Psst, Pennsylvania horse racing bettors, the May 6 Kentucky Derby is in less than two weeks. Are you ready?
Yes, the famed Run for the Roses and the Triple Crown series closes on Keystone State racing fans faster than horses thundering down the homestretch at Parx Casino and Racing in Bensalem.
With Kentucky Derby betting set to begin, it’s time to start looking into the first of the three races in more detail.
Forte, a Breeders’ Cup two-year-old champion and winner of the Florida Derby, and Angel of Empire, victor in the Risen Star and Arkansas Derby, will be the likely favorites. Angel of Empire is actually a local horse that should receive lots of attention. The colt is trained by Brad Cox, while famous jockey Flavien Prat will ride him.
The Keystone State has a huge Triple Crown connection. Here’s a little primer to get you ready not only for the most famous two minutes in sports, as the Kentucky Derby has been described, but the whole Triple Crown.
2023 Kentucky Derby first look
Keystone State residents followed the winter and spring-long road to the Kentucky Derby prep-race series, which determines the 20-horse field.
While Forte and Angel of Empire have emerged as front-runners, there were several major stakes races that graduated additional contenders.
Practical Move won the Santa Anita Derby, while lightly-raced Kingsbarns captured the Louisiana Derby and is three-for-three in lifetime starts.
Tapit Trice secured the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, whereas Two Phil’s claimed the Jeff Ruby Steaks (yes, that steaks, just like the brand).
Lord Miles shook up the world as a 59-1 longshot to win the Wood Memorial. Derma Sotogake captured the UAE Derby in Dubai with the fastest time there in five years and now he comes east. He is one of the best Japanese-bred horses ever to run in the Derby.
Confidence Game won the Rebel Stakes in the slop.
All of them, on their best day, could do the number at Churchill Downs.
Triple Crown betting 101
Here’s what’s happened in recent years: the leaders from the points series, in this case Forte and Angel of Empire, tend to finish in the top four at the Derby. The key is to find that longshot with them in a trifecta or superfecta payout.
Favored Epicenter and Zandon finished second and third last year, for example.
One idea of many could be to take a 50-cent trifecta box that costs $12 in total. Take the two Derby points leaders with two other horses, and make at least one of them a bomb with long odds. That could put you at least in the ballpark of a nice payday.
There are what seems like a million betting angles. Your first obvious bet is to Win and that will pay a good price.
A Place bet pays if your horse finishes first or second, with less of a payout. A Show bet pays for first, second or third place.
The exacta pays out for selecting the top two finishers, in order. Take it in a box so that the specific order doesn’t actually matter (a $5 exacta box with two horses costs $10).
A trifecta is the top three finishers in exact order. A superfecta is for the top four. Lucrative, yet elusive.
What is parimutuel betting?
Parimutuel betting is when all of the wagers placed on an event enter a pool together. Those betting online and those at the racetrack are connected and share the same odds.
Your odds also don’t become official until post time. This is different than all other sports in which bettors can lock in a price in advance.
New Jersey launched fixed odds betting last year for certain horse races and it will catch on slowly throughout the industry.
But for now, your odds don’t become official until they are set to go for the start of the race.
Triple Crown history
The three races have been part of the American racing fabric and folklore since the 1860’s. The Belmont, first run in 1867, pre-dates major, iconic sports like the NFL, NBA and MLB.
These races are institutions. The Triple Crown has unfolded in three different centuries, spanning numerous family generations.
Until the Breeders’ Cup arrived in 1984, the six-week stretch involving these three races were, in the eyes of many, the entire major horse racing season. Horses often ran in all three races and public buildup skyrocketed any time a thoroughbred had a shot to grab all three.
Only 13 have managed it in all of horse racing history. The last two are Justify in 2018 and American Pharoah in 2015, who broke an historic 37-year drought dating back to Affirmed in 1978.
Triple Crown lingo
Want to sound like you’ve been there your whole life? Here are a few phrases you might hear or toss around at horse races.
The track is fast. That means there’s sunshine, no problems and the track surface is what it is supposed to be. Early speed is beneficial here.
If the track is good, it is drying out from heavy recent rains and is heavy. This hurts the speed horses, as they tire. Horses coming from the back, or “closers” can do well here.
