Betting on the Epsom Derby – A Beginners’ Guide

epsom derby

Betting on the Epsom Derby – A Beginners’ Guide

Betting on the Epsom Derby is one of the highlights of the season for horse racing enthusiasts. The biggest race of the Flat campaign at Epsom Downs Racecourse rarely disappoints and is often just as exciting in the bookmakers’ ring as it is on the track.

Derby betting is never an exact science, of course, but your chances of success could be boosted by following a few simple steps.

This handy guide offers beginners everything they need to know about betting on the Epsom Derby:

Ability

When it comes to having a bet in the Derby, it barely goes without saying that you need to find a horse good enough to win the premier Classic. Since the first renewal way back in 1780, it has always required a special kind of animal to dazzle on the Downs.

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Betting on the Derby, however, can often require a great deal of stargazing so as to measure a horse’s potential. The key thing to do before choosing your Derby selection is to assess a horse’s form. This is perhaps stating the obvious, but it is essential.

Often you will find that a horse has had very few runs as a two-year-old. Let us use Golden Horn, perhaps the best recent Derby winner, as an example. John Gosden’s former inmate had only raced once as a juvenile when winning a small race at Nottingham by a head.

That in itself hardly suggested a Derby winner in waiting, but what he achieved in the build-up to Epsom suddenly propelled him centre stage before the Classic. Having impressively won the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket upon his return to action, Golden Horn then eased home in the Dante Stakes at York before landing the Derby in 2015.

Form

The Dante Stakes is a renowned trial for the Derby, with most winners of the race – and even those that are placed – ending up at Epsom. These trials should be monitored closely before having a bet on the Derby. Other important races of note before the big day include the Derby Trial at Lingfield, the key races during Chester’s May meeting, and the Derrinstown Stud Stakes at Leopardstown.

Perhaps the most important Derby trial, however, is the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Though this is a huge race to win in its own right, many horses often make their seasonal debuts in the Guineas with the intention of heading to Epsom a month later.

To that end, a creditable run at Newmarket can often be used as a stepping-stone towards even bigger things. Masar, the 2018 Derby hero, is a fine example. Godolphin’s star performer finished third in the Guineas behind Saxon Warrior. Bookmakers were not that impressed, though, and eased his odds to 16/1 for the Derby – with the firm belief that Saxon Warrior was the one to beat at Epsom.

But Masar was arguably not fully fit at Newmarket and emphatically turned the tables on the odds-on favourite, who could only finish fourth on the big day.

Pedigree

Another invaluable piece of advice before having a horse racing bet in the Derby is to assess a horse’s pedigree.

Epsom’s mile and a half takes some getting, so if a horse does not have the correct stamina-laden pedigree, the chances are he will not stay the distance. A good case study about the importance of pedigree can be found in the 2020 Derby. Kameko won the 2000 Guineas with such authority that he was sent off as the 5/2 favourite to complete the famous double.

His sire, though, was Kitten’s Joy, who is not especially renowned for producing stout stayers. Kameko grew tired towards the end of the Derby and faded into fourth place behind shock winner Serpentine. He was never tried over a mile and a half again and spent most of the rest of his career over a mile.

Very often you will find that the best Derby bets can often be placed on horses whose sires have won the race. The greatest example of this is the mighty Galileo, who won the 2001 Epsom Classic.

The late Coolmore inmate was an excellent horse, but a complete sensation at stud. He has sired five Derby winners – New Approach, Ruler of the World, Australia, Anthony Van Dyck and Serpentine – and has been closely related to many other top performers on the Downs.

Other prominent sires to keep an eye on with progeny running in the Derby include Sea The Stars, winner of the race in 2009, Camelot, who was victorious in 2012, Dubawi and Frankel.

Trainer

There have been exceptions, but, more often than not, the Derby is won by a trainer with a wealth of experience when it comes to saddling Classic contenders.

This is best illustrated by the stunning success of Aidan O’Brien. The Ballydoyle handler is a legend of the game and has won the Derby eight times – the most prolific record in the race’s long and proud history.

Very often, O’Brien will saddle many runners in the race, which can make things tricky from a betting perspective as, occasionally, one of his perceived outsiders in the field have gone on to Derby glory. Wings Of Eagles, for instance, won the 2017 renewal at odds of 40/1, while Serpentine was a 25/1 shot four years later.

Jockey

By contrast to trainer dominance, regular Derby-winning jockeys are from a much broader parish. Adam Kirby is a good example. Kirby had not even had a ride in the Epsom Classic until 2021 but ended up winning the race aboard Adayar.

Of course, there are geniuses in the saddle who have won the race several times – the great Lester Piggott was victorious nine times – but it is a hard race to conquer in the saddle. Frankie Dettori, for instance, had to endure 14 fruitless rides before he finally struck gold aboard Authorized in 2007.

Be that as it may, experience of riding at Epsom – one of the most unusual and difficult-to-master tracks in the UK – can often be a priceless commodity when it comes to betting on the Epsom Derby.

As a general yardstick, any jockey that has invaluable course know-how can often be relied upon to give punters a good run of their money – as long as they are riding a genuine Derby contender. 

Betting

Never underestimate the significance of a big market mover in the Derby. There have been lots of upsets in the great race, but, as a general pointer, any horse subject to their odds being slashed for the race should be respected.

This is often in the ante-post horse racing betting markets, but it is perhaps more noteworthy if a horse has been heavily backed on the day of the race. This could be down to several factors. Maybe the ground has come right for him, for example, or maybe the horse has been showing lots of sparkle on the gallops beforehand. If a horse is a big drifter in the betting it could be because of the precise opposite.

Either way, any market move – positive or negative – should be closely followed before betting on the Epsom Derby in the build-up to the race.

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