towards the front the whole time.” A plan to remain calm in case he hit the superfecta didn’t exactly pan out. “My wife looked at me and the moment took over,” he said. “I went right back home and put the ticket in the safe before going back over and celebrating a little.” In a text message thread with his father and brother, they were debating what the payout may total. Family suggested in the range of $5,000, but Calabrese knew to expect more -- just not nearly $76,000. Although he realized a big hit in 2017, Calabrese continues to treat his Derby handicapping as a work in progress. “I still make mistakes,” he said. “I did in 2018, and this last year was just a bit of bad luck. Before the disqualification I would have had the superfecta if it stayed up. But when Country House was moved to the top spot, I had all the runners, but did not have him in the top spot.”

 

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