Slop means the track is wet amid heavy rain. Some horses like it, some hate it. Usually, but not always, favorable to speed.
Racing luck describes the Derby in a nutshell. Twenty horses create all types of traffic problems. Even the best horse can be caught behind a wall of rivals and lose.
Tactical speed is the ability to break alertly and get in a good position. While a speed duel is when horses vie too quickly for the lead and burn themselves out, having nothing left for the stretch.
Can a horse get the distance is another Derby talking point. None of the horses have gone 1 1/4 miles. Who can get there? Who can get the distance? The novel length has proven to be a big deal at the Derby.
Fractions are another part of the Triple Crown.
The time at the quarter-mile, half-mile, six-furlongs and 1-mile mark called out by the track announcer are crucial. Forty-seven seconds is about normal for the half-mile at the Derby. When it’s “suicidal”, as in 45.36 last year, the winner may come charging from way in the back.
A horse that had nothing left and faded from the lead is said to have “stopped like a dollar watch.”
“Wheeled him up and down” refers to when a bettor takes an exacta bet with a particular horse in the first slot and the entire field underneath. In the Derby, that $1 bet will cost $38. Your hope is for a bomb to run first and your horse to run second.
About the Kentucky Derby
Here’s a Look at how all of the Triple Crown events vary.
At 1 1/4 miles, the Kentucky Derby is a distance no horse has previously gone. All competitors must stretch out to a new distance and this provides many interesting finishes.
The best horse does not always win. The horse that gets the best trip often does. A horse on the inside has difficulty doing well if he gets stuck behind fast early horses that shuffle him back, for example.
This is the 149th edition of a race first run in 1875. It is set for Saturday, May 6, at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
About the Preakness Stakes
The Preakness is 1 and 3/16 miles. Front-end speed usually does well as the field is about half the size of the Derby. A horse that wins the Derby almost certainly does well in the Preakness, but the trick now is getting the horse to be entered.
Owners are beginning to skip the Preakness, fearing the risk of injury to their horses with two tough races in two weeks.
Rombauer and Early Voting, who won the last two Preakness Stakes, did not run in the Derby.
This is the 148th edition of a race first run in 1873. It is set for Saturday, May 20, at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
About the Belmont Stakes
The above Preakness item indicates why winning the Triple Crown is becoming more remote. A few years back, Belmont Park decided not to wait and see if a Triple Crown pursuit would bolster its handle. It created a mini-Breeders’ Cup on Belmont Day, offering several million dollar purses in numerous quality events, including the Belmont Stakes.
This is a grand celebration onto itself. This innovation helped Belmont retain betting interest for its signature Saturday, making the Triple Crown implications a bonus it can cherish, but also live without.
This is the 155th edition of a race first run in 1867. It is set for Saturday, June 10, at Belmont Park in New York.
Pennsylvania’s rich connection to the Triple Crown
Pennsylvania is tightly woven into the Triple Crown structure.
Pennsylvania contributions to the Kentucky Derby include 1992 winner Lil E Tee and 2004 champion Smarty Jones. That was just the start for Jones, who came close to the Triple Crown.
The Preakness in Baltimore is within an hour drive for many Pennsylvania residents.
The Belmont, on June 10, has an unforgettable Keystone connection. Philadelphia native and Penn graduate Bob Levy had a day of glory as his horse Bet Twice scored an 8-1 upset at the 1987 Belmont Stakes and denied a Triple Crown sweep to Alysheba.
Levy also owned Atlantic City Race Course in Hamilton, NJ and Housebuster, who was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2013.
Which Triple Crown race is the most Philly?
The Kentucky Derby
That’s because in September, the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, known by some as the Kentucky Derby of the North, showcases many horses who ran in that year’s Run for the Roses. As the Pennsylvania Derby has grown in stature, bolstered by the presence of Parx Casino, its purse has risen to an outstanding $1 million.
That’s why Pennsylvania bettors often witness horses that have run in that year’s Kentucky Derby. The list includes 2021 winner Hot Rod Charlie and 2022 titlist Taiba. Zandon, the third-place finisher in the 2022 Kentucky Derby, also ran in the Pennsylvania Derby.
Smarty Jones remains an icon in Pennsylvania. Parx remembers his efforts so fondly that it has an annual $300,000 Pennsylvania Derby prep race named in his honor.