Long before Churchill Downs concocted its 24-entry futures pools, Las Vegas offered bettors action on any 3-year-old horse they thought might be a Derby winner. Back then, and even now, you can find triple-digit odds in Vegas on horses with reasonable chances to make it to the starting gate in May. The Churchill Downs pool seldom presents a live horse at odds above 40-1.

To wring value out of this restricted pool, bettors must be creative. Accepting 15-1 odds on a horse with a nearly 50% chance of not making it into the Kentucky Derby just isn’t wise. At this time of year, so far ahead of the event, your goal should be to score big for your almost superhuman foresight.

So let’s get creative and conjure up 50-1 or better on horses who fit the profile I describe in The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby.

In The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby, I document the failure rate of certain running styles. Worst among racing styles is the one I define as “keen to lead.” The category expands the common notion of “need to lead” and is worth reading about, because these horses are now about 1 for 100 in the Kentucky Derby since 1992.

If we toss these types out of Pool #2 this weekend, we improve our chances of landing on the eventual Derby winner. I see three horses we can eliminate on this count: #7 Gormley#21 Uncontested and #23 Wild Shot. Of course, any of these horses could learn how to better ration their speed in the weeks ahead. Of the three, only Gormley demonstrates the high level of speed that’s needed to become a true contender. For now, though, we’ll leave him out.

Four other horses fit the 2nd-worst style I describe in my book. Let’s toss them out, as well as the two horses with only one career start. That reduces the field of likely Kentucky Derby winners in this pool from 24 to 15. The odds board does most of the remaining work for us because we need a big return to justify the high level of risk in betting three months ahead of time.

You can’t get blood from a stone, and you can’t get 50-1 from the top 10 betting choices in this pool. That forces us into the exacta pool.

The Pool #2 Value Bets

Nailing a “cold” exacta months ahead of time is a tough chore. First I need a payoff about 5 times higher than the win odds on a horse to justify my efforts. Then, to avoid being sucked into lottery-level risk for an exacta-level return, I’ll stick to using the “All Other Horses” option (#24 in the pool) underneath my top choice. On Derby day, I’ll likely find myself with 8 to 12 runners who could fill the bottom slot in my exacta.

#1 American Anthem, currently at 15-1, offers a paltry return on a win bet. The #1 over #24 exacta payoff, however, stands at about $250 (for a $2 bet) as I write this. AA runs for BB (Bob Baffert) and just turned in an impressive effort going 2 turns for the first time. He knocked heads with multiple stakes winner Gormley and lost a head bob at the wire. The duo finished 13 lengths ahead of the rest of the Grade 3 field.

#2 Battalion Runner is a Todd Pletcher trainee with just a maiden win to his credit. His light resume, consisting of just two sprint starts, has left bettors unenthused about his Derby chances. Currently he stands at 44-1. But the St. Elias Stable paid $700,000 for this son of Unbridled, and his 8-length maiden score at Gulfstream in a very fast 1:22.4 for the 7-furlong race suggests that was money well spent. A $2 exacta with BR on top of #24 will pay about $600.

#18 Practical Joke, currently at 25-1, might is a winner of two Grade 1 sprints for Chad Brown. Brown’s enormous success at major East Coast tracks in the past 5 years or so leads me to believe he’ll soon be a fixture on the Derby trail. I don’t like PJ‘s first 2-turn effort, which came in the BC Juvenile. After starting slowly and closing steadily, he pooped out in the stretch chasing tiring leaders. I also don’t like his repeated difficulties at the starting gate. However, he owns the fastest time at a mile, the fastest early pace figure at a mile or longer, plenty of racing experience, and a lot of wins. This late-kicking horse reminds me of Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who also showed the ability to blaze through middle portions of a race after starting a bit slowly. The 18 over 24 exacta currently shows a $324 payoff.

I’ll play these three horses in $20 exactas over the #24 option. If any of them enter the starting gate on May 6, I can cover other exacta possibilities as I see fit. That way, I’ll end up with something close to an exacta wheel for a very small investment and a $2000 return or better