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Monday Myths: Is Derby Morning Line Meaningless and Offline?

by Jeremy Plonk

April 11, 2022

Welcome to a continuing handicapping series for our Monday blog space, “Monday Myths.” Each week I’ll use the power of the Betmix database to take common handicapping assumptions and either support or dispel them with data. Betmix data powers the 1/ST BET app and its features like Angler and Birddog give data-minded horseplayers a treasure trove of information in which to query your own curiosities.


The Kentucky Derby morning line is a meaningless formality and does not reflect the final odds.


With the major preps in the books for the May 7 Kentucky Derby, the major focus for horseplayers now will be evaluating which horse at which price will catch their wagering dollar. While the morning line maker Mike Battaglia has been doing it for more than 40 years in the Run for the Roses, there’s still a wide swath of horseplayers critical of the projections and process.

Data Points:

I dialed up the Betmix database to look at the last 10 Kentucky Derby renewals and studied the morning line projected odds and the final off odds of its winners.

2012: I’ll Have Another | 12-1 ML, 15-1 off odds
2013: Orb | 7-2 ML, 5-1 off odds
2014: California Chrome | 5-2 ML, 5-2 off odds
2015: American Pharoah | 5-2 ML, 5-2 off odds
2016: Nyquist | 3-1 ML, 2-1 off odds
2017: Always Dreaming | 5-1 ML, 9-2 off odds
2018: Justify | 3 ML, 5-2 off odds
2019: Country House | 30 ML, 65 off odds
**2019: note disqualified winner Maximum Security | 9-2 ML, 9-2 off odds (not counted in our summary)**
2020: Authentic | 8 ML, 8 off odds
2021: Medina Spirit | 15 ML, 12 off odds

Bottom line:

Six times in 10 years, the Kentucky Derby morning line has been within 1 point of its off odds, 7 times within 1-1/2 points, 9 times within 3 points. In two of the “3-point” instances, I’ll Have Another and Medina Spirit were within a single click on the toteboard as the odds posted show from 12-1 to 15-1 in a single increment. The only wild distribution was Country House at 65-1 off odds from his 30-1 morning line, but it’s a rarity to have a Kentucky Derby contender lined at more than 30-1 out of a time-honored respect for connections entering horses in prestigious races and not embarrassing their horse. Right or wrong on that theory, and whether it applied in 2019, is not for data debate. What also is not for debate, based on the data, is the success of the morning line projections Battaglia has put forth. It’s a myth that the Derby morning line is meaningless and does not reflect the actual betting.

Additional details:

You can go into Betmix and run your own queries for a deeper dive into this theory and any that you can create. For instance, take a look at second, third-place finishers … or morning line favorites … in the Derby and see how they stack up. Do the same for the Preakness or Belmont.