This Saturday, well over 100,000 people will descend on Churchill Downs to witness the most important horse race of them all: the Kentucky Derby. Millions more will be watching around the world. It’s one of the biggest days on the sports betting calendar, and if you want to place a sharp bet, you’ll need to know more than just the Kentucky Derby odds. Here are the 10 most important tips to keep in mind for the big race.

Pari-Mutuel Wagering: Unless you’re placing a bet on the horse racing futures market, your 2018 Kentucky Derby betting odds might change between the time you place your wager and the time betting closes, just before the race begins. With pari-mutuel wagering, all bets are pooled together, then the racebook takes their fee for processing the wagers, and the remaining money is distributed to the winners. Because of this, placing a large bet on your preferred horse will likely shorten their odds. Kentucky Derby futures are fixed-odds bets, where the odds at the time of your purchase are the odds used to calculate your payout.

Post Position: The odds to win the Kentucky Derby changed somewhat after Tuesday’s post position draw. Some posts are better than others; post No. 5 has produced a record 10 Derby champions, including last year’s winner, Always Dreaming. Audible drew post No. 5 on Tuesday and improved from 7/1 to 13/2. Up to 20 horses are allowed in the Kentucky Derby field, necessitating the use of an auxiliary gate alongside the main gate, which holds 14 horses. It’s considered a disadvantage to break from the auxiliary gate, although it didn’t stop four of the last six Derby winners – including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015), who was in post No. 18.

Home-Track Advantage: Previous success at Churchill Downs is a good indicator of continued success. Enticed (25/1) won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on November 25. However, none of the major prep races under the new Road to the Kentucky Derby format are run at Churchill Downs. The other qualifying race in Louisville is the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes, won by The Tabulator on September 16; he hasn’t raced since finishing fifth at the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Winning Percentage/Last Prep Race: Being a proven winner on any track is a must for any serious contender – especially when it comes to their last prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. After winning the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Enticed picked up another win at the Grade 3  Gotham Stakes on March 10, but came in second behind Vino Rosso (12/1) on April 7 at the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. It could also be difficult for Bolt d’Oro (17/2) to keep up this Saturday after he finished second to Justify at the Grade 2 Santa Anita Derby on April 7.

Trainers/Jockeys: Horse racing is a team sport, and it’s virtually impossible to be a top thoroughbred without a top trainer and jockey on your team. Always Dreaming was trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velasquez; this year, they’ll be working with Vino Rosso. Pletcher also trained 2010 Derby winner Super Saver, while Velasquez was on board Animal Kingdom in 2011.

Favorite Horses: Unlike most other sports, you can often find value with the favorites in horse racing, the bigger the better. Long shots simply don’t have the same opportunities to pull off upsets as they do in team sports. The post-time favorite has won each of the last five Kentucky Derby races, which is good news for Justify at 7/2, although there’s not much difference among the top contenders in this year’s stacked field.

Running Styles: This might be the most important of our 10 Kentucky Derby betting insights. Horses tend to fall into one of three racing styles: frontrunners, stalkers, or closers. Since this is an unusually long race at 1 ¼ miles, stalkers like Justify tend to perform better at the Derby. War Emblem (2002) was the last horse to win this race wire-to-wire.

Weather Conditions: It’s expected to be rainy Saturday in Louisville, so it’s nice to have a horse that’s a proven performