Since 2000, the median superfecta payout for the Kentucky Derby is $61,413.

That’s worth your trouble, isn’t it?

Maybe you don’t have $1,000 to throw at the race like my pal El Toro. But I can show you how to take a shot for less than the cost of lunch for two at Qdoba.

It’s a really long shot, of course. There are 116,280 possible superfecta combinations in a 20-horse field. You’ll only be covering 16 of them.

Hey, it beats zero.

Here’s how it works:

Pick the five horses you like best and rank them 1-5. Keep in mind that closers are more likely than speedsters to finish third and fourth, especially fourth.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say your fave five are program numbers 1-5. You will structure your bet accordingly:

  • 1-2
  • 1-2-3
  • 1-2-3-4
  • 1-2-3-4-5

Now, go to the window (or the betting machine) and tell ‘em you want a $1 superfecta part wheel on 1 and 2, with 1, 2 and 3, with 1, 2, 3 and 4, with 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

They key to bagging exotic bets – supers, exactas and trifectas – is to pick the winner. Exotics aren’t grenades or horseshoes. There’s no prize for coming close.

The surest way I know to narrow down a 20-horse field to a tiny handful of legitimate win candidates is to consult Kerry Thomas, aka The Herd Whisperer. Thomas is an equine behavioralist whose unusual methods tabbed the last two Derby winners.

In 2011, he liked only two horses. One was Animal Kingdom, who won and paid 21-1. Last year, Thomas saw a four-horse race. His personal favorite was I’ll Have Another (15-1).

Thomas’ 2013 Derby scouting report will be out next Wednesday and available for $20 on the Bloodstock Research Information Services website.

There are countless ways to bet a horse race, and I won’t even try to list all the permutations here. Suffice to say that if you’ve got more than $100 to blow, take your little $16 superfecta shot and throw the rest at exactas and trifectas.

Derby trifectas almost always pay more than $2,000, and you can box six horses for just $120.

A sharpie I know who goes by the handle big – no caps; he’s an unassuming type – used trifectas to cash, um, big on the Derbys won by Silver Charm (1997) and, naturally, Big Brown (2008).

In Big Brown’s Derby, big employed a clever and underused strategy.

“You just have to find one key horse that’s going to hit the board then guess right about the other horses around them,” he says.

In ’08, big was ambivalent about Big Brown but felt the heavy favorite was too good to toss. The horse he liked best, Denis of Cork, was an unlikely winner but had an excellent chance to hit the board at 27-1.

“I knew he’d be running at the end,” big said, “and with (Calvin) Borel riding, I knew he’d save ground by coming up the rail.”

Denis of Cork ran third and triggered a $2 tri that paid $3,445.60.

Big’s luck has run small in recent years, which has cost him most of the $400 he annually “invests” in the Run for the Roses. The best part of big’s approach – one everyone should adopt – is that he doesn’t bet more than he can afford to lose and he doesn’t fall to pieces if his picks don’t pan out.

“In the end,” he says, “it’s just gambling. There’s always another Derby next year.”

Mark Coomes

Mark Coomes

Mark Coomes covered sports and a dilettantish mix of other topics great and small in 20 years at The Courier-Journal, The (Monroe, La.) News-Star, USA Today, Florida Today and The Cats' Pause.