The Derby Betting Crowd Isn't Dumb

Handicapper Mark Cramer has a nice section in one of his books about chaos races. In general, he believes that when there are four or five solid contenders in a contentious field you want to land on the chalk. The thinking is pretty simple -- the crowd is smart, and if you can't decipher something, the wisdom of them will do a better job.

At this past weekend's Kentucky Derby, Always Dreaming was one of four main contenders.

Irish War Cry, who had some pretty solid buzz surrounding him, and who came off a smashing win in the Wood.

McCraken, who in training could do no wrong, massively loved Churchill Downs, and was ready to run a big top, with a trainer who points for such things.

Classic Empire, who had a similar profile to McCraken, but who was also the fastest horse on paper in the race. He was the morning line favorite, and I did not see one person, pundit or twitter comment that disagreed with that morning line promise.

As for Always Dreaming, well he was a bucking bronco in training. He was trained by Todd Pletcher who had a one for 842,000 record at Churchill, and who was shipping to the Twin Spires from the hard, Gulfstream racing strip. He had really soft fractions in his preps and when he was faced with stiffer, he'd probably have some trouble.

Meanwhile back at the betting ranch, Classic Empire was not the early favorite; nor was Irish War Cry or McCraken. Always Dreaming was.

That would change, though, correct? When more money gets placed in the pool, yes. When the man who won the Derby free bet, bet Classic Empire, yes.

It never changed. Almost $4M more was bet on Always Dreaming compared to his three foes.

When Always Dreaming romped to victory, the crowd was right all along.

We can count this post up, and the Always Dreaming win as happenstance, like we're cherrypicking. After all, Derby chalk has not been exactly perfect or anything. Some chalk have run up the track horribly. But in this instance, in this situation with these contenders and the surrounding buzz, I think it provides a pretty good betting lesson. When looked at collectively, the crowd is anything but dumb.

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