The race for the Triple Crown kicks off with the 1.25-mile Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The second race, which occurs two weeks later, is called the “middle jewel” at the 1.19 mile Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. The final race, the Belmont Stakes, is referred to as the “Test of the Champion,” according to CNN because it’s the longest race of the series at 1.5 miles in length. The race is held on the first or second Saturday in June at Belmont Park near New York City.
Only thirteen horses have won the Triple Crown since the first winner in 1919, with the most recent horse, Justify, winning in 2018. Winning the Triple Crown is a huge achievement because most racehorses run once a month at racetracks near where they live. In contrast, the Triple Crown requires horses to run three times in five weeks at different tracks with different distances. The horses, trainers, and jockeys have to factor in the weather, timing, and strategies of other jockeys in the race. A thoroughbred horse has only one shot at each of the Triple Crown races, so many variables must align to win the Triple Crown, thus, its slim 13% chance of occurrence over the past 100 years.
Interest in horse racing can be traced back to 648 BC as an event in the ancient Greek Olympics, but one of the most exciting traditions of horse racing and the Triple Crown is far more recent: the bets. History Teacher Tisha Hooks, who watches the Kentucky Derby every year, explained, “My aunt would place my bet. And no, I never won, but it was about sixty seconds of exciting possibility.”
There are multiple ways to bet on the Triple Crown. The simplest way is to bet on whether or not there will be a Triple Crown winner. According to United States Racing, a person can bet “no” and receive 2/17 odds, meaning a person would bet $17 to win $19 if there were no Triple Crown winner this year, which is safer than saying “yes.” Monish Kumar ’21 explained how he would bet: “I’m gonna go with the safer bet even though I won’t make the most money.” If someone wants to test their luck on the lower chance that a horse does win the Triple Crown, these odds are 9/2, meaning they bet $2 to win $9. Maria Cusick ’22 explained, “I think that there will be a winner because Game Winner is trained by the same person as Justify and American Pharoah, who won the Triple Crown in the previous years.”
The most common bets in horse racing are the bets for a horse to win, place, or show. A win bet means you bet on the horse to win, a place bet to finish in the top two, or a show bet to finish in the top three. The show bet has the greatest chance of winning but carries a much lower payout than a win bet. Hannah Szabo ’21 explained, “I would put a place bet on Improbable, Game Winner, and Roadster because I’m never wrong.” The bets with significantly higher odds are the exacta and trifecta bets, which earn a bigger payout. In an exacta wager, people pick two horses that they think will win first and second place. Math genius, Jake Wang ‘20 said: “I would place an exacta bet on Game Winner and Omaha Beach because I know they have the best chance.” The payouts depend on the types of horses, but normally have a minimum wager of $2. In the 2012 Kentucky Derby, the winning exacta wager earned almost $1,000 on a $2 bet or 500/1 odds, as the two horses were not favored in the race.
In a trifecta bet, you choose three horsesthat you think will win, place, and show, in the ex-act order. A winning $2 trifecta bet at the 2017 Kentucky Derby earned over $8,000, or 4000/1 odds.
Horse-racing odds are an interesting way to make math more fun. To calculate the win odds on a horse, you subtract the take from the total pool, which is all the money bet on the horses to win, then sub- tract the amount bet on the specific horse to give you the amount of money to be paid out. Then, divide that by the amount bet on your horse to get the exact odds.
In this year’s Kentucky Derby, the favorite horse is called Game Winner, with odds of 7-1, meaning you will get $7 in profit for every $1 wagered. Game Winner, horse of Bob Baffert, also trained the last two Triple Crown winners in 2015 and then again in 2018. Jordan Shand ’19 explained, “I would bet $97 on Game Winner because I got the horses in the back.”
War of Will is trained by Mark Casse, with 18-1 odds, according to CBS Sports. Jody Demling, a horse racing guru, is very confident in War of Will and Mark Casse. Although the horse is an underdog, anyone who bets on this horse can hit it big. Sam Brock ’21 is also very confident in War of Will: “I think that War of Will seems like the most obvious prediction for a winner since his chance of winning is at least twice as high as the other horses.” Improbable, trained by champion Bob Baffert, has 8-1 odds, according to CBS Sports. Baffert told TDN that Improbable was a “50% version of Justify.”
Omaha Beach, trained by Richard Mandella, has 7-2 odds. The horse has the momentum of a three-race win streak, stamina, and defeated Improbable at the Arkansas Derby in April. Abby Mills ’19 is very confident in Omaha Beach: “I would bet $238 on Omaha Beach because he’s on a win streak and I want that cash money.” Roadster, the final horse out of the top five trained by Bob Baffert, also has 7-2 odds.
In 2018, according to Horse Racing Nation, after Justify’s close Preakness Stakes finish, those betting “yes” to a win had -130 odds, or risked $130 to win $100. Those betting “no” had +110 odds, or risked $100 to win $110. According to Bovada Sportsbook, the odds that there will be a 2019 Triple Crown winner are +350, meaning you risk only $100 but you win $350. The odds that there won’t be a Triple Crown winner are -600.
If you decide to go against the odds and say that a horse will win the Triple Crown, you will have the same chance the New England Patriots had at Super Bowl 53. Will the odds be in your favor for the 2019 Triple Crown?