Racing fans place bets at Churchill Downs | Photo by John Nation

Racing fans place bets at Churchill Downs | Photo by John Nation

This is the year to win big money betting the Kentucky Derby.

And you don’t have to know a thing about horses to do it. Probably better if you don’t.

A year ago, American Pharoah reversed a long-running trend of big odds and whopping payoffs in the Kentucky Derby. Pharoah paid just $7.80 to win the Derby, the $1 exacta was only $72, and the trifecta a paltry $101. Horrible! Might as well have stayed home. It was the meagerest amount of money in memory, and a ghost of a return in comparison to Derbys past.

In contrast, California Chrome, which went to post two years ago at the same 7-2 win odds as American Pharoah, headed up a $170 exacta and a $1,712 trifecta. Another year back, Orb started a near $500 exacta, with a zesty $3,400 trifecta to go with it.

Jack Fry’s? Reservations, please!

So where did all the prices go?

Well, the money went to the Big Horse, and Pharoah let no one down. In the exacta, the favorite was chased home by the fourth and second choices in the race. The result was an abnormally puny payoff.

But that won’t happen this year.

Nyquist on the backside at Churchill Downs | Photo courtesy of

Nyquist on the backside at Churchill Downs | Photo courtesy of

The 142nd Run for the Roses is too wide open. The science of arithmetic will resume its former spot at the head of the pari-mutuel wagering table, with a betting spread multiplying exponentially through a 20-horse field that nobody can sort out with any degree of confidence. A big payoff is almost a certainty.

And, like we say, you don’t have to know a thing about horses to step up for a share of what we suspect could be a Niagara Falls flood of winnings – for somebody.

Which ones? It won’t matter which of these steeds run 1-2-3, especially if one of them isn’t Nyquist, the probable betting favorite.

We won’t get into details about why Nyquist is favored, as this story is strictly about betting, and you supply the horses. Your horses.

Of course, you will have to select the right two horses, out of 20, to hit the exacta, or the right three to cash the trifecta. But that’s the beauty of the thing. Nobody knows which one, which two, which three, will run 1-2-3.

All you need is the roster of horses, then just throw money at your picks in the betting widows.

Here’s what you do: Friday, go to the bank and get a bunch of money.

Then Saturday, stop by an ATM on the way to the track and get more — you know, for “incidentals.” Then bet early — no reason to wait all day — and have fun.

All you’ll need is some numbers out of a program. Maybe seven. Or even eight. Or nine …

Visualize the tote board

One bit of advice I give race goers is to take a second when you’re handicapping and visualize what the tote board will look like when the race is over. No, I don’t mean the winning numbers (though that would be a valuable skill). What I mean is, if you think the tote board is going to be threadbare of prices, $6.20, $3.60, $2.40, then pass on the race. Or bet lightly.

But if you think the tote board will be smoking hot, like I think this Derby will be, then it’s Time to Bet. What I’m thinking, and the premise of this story, is the Churchill Downs tote board for the 2016 Kentucky Derby could light up like the big board at the Hong Kong stock exchange.

This is the tote board at Churchill Downs — take a good, hard look before placing your bets. | Photo via Creative Commons

This is the tote board at Churchill Downs; consider how “hot” it will be before placing your bets. | Photo via Creative Commons

So hit it hard. Just because the numbers could be big, doesn’t mean you should bet lightly. The longer the odds, the more you should bet — it’s the only way to win a car.

Another piece of advice we’re not following this time is to forget the boxes: exacta box, trifecta box, superfecta box.

Generally boxes are the worst, lowest-value way to bet — with your best horses getting no more money than your worst horses. A sharp better will identify his or her top picks and fire toward those in part-wheels.

But don’t worry about what all that means. Money is so spread out for the Derby that you might as well box. Just be sure to make big boxes.

Yes, a $1 two-horse exacta box costs $2. And three is only $6. How lovely. But I think to hit this thing, you are going to need more than just two or three horses.

How about seven?

How much does that coast? Well, the formula is always the number of horses, times number of horses, minus 1. So a seven-horse exacta box is:

7 x (7-1) = $42.

But you don’t need to absorb yourself in arithmetic. Just bet your boxes and order a julep.

Same in the trifecta. Seven horses? That’s 7 x 6 x 5 = $210. Sounds like a lot, but you’re going for a lot. Maybe you’ve got an out-of-town friend with disposable funds. Take in a partner. A hundred apiece and you’re in business. Maybe you’ll catch one of those $5,000 jobs.

Or, put up more cash and go for the superfecta, which is the first four finishers in the race. Perhaps in the 2005 Kentucky Derby that Giacomo won you played the serial numbers on the price scan of a box of Cheerios and came up with the numbers: 10-18-12-17, which won. And paid $864,253.

Not saying you’re going to win $864K. But it could happen, and the 2016 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs might be just the place for it.

Finally: Don’t forget your Derby Pick

Oh, I almost forgot. Do not neglect to bet a strong straight bet on Your Horse. If he wins, and all you had on him was in a trifecta that didn’t hit, you’d never forgive yourself. You have to bet your Derby Horse – and don’t let anybody talk you off it. First thing in the door, bet $20 to win on your horse.

Or maybe wheel him on top and bottom in $1 exacta wheels. That’s two $19 bets = $38. If Your Horse runs first or second, you will have the exacta. And always be glad you did.

Good luck!