- Sitting down with 2016 NHC Champion Paul Matties Jr. to hear his thoughts on how the 2021 Kentucky Derby may play out.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For many, the Kentucky Derby is not only the only horse race they bet on, but the only race they watch each year. When it comes to betting on horses, there aren’t many people more credentialed than Paul Matties Jr.
Matties won the 2016 National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), the “world’s richest and most prestigious handicapping tournament” and took home the $800,000 grand prize.
Matties sat down with the Legal Sports Betting to give his analysis on betting the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
- 2021 Kentucky Derby Betting Odds
- Essential Quality +275
- Rock Your World +475
- Known Agenda +750
- Hot Rod Charlie +800
- Highly Motivated +1200
- Medina Spirit +1400
- Mandaloun +1800
- Midnight Bourbon +2200
- Super Stock +2500
- O Besos +2800
- Soup And Sandwhich +2500
- Dynamic One +3500
- King Fury +4000
- Bourbonic +4000
- Sainthood +4500
- Helium +5000
- Hidden Stash +5000
- Brooklyn Strong +5500
- Like The King +6600
- Keepmeinmind +6500
Interesting Lines Set For Certain Horses
One of the more important things to take into account when betting on the Kentucky Derby is where each horse will be coming out of the gate. Historically, getting the No. 1 post has been a bad thing, but a new starting gate system will be used for this year’s Derby.
According to Matties, this new starting gate means the inside post is no longer a disadvantage.
“In the era of that auxiliary gate, post one became a bad post. But they have the new gate now, and it fits the track way better. Known Agenda being in post one is going to make his odds go up a little bit, but I don’t think it’s a disadvantage. It could actually be an advantage,” said Matties.
While Known Agenda’s odds may be set a little too low, Matties says there are also horses with inflated odds.
“[Rock Your World] is going to be the second favorite, and I don’t like him at all. I think he’s the horse you’re supposed to bet against,” he continued. “He’s got three races in his life, two on turf, one where he got loose on the lead, and now he’s the horse to beat in the Derby? It’s not logical to me.”
With inflated odds come viable longshots and Matties is looking at the Louisiana Derby horses (Mandaloun, O Besos, Hot Rod Charlie, and Midnight Bourbon) to find some value.
“I think the horses from the Louisiana Derby have a chance. Historically, horses out of that race don’t do that well so bettors tend to stay away from them, but I think all four out of that race have a chance,” he said. “I like Mandaloun the best, I know my brother, Duke, likes O Besos the best, and that’s the hard part for me. I know I’m going to pick Mandaloun, but I’m not super confident which horse out of [the Louisiana Derby] I should be playing.”
Longshots always have the possibility to take home the first leg of the Triple Crown (Country House at +6500 in 2019), but Matties doesn’t see a scenario where a complete longshot wins the race, due to the newer qualifying system.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen. These horses run so little nowadays where it’s hard to tell where exactly a horse is at, so it could happen, but you’re not going to have a scenario where a horse is going to come out of nowhere. Since you have to qualify through the prep races, nobody runs any of the real longshot horses which makes the races less crazy.”
Prop bets aren’t available on a normal racing day, so when sports betting sites give out the opportunity, fans tend to jump on it. Many of the props are set around the winning time of the race. This year the line is set at 2:02.65.
The line makes sense, but scheduled rain in the Churchill Downs area could change the line.
“If they ran it today (Tuesday), it would go under because it’s really fast right now. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when the rain hits. The track this year, since they started, has been really fast, but whoever [made the line] did their homework. What Churchill usually runs versus what Essential Quality has run for a figure, it’s right on it.”
Another listed prop is the winning distance which is currently set at 2.5 lengths with the Over at +115 and the Under at -155. In the past 10 years, the over has only hit twice, but according to Matties, that could change.
“I think that most people would say [Under}, but I actually think that in this Derby it could go over. This Derby, to me, has more bad horses in it than I can remember in a while. Because there’s so many horses that have no chance, all it’s going to take is one horse to improve to win by more than [2.5 lengths]. If Essential Quality runs his race and nobody else improves, he could win by more than two and a half,” he said.
Aside from prop bets, the Kentucky Derby also gives the chance to bet on individual head-to-head matchups, which Matties claims is a spot to cash in on.
“I think Brooklyn Strong, who’s like 50-1, will be matched up against the worst horses because he was the last horse [to qualify], but I think he’s better than that so you can get an advantage in those head-to-head matchups. Especially when in normal betting it does you no good, it’s a rarity that you win [a bet] just because you think a horse could run sixth or seventh.”
Looking at Trainers and Potential Triple Crown Candidates
There’s so much that goes in to effectively handicapping a race, but there are few more important things than knowing who the horse is trained by. Established trainers like Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher have horses in the race, but Matties has his eye on a different trainer.
“Obviously, I think Brad Cox is the one. I like both Brad Cox horses (Essential Quality and Mandaloun). I think he holds the cards. He won the Eclipse last year and he’s the up-and-coming local trainer so it’s not surprising that it’s his time.”
Matties isn’t worried about other trainer’s recent success in the Kentucky Derby.
“Baffert is the big story because he’s won six Derby’s and dominated in recent times. Even though I think [Medina Spirit] have a small chance, I think he’ll be over-bet when it’s all said and done just because it’s Baffert.”
Baffert is the trainer of each of the last two Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah and Justify. While the Triple Crown is a rarity in the sport, Matties isn’t ruling out the possibility this year.
“I’ll put it this way, the thing that is unusual about this Derby is that Essential Quality has a record and form that in other years would create a buzz. He’s undefeated, he’s done nothing wrong, he hasn’t really been close to losing when you really analyze it, he’s the two-year-old champion, he won the Breeders’ Cup [Juvenile] and he’s won pretty easy,” he continued. “In past years, there would be more buzz around a Triple Crown and the talk would be on him, for whatever reason, he doesn’t have that buzz.”
At the end of the day, Matties finds himself with a dilemma that sports bettors are all too familiar with when looking over betting lines.
“You can look at it two ways. Either most people are skeptical and don’t believe in [Essential Quality], or there’s a mistake that’s been made,” he said. “We’ll see when they run on Saturday.”
The Kentucky Derby is set to run this Saturday, May 1, and post time is scheduled for 6:57 p.m. It will be aired on NBC.
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News tags: Bob Baffert | Brad Cox | Brooklyn Strong | Country House | Duke Matties | Essential Quality | Horse Racing | Kentucky Derby | Known Agenda | Mandaloun | O Besos | Paul Matties | Rock Your World | Todd Pletcher | Triple Crown
Nick is a sports writer and die-hard sports fan. He graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Broadcast/Journalism. In his free time, he enjoys kicking back and relaxing with a good video game.