The Kentucky Derby is the most prestigious horse race in North America and one of the most popular races in the world. Every year millions of people bet on the race. In this guide I’m going to teach you the various bet types and tips on how to find a winner. Below are a list of sportsbooks that offer lines and great promotions on the Kentucky Derby.
How Do I Bet on the Kentucky Derby
If you’ve ever been to the tracks you’ve most likely heard betting terms like “Place”, “Across the Board” and “Trifecta” among others. These are different types of bets that you can place on the Kentucky Derby and we’ll spend some time learning each bet type now.
Win – Pick a Horse to Win the Kentucky Derby
Example: California Chrome to Win the Kentucky Derby +200
We’ll start with the easiest to understand wager in horse racing, which is the “Win” wager. The colt or filly that you select has to win the race in order for you to collect on the bet. Any other result for your horse will mean that your win wager has lost.
Place – Pick a Horse to Finish in 1st/2nd in the Derby
Example: Ride on Curlin to Place in the Kentucky Derby +260
Worried that the big favorite will runaway with the race down the stretch, but don’t want to bet on that horse because the payout odds are too low? You should bet on your horse to place, which means as long as they finish in 1st or 2nd place you’ll cash your ticket.
Show – Pick a Horse to Finish in 1st/2nd/3rd in the Derby
Example: Commanding Curve to Show in the Kentucky Derby +700
Did you know that roughly 67% of favorites show in their race, which means they finish in 1st, 2nd or 3rd place. As long as your horse is within the top 3 at the end of the race your show wager wins. This bet is ideal for targeting a long shot contender at high odds.
Around the Board – Bet on a Horse to Win/Place/Show
Example: California Chrome to Win / Place / Show (W/P/S)
An around the board wager is actually three straight bets built into one simple wager. With this bet you’re betting on a horse to win, place and show. If your horse wins all three of the bets win. If your horse finishes in 2nd place the show/place bets will both win.
Alternatively you can bet on a horse to win/show or show/place rather than bet around the board. When you’re targeting a middle of the pack contender or long shot it’s always smart to bet around the board, as even a show finish will likely turn a profit.
Exacta – Bet on Two Horses to Finish 1st/2nd in Order
Example: Samraat to Finish 1st + Danza to Finish 2nd
The exacta is one of my favorite bets because the payouts can be big and your chances of winning aren’t insanely low. To win on the exacta bet you have to pick which two horses will finish in 1st place and 2nd place in the exact order that they finish.
You can also box your exacta for double the cost, which allows your horses to finish in any order. A $2 exacta would cost $4 to box. Another option is to bet on a quinella, which is a bet where you pick two horses to finish in 1st place and 2nd place in any order.
The quinella will generally pay less than the exacta, which is why most handicappers just box their exacta. It costs you double to bet on a box exacta, but as long as you pick the correct two horses you’re going to make money except on very rare occurrences.
Trifecta – Bet on Three Horses to Finish 1st/2nd/3rd in Order
Example: California Chrome 1st / Samraat 2nd / Danza 3rd
The trifecta is very difficult to predict, especially in a horse race as competitive as the Kentucky Derby. You’ll need to predict which three horses will finish in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the exact order. A box trifecta allows your three selections to finish in any order.
Superfecta – Bet on Four Horses to Finish 1st/2nd/3rd/4th in Order
Example: California Chrome 1st / Danza 2nd / Samraat 3rd / Ride on Curlin 4th
Rather than a minimum bet of $1 or $2 the superfecta has a much lower minimum of $0.10 in most cases. This bet is extremely hard to hit, as you need to correctly predict which horses will finish in the top four places of the race in exact order.
If you were to hit the superfecta in a race like the Kentucky Derby you would win a life-changing amount of money if you bet enough on the ticket. While it’ll cost a lot, you also have the option to box your superfecta allowing your selections to finish in any order.
Kentucky Derby Prop Betting
Example: California Chrome Will Win by Over 2.5 Lengths +300
With the major horse races like the Kentucky Derby there are always prop betting markets. You can bet on the winning time, how many lengths the winning horse will win by, whether or a not a horse will be injured during the race and tons of other props.
Tips for Picking a Winning Horse at the Kentucky Derby
Most years the Kentucky Derby is extremely competitive and there may well be 10+ horses with a fair shot at winning. What makes finding a winner so difficult in this race is that no horse in the field has ever raced at 1-¼ miles or longer in their careers.
Look at the Connections: One of the first things that you should do is look at the connections of a horse to determine if another horse in their bloodline has had past success racing at the Kentucky Derby or at the distance of the Derby.
Identify the Stalkers: I tend to shy away from deep closers and the horses that expected to provide the early pace. The pace in the Derby is always fast, but you want to identify the horses that can stalk the pace and still have a late kick.
Past Results: I avoid horses that are coming into the Derby without a win in their last two races. Horses are expected to peak for the Kentucky Derby and they should be coming into this race with a win in their last outing before the Derby.
Has the Horse Raced as a 2-Year Old: Generally horses that only start racing as a 3-year old don’t win the Derby. It’s vital for these young horses to build a foundation when they’re 2-years old before taking the winter off.
Wait for the Post Position Draw: The PP draw is very important. I never bet on a horse that’s in PP #1. The far outside is a tough position to be in as well. There are a lot of PP trends, but I don’t buy into those too much except for avoiding PP #1.
Distance: Will the horse you select be able to stay the distance? This is the longest race that any of the horses have been in prior to the Derby. Watch past races of each horse to determine which horses appear to still have a lot left in the tank.
How Does the Horse Look in Training: A couple weeks before the Kentucky Derby the horses start coming in to Churchill Downs to train for the big race. Make sure you read how each contender has looked during their training sessions.