Most handicappers try to make their money playing against the public. Everyone knows that the favorite wins about 30% of the time, that means all the other races give the bettor a chance to get a longer price. The general feeling is that the public is blind and ill informed, they simply lump onto the most obvious or hot horse. I've been looking over some stats and was surprised to find that the betting public has actually been a decent gauge of Derby talent over the years.
Consider a few of these numbers.
Horses that were 10/1 or more in their last prep went 46-1-2-1 in the Derby. The thought here is that by the time their last prep rolls around their quality should be clearly visible. Bettors don't usually ignore a quality horse in a prep race where usually no more than 3 quality horses are competing. Horses who are more than 10/1 may win the prep race in question but the public's original perception of their talent usually proves to be spot on as those last out longshots finish in the bottom half of the Derby field. Charismatic was the only longshot in a prep race to really get the public by surprise. He caught almost everyone by surprise.
68 of the 234 Derby entrants from 1996 to the present were favored in their final prep race. Those 68 horses accounted for 7 derby wins while the remaining 166 earned only 6 wins.
The so called "Big Four" prep races which has now turned into the "Big Six" with the Illinois Derby and Florida Derby have been dominated by favorites for more than a decade. There have been 63 renewals of these Big Six prep races since 1996 and an amazing 30 favorites have won. That's 47.6% for those without a calculator handy. The Illinois Derby was only included from 2002 to the present and the Florida Derby from 2005 to the present because prior to those years they weren't major final prep races.
The trend is clear, early in the spring lots of prep races have upsets since many horses come into their own as 3yo's and upstage the established 2yo form. By late spring the quality is more or less visible and favorites dominate the prep races. Even though longshots do pop up and win, most of them never amount to much in the Derby itself. The Derby is dominated by horses who were well backed in their last prep races.
It may be a statistical oddity but it is also interesting to note that horses who enter the Derby with three consecutive starting prices that have increased have done very poorly. The odds don't even have to be long, even a horse who was 4/1, 3/1 and 2/1 in his last three races counts. Horses with three increasing prices leading into the Derby have gone 51-0-2-4.
I don't think it's a terribly meaningful stat because there it's a huge stretch to claim that Point Given lost the Derby because his odds got increasingly longer as the preps went on. He was actually odds on in his last three races but his prices still increased each time. The only justification behind it is that it's a poor sign when a horse is increasingly ignored by the public as the races get tougher. The public often ignores the first class jump or two but if the horse has quality at some point the bettors will be backing them at the windows.
The point of all this is that you ought to focus on the favorites or at least those who were well backed in the final prep races. They're likely to be your keys to success in both the last preps and the Derby itself.