Betting on the Kentucky Derby

Despite all the buzz around the Kentucky Derby, horse racing betting can be intimidating and overwhelming because of the jargon and the number of horses you can select from.

But once you get familiar with the horse racing world, betting on the sport can be easy.

We’ve also included an in-depth discussion of how horse race betting works, including the recommended horse race betting strategies for beginners and intermediate and advanced bettors.

How the Kentucky Derby Betting Works

The Super Bowl is to the NFL what the Kentucky Derby is to horse racing. Deemed the biggest race in the United States, the Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown (with the other two being Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes).

The Triple Crown, or “The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing,” is the title given to the three-year-old thoroughbred horse that wins all three prominent horse racing legs.

The Kentucky Derby is a yearly sporting event in Louisville, Kentucky, traditionally held on the first Saturday of May. As to its distance, the Kentucky Derby runs at Churchill Downs and is 1¼ miles long.

The Kentucky Derby always sees packed crowds flocking the racetrack and passionate sports bettors staking across the U.S. through betting sites and mobile applications.

It's also known as “The Run for the Roses” (as winning thoroughbreds are draped with a blanket of roses) and “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.”

Annually, only 20 horses run in the Kentucky Derby. But these derby horses have undergone rigorous testing before they are allowed to compete on Kentucky Derby Day.

To become a contender for the title, a horse should conquer the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which entails a string of designated prep races at tracks all over the country and the world. Points are awarded to each race's top four finishers.

At the end of the series, the top 20 horses with the most points are chosen to be part of the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby Online Betting

Thanks to the internet, you can bet on the Kentucky Derby today and any time you please, as long as sportsbooks offer odds.

To bet on Kentucky Derby odds online, you first have to set up a sportsbook account. Then, you have to look for the tracklisting at Churchill Downs, the race number of the Kentucky Derby, and the number of the horse you want to back.

After you have all these details, add them to your bet slip along with the amount of the win bet. The odds are ever-changing and could move up until the Kentucky Derby’s post time.

If you want to include more bets or multiple selections, just add them to your bet slip and indicate the amount you wish to stake.

Just make sure horse race betting is legal in your area. As of May 2021, 31 states permit online Kentucky Derby betting, including New York, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

Kentucky Derby Betting On-site

Bettors who want to place horse racing bets should remember the following before heading to the pari-mutuel teller’s window:

  • Ensure that you’re lined up for the right window
  • Prepare the amount you want to bet
  • Inform the teller of the track’s name and the race number you want to back
  • Let them know how much you’re betting
  • Tell them the type of bet you prefer
  • Give them the horse’s program number

Once you’ve decided, this is usually how bettors say it, “Churchill Downs, Race 7, $10 to win on #9.”

There are also self-service betting machines available with intuitive touch screens to help you place bets quickly.

Be cautious of fraud and illegitimate betting sites.

We are a government-licensed and regulated online sportsbook. Our website runs in partnership with certified data centers that adhere to world-class security measures and standards.

Kentucky Derby Odds

If you’re wondering how the Kentucky Derby Odds work, let’s take a look at the odds of the following horses:

Tiz the Law


Concert Tour




The odds signal the predicted chance of a specific horse reaching the winner’s circle. Using our example above, Tiz the law is expected to lose five times and win eight times from 13 attempts (5+8 = 13).

If we were to compute the implied probability of the horses winning, we should follow this formula:

Denominator / (Denominator + Numerator) * 100

Implied probability refers to the expected probability of an outcome happening expressed in a percentage format. In this case, the chances of the following horses winning are:

Tiz the Law


Concert Tour




These betting odds also determine the win bet payouts. A 5-8 Kentucky Derby winner returns a profit of $5 for every $8 you bet.

The Origins of the Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby history is interesting as can be. The origins of this American sporting event date back to 1872. It all began with Meriwether Lewis Clark’s travels to Europe. He is the grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Clark took an interest in horse racing when he attended England’s Epsom Derby. He was also introduced to the French Jockey Club, which developed the Grand Prix de Paris Longchamps.

When Clark returned to America, his mind was set on starting spectacle horse racing in the U.S.

He developed a racetrack thanks to his uncles John and Henry Churchill, who gave him the land he needed. Clark then started the Louisville Jockey Club, which raised the necessary funds for the group to construct a permanent racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky.

The racetrack first opened its gates on May 17, 1875, to around 10,000 spectators, with the Louisville Jockey Club as the sponsors.

During this momentous event, 15 three-year-old thoroughbred derby contenders raced 1 ½ miles, only for Aristides to win.

All About Horse Race Betting

The Horse Race Bets You Can Place

There are many ways to bet on the Kentucky Derby. It all depends on your betting experience and your preferences. The more conventional horse race betting options include:

Win Bet

This bet is made on the horse you think will win the derby. If you want to bet $100 on the Kentucky Derby by backing a horse at +300 odds, you stand to win $400 ($300 + your initial $100 stake) if your chosen horse gets to the finish line first.

Place Bet

This stake gives you returns when your chosen horse finishes first or second.

Show Bet

This bet involves wagering that your horse will finish first, second, or third.

To make betting more enjoyable, sportsbooks also offer exotic bets, which are more challenging to predict. These exotic bets include:

Exacta (Perfecta)

This betting type predicts the first two finishers in the “exact” order. Another version called the exacta box bet allows you to include more than two horses in your selection. This betting type covers all the possible combinations of those horses finishing first and second.


A trifecta predicts the first three horses in the right order.


This bet involves the prediction of the first four horses in the correct order.

Super High Five

This is a stake on the top five finishers in the exact order as you predicted.

Special Bets

This betting type involves players trying to predict the winner of two races: the Kentucky Oaks (held on Fridays) and the Kentucky Derby (held on Saturdays).

Straight Bets

As the name suggests, straight bets are pretty straightforward. You can bet that your selection will win outright, place in the top two, or show in the top three.

One way of winning straight bets is to “hedge” or bet on the opposing side to guarantee some sort of payout.

Quinella Bets

This betting type is similar to the exacta bet, except the order the two horses come in at the derby doesn’t matter.

Across the Board Bets

This stake combines win bets, place bets, and show bets. This betting type is similar to parlays.

Matchup Bets

Matchup betting involves taking two horses and betting on which one you think will finish ahead of the other, instead of handicapping 20 horses by selecting the race’s winner.

In matchup betting, it doesn’t matter if your selection wins the Kentucky Derby. As long as your pick performs better than the other horse, you win your bet.

Futures Bet

A Kentucky Derby future wager involves predicting winners weeks or even months before the derby.

Pick 3, Pick 4, and Pick 6 Bets

This advanced betting type is similar to parlay bets. Pick 3 means choosing the winner of three races in a row. Pick 4 involves betting on the four successive winners.

For the sharps (professional bettors), pick 6 may be more exciting because you must predict the winners of six consecutive horse races.

Daily Double Bets

A go-to for beginners, this betting type involves picking the winner in two consecutive races.

Among these betting types, we recommend that first-time bettors stick to the win bet. Bettors who want to explore more betting opportunities should stake on an exacta or trifecta.

We advise more adventurous bettors to try pick 3s and pick 4s.

Getting Started Horse Race Betting

Risk-free bets? There's no such thing. But you can lessen the risks if you make the right calls.

If you’re a newbie bettor to the Kentucky Derby, there’s nothing wrong with coming up with a checklist to ensure that you make the right bets.

Whether you’re looking to place Kentucky Derby bets or you want to take your chances on the Arkansas Derby or the Wood Memorial Stakes, all these horse race betting tips may be helpful.

Research Past Performances

Previous races can reveal a lot about your potential pick. Learn more about your chosen horse’s trainers and jockeys, which tracks it has run, its respective speed figures, and the distances it has raced.

Watching race replays can complement your research. It will also sharpen your skills in observing strong performances and critical moments that greatly influence the outcome.

Researching the history of the Kentucky Derby can also help you see patterns and recurring trends. With history as your guide, you can predict and ride on horse racing trends.

It may also help to watch past races and review your handicapping skills. While looking back on previous performances can give you a wealth of information, it also pays to be updated on the latest news.

Read Up on Race Analyses

While beginners are sure to benefit from this tip, all sorts of bettors should always check out race analyses. The data you research can be overwhelming, so it pays to check out what expert handicappers have to say.

Their analyses could lead you to find the next longshot. Check out how these experts handicap matches by reading articles or listening to their podcasts. See the essential qualities they look for when predicting winning horses.

Find Value Bets

Even if you’re already dead set on betting on a specific horse, it doesn’t matter how excellent its performance is if the odds assigned to it aren’t of value. See if there are more rewards to gain than risks to take if you back your selection.

Don’t let emotions get the best of you, even if the horse in question is your all-time favorite.

Let the Stats Speak

Analyze jockey and trainer statistics. American Pharoah wouldn’t be a champion without Bob Baffert’s excellent training skills. Some trainers are great at prepping unraced horses for their debut.

And who can forget the jockeys who can lead your selection to a victory? Are they dirt racers, or do they ride best on turf?

The horses may be in the spotlight, but the trainers and jockeys behind them matter just as much.

Trace Your Selection’s Pedigree

Racehorses are far from your average horse. They’ve been bred to ensure that they have the essential qualities of a champion horse.

Speed, stamina, and prowess on certain tracks are some of the most critical factors that can distinguish champion horses from mediocre ones.

Maybe the offspring of Secretariat won’t be at par, or perhaps they’ll have better racing proficiencies when bred with other excellent sires or dams.

In the world of horse racing, pedigree matters a lot. Their bloodline can influence how they’ll do on the tracks, so it’s vital to know these details so you can use them to your advantage.

Check the Racetrack

Racetracks vary. Some may give more advantage to front-runners, while others may provide horses with post positions outside the lane a racing edge.

The conditions of the racetrack have a significant impact on the performance of your chosen horse, so it’s best to learn about the racetrack’s state before Kentucky Derby Day.

Predict the Pace

This means checking out the derby contenders and researching their abilities. If the match features a horse that stands out in terms of speed, chances are that horse will speed up to the finish line.

If the contenders are mostly front-runners, there may be more merit backing those who are more likely to be behind because a fast pace may be more destructive.

When you try to predict how derby day will go, try to identify whether the match can result in an upset. If there’s a high chance of this happening, perhaps betting on underdog horses is the best course of action.

Pick the Right Bet to Place

If you want to succeed as a horse racing bettor, you should learn to distinguish what betting type will work best for certain horses and sporting events. Are exotic wagers the way to go? Or is betting across the board more strategic?

For instance, when placing multiple bets, it may be wise to find valuable selections that go against the flow.

Also, second-guessing yourself is a good measure that could mitigate the risks from a bet. However, too much second-guessing can prevent you from making the right bets.

Some newbie bettors aren’t confident with their handicapping skills. They might end up betting on several horses even if they’re sure that their main horse is a winner. This approach could be more costly.

If you feel that your horse is promising, make sure that your ticket reflects your opinions. Working on your weaknesses is excellent, but playing to your strengths can work wonders when horse racing.