The Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the American Thoroughbred Racing "Triple Crown", is run on the first Saturday of May each year. There had not been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed accomplished the feat in 1978, until last year's champion, American Pharoah ended the 37 year drought.
Heading into the 2016 Kentucky Derby (#KentuckyDerby), undefeated Nyquist (#Nyquist) was the odds on favorite to win. Would social media help to determine if the fans agree with the odds makers? Also, would social media allow us to gauge the level of interest in this year's derby compared to others? Let's take a look.
Is there any doubt, looking at the first chart below, when the actual Kentucky Derby race took place? In fact, the #KentuckyDerby hashtag drowns out the other hashtags tracked on the same chart, which represents the top 4 favorite horses to win the race. Derby talk peaked out at nearly 30,000 tweets in the hour leading up to the race!
So, now that we can clearly see that having a recent Triple Crown winner likely caused a spike in interest in this year's derby, let's see if chatter across social media, regarding horses in the race was consistent with the race results.
We can see via the chart above that #Nyquist out-paced the second closest hashtag reference for #Exaggerator by nearly 7 - 1! Nyquist was clearly the fan favorite as well, but what about the rest of the favorites? We can see based on volume of chatter on social media, that we'd expect #Exaggerator to place second, nosing out #GunRunner, followed by #Mohaymen. Now, let's take a look at the actual finishing order for the top 5 horses:
- Nyquist (2 - 1)
- Exaggerator (5 - 1)
- Gun Runner (10 - 1)
- Mohaymen (12 - 1)
- Suddenbreakingnews (24-1)
Interestingly enough, the odd makers and the fans both had it exactly right, where odds and social media references (volume) both determined the correct top 4 finishers in exact order! Only the fifth place finisher, #Suddenbreakingnews was able to buck the odds amongst the top five and place higher than his projected finish. Certainly, this is a chicken or egg scenario, and had the odds for the top 4 been a different set of horses, their likely social media mentions would have likely been different as well, but this is interesting nonetheless, especially as it relates to mention volume being equivalent to placement of the top horses.
Will Nyquist be able to make it two Triple Crown winners in consecutive years? In fact, the year Affirmed won the crown, in 1978, Seattle Slew won the crown the year prior. Might we see a repeat of repeating winners? It would be great for horse racing, and one heck of a "Pony Tale" to tell.