My Annual Write-up for the Kentucky Derby

Jordi Visser

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I started writing an analysis leading into the Kentucky Derby 20 years ago. Before long, I had people reaching out to me each year asking for the updated version and the write-up began to take on a life of its own. I enjoy writing the paper each year because it’s a reminder that learning how to handicap horse races has been foundational in terms of the way I think about evaluating the economy and asset prices. So, without further ado, below is an excerpt from this year’s write-up and a full copy of the paper is available by clicking here.

The first Saturday in May is here so it is time for handicapping Kentucky Derby 148.

After two Covid impacted years at the Derby, Churchill Downs will be back to normal in 2022. In 2020 the race happened in September instead of May, and last year, despite happening on the first Saturday in May, only around 50,000 people attended. This year we will be back to 150,000 screaming fans. For those of you reading my annual write-up for the first time, my analysis takes longer to read than the two minutes the race will be, so be prepared. This is my data analytics attempt to help all of you enjoy the Kentucky Derby even more than in past years by giving you a breadth of unique information about the history of the race and each horse. In this world of big data, there is more and more information to process. This is meant to give it to you in one place along with some of my own statistics from years of database building and, hopefully, to give you a chance to make some money and maybe even learn a little about handicapping. While I hope you make money using my analysis, the key message is it is free. The only thing I can guarantee is that you will see some data you will not see anywhere else.

After attending 15 of the last 21 Derbies, each year I hope the time spent handicapping the race will prove profitable, but more importantly, I will reiterate what I wrote in the first piece years back. For those of you who have never attended the Derby as one of those 150,000 people, it is something I recommend for all Americans at least once in their life. The Kentucky Derby has survived the test of time and is a true piece of Americana. It gathers friends and families from all over the country as they come back to see each other and enjoy a day of laughter, excitement, and in some cases, overindulgence. It is like a prom, reunion, and Mardi Gras wrapped up into one, and you can visit all three parties during a day that feels like it never ends. No matter your age, the Derby makes you feel young for the day, and in this age of millennials, where experiences are highly valued and where it is harder to keep people’s attention span, remember this is the most exciting two minutes in sports! The Derby is a bucket list experience not to be missed.

My father owned racehorses for part of my childhood and was my inspiration for this annual write-up. He taught me how to handicap a race at an early age. That experience served as the beginning of my journey in using data analytics at a young age to make better decisions. This handicapping approach is the same way I approach all aspects of my day job as the CIO of an asset management company. There have been many books about poker and decision-making, but handicapping a race is very similar to handicapping the markets. There are narratives about why people like horses. There are analytics in the racing program and all the different speed ratings available which have their own algorithms. Finally, parimutuel betting in a horse race means the betting drives the ultimate odds on the race, just like multiples of the stock market are driven by investors’ expectations and change as their decisions change. My father taught me to listen to the narratives, go through my analytics on race and training patterns, watch the movements of the odds, and, based on my handicapping, put my own probabilities of the horses winning and then compare this with the odds the rest of the bettors have set and look for value. My method is very different from the “Who do you think will win?” approach. I am looking for opportunities or value where your edge will win out over time.

You can access a full copy of the report and see my pick by clicking here.