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How to build the best trifectas and superfectas for the Kentucky Derby

Messier works out at Churchill Downs before the 148th Kentucky Derby. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
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Over the past decade, the winning Kentucky Derby horse has paid anywhere from $6.60 to $132.40, and has averaged $26.34 on a $2 bet. That’s not a bad return, but far more lucrative profits lurk in the exotic wagers, specifically the trifecta and superfecta.

The trifecta requires you to pick the top three finishers in the correct order and has paid, on average, $3,596.79 on a $1 ticket since 2012. The superfecta requires you to select the top four finishers in the correct order and has paid, on average, $24,983.15 on a $1 ticket. As you can see, those wagers can return huge windfalls if played correctly.

Odds, post positions and analysis for the 2022 Kentucky Derby

Remember, Kentucky Derby trifectas and superfectas pay handsomely for a reason: They are fiendishly hard to predict. It is tricky to cover all the viable horses in a 20-horse field, especially with a limited bankroll. Instead, the savvy bettor will want to take an educated guess as to how the pace of the race will play out, focusing on horses with the speed and stamina to be competitive at the wire under the predicted conditions.

To figure out which horses are most likely to finish in the money — first, second or third — we need to look at the horses with the speed and stamina to run 1¼ miles for the first time, while also focusing our attention on horses with a running style that should help keep them out of trouble in a 20-horse field.

A horse whose running style focuses on establishing a position close to the lead early in the race is known as a stalker, and it is in that pool of horses where the winner of the Kentucky Derby has usually been found. Since 2012, the first year the Kentucky Derby adopted the points system to qualify for the field, more than a third of all Kentucky Derby entrants have been labeled with a stalking style. Yet the stalkers have accounted for 75 percent of the winners on both fast and sloppy tracks.

After examining the running styles and potential pace of the race, No. 6 Messier is the horse to beat in my analysis, and should be the key horse in your exotic bets, rain or shine. He has the speed, the pedigree and the running style to be very competitive — and hit the board — in this field. If there is a wet, sloppy or muddy track — and rain is in the forecast for Saturday — then I would add No. 11 Pioneer of Medina to the front of any trifecta or superfecta play.

If there is rain at the Kentucky Derby, this 30-1 long shot could win it all

Pioneer of Medina’s speed figures have been on the rise in each of his last four starts and he’s been either first or second at the half-mile mark in each of his four route races on dirt. He can also trace his lineage to Always Dreaming, who won the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track in 2017, and Mine That Bird, who won the first leg of the Triple Crown at 50-1 on a sloppy track in 2009.

Other contenders that should be competitive among the first flight of horses are No. 18 Tawny Port, No. 12 Taiba, No. 16. Cyberknife and No. 17 Classic Causeway.

Tawny Port finally won on the dirt in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes and has jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard. Santana and trainer Brad Cox have won a third of their races together over the last 60 days, providing bettors a 24.5 percent return over that span, and finished in the money in 18 out of 22 races. Taiba is lightly raced but you can’t deny his two triple-digit speed figures in two career races. Cyberknife paired his speed figures over the last two races, a sign of improving form. Classic Causeway will have to clear the field early to get to the front, his preferred running style, which is worrisome, but he did earn a career high pace figure to the half-mile mark in his last race, indicating a peak effort might be forthcoming. Maybe he doesn’t win wire-to-wire, but he could still hang on for a third or fourth-place finish.

Two horses that won’t be in my exotics are the favorite, No. 10 Zandon, and the second betting choice on the morning line, No. 3 Epicenter. Zandon’s pedigree tilts more toward speed than stamina, giving me pause that he can compete well at the classic distance of 1¼ miles. Plus, his closing running style is not the type that typically wins this race. Epicenter has the necessary speed, yet his inside post position is troubling. He will likely have to use a lot of energy early to clear the pack and avoid getting caught in traffic.

Churchill Downs will require a 50-cent minimum for the trifecta and $1 minimum for the superfecta. With that in mind, here is how I would structure my tickets, depending on track conditions.

Trifecta betting strategy for a fast track

6 with 11, 16, 18 with 11, 16, 18

11, 16, 18 with 6 with 11, 16, 18

11, 16, 18 with 11, 16, 18 with 6

Trifecta betting strategy for a wet, muddy or sloppy track

6, 11 with 6, 11 with 12, 16, 17, 18

Superfecta betting strategy for a fast track

6, 11 with 6, 11 with 12, 16, 17, 18 with 12, 16, 17, 18

Superfecta betting strategy for a wet, muddy or sloppy track

6, 11 with 6, 11 with 17, 18 with 17, 18