Run for the Roses

Kentucky FlagBeing from the Bluegrass state, the Kentucky Derby is an especially exciting time of year for me. The Derby takes place at Churchill Downs located in Louisville, KY. When people think about The Derby, Thunder Over Louisville, The Great Steamboat Race, horses, and hats usually come to mind. One of the lesser thought of aspects of the Derby is the math involved.

When I did a Google search for Math and KY Derby, I was quite surprised at how much information was already out there. In fact, the Kentucky Derby Museum even has a free education outreach program. They have workshops such as Racing Colors, Odds in Everyday Life, and Mathin’ Around The Track.

Other folks have also developed some thoughts on using the Derby to teach mathematics. Lesson Planet says

In addition to exposing students to literature, a discussion of horse racing can lead to a math exploration. There are many ways you could do this. One way would be to compare and graph the times of different horses who have won the Kentucky Derby. Students could determine who was the fastest and by how much. Students could also design their own ways to analyze information about the race. For example, students could take the top ten fastest horses and compare their ages to see which horses performed the best.

A teacher from Louisville KY also wrote a blog post on how she used The Derby in her classroom. She said

I’ve discovered it works best as a two-day lesson.  On the first day, I talk about the concept of odds and what that means for betting.  Then I provide students information about the horses and we talk through a few examples so they see what kinds of information people like to know beforehand — the owner, trainer, and jockey, the previous starts, the track conditions.  That’s day one.

Day two (which is the day before Derby day, and now we have post positions added to our data), and each student is given 25 hypothetical dollars to bet.  It’s a simple bet — just to win — but it does have to be the minimum $2.  I tell them there are lots of other ways to bet — win, place, or show, trifecta — but that for our purposes we’re going to stay simple.  On the notecards they hand in I need their bets and some reason why they bet the way they did.

I also recommend taking a look at Cornell’s page regarding the Numb3rs horse racing episode. Have you used horse racing in your classroom? If so, how?

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