Churchill Downs, to its credit is trying a new bet this week. For the last 10 years, CD has offered a future bet on the Derby this weekend, under which you can bet on any of 23 discreet contenders for the Derby or the "field" option. That bet is still open this year. Additionally, you will also be allowed to bet on the exacta for the Kentucky Derby, using the same 23 horses and the field, with the catch that you can't bet a "Field-Field" exacta; if Field horses run 1-2, they'll find the highest finishing horse in the race from the pool of 23 to determine who the next horse is.
There's a lot of questions regarding this bet, but let's take one small one: what do you do with the field? Pitch it, play it, or hedge with it? And in which slot? Let's look back to the last 10 years to see whether or not the field was in play for the 2nd future pool.
1999...Charismatic-Menifee. Charismatic was a field entry, so the field ran first here. Menifee, I think, was an individual entry, but even if he wasn't, 3rd place finisher Cat Thief definitely was.
2000....Fusaichi Pegasus-Aptitude. FuPeg was 12-1 in the second pool. Aptitude was not, so the field (at 5-1) ran second.
2001....Monarchos-Invisible Ink. Monarchos was 11-2 in the win pool, Invisible Ink was 22-1. Field did not come into play here.
2002....War Emblem-Proud Citizen. The 1-2 finishers were both in the field, we have to go to 3rd place finisher Perfect Drift for the next horse, who was 90-1 (!) in the Derby future pool.
2003....Funny Cide-Empire Maker. Both were in the pool, at 60-1 and 7-2, respectively. Yowks.
2004....Smarty Jones-Lion Heart. Smarty Jones was in the field (really?), while Lion Heart was not.
2005....Giacomo-Closing Argument. The winner was 27-1 in the pool, Closing Argument was part of the field.
2006....Barbaro-Bluegrass Cat. Both horses were relatively short prices in the future bet, the winner at 15-1, the place finisher at 11-1.
2007....Street Sense-Hard Spun. The winner was 8-1 in the second pool, Hard Spun was 20-1.
2008....Big Brown-Eight Belles. Neither is in Pool 2, but 3rd place finisher Denis of Cork is. Field was clearly a big part of this exacta.
So in 10 years, the field was part of the exacta 6 times, with it winning the race 4 times, placing 4 or 5 times, and being the entire exacta 2 or 3 times (sorry, I can't remember or find whether Menifee was in the field.) You're basically staring at the idea that the field will be part of the exacta 60% of the time, and in either slot roughly 40% of the time.
So is including the field on both sides of your exacta bets the way to go? It depends on how you evaluate this year's Derby crop. It's worth noting that the 4 years it was not part of the exacta were the years that the Derby crops were the strongest in the past 10 years--most would argue that the best classes of 3 year olds in the last decade were in 2001, 2006, 2007, and 2003 would get some supporters. How does this crop stack up? Pretty well so far; we've had a bunch of horses run triple digit Beyers that look legit (I Want Revenge, Quality Road, The Pamplemousse), and a bunch more knocking at the door with worlds of talent (Dunkirk, Old Fashioned, Pioneer of the Nile, Friesian Fire, Imperial Council, to name a few). I think given that this is a strong class, and that you'd be taking somewhere near 4-1 on the field hitting the board, it's a good year to pitch the field and concentrate on the 23 horses currently in the pool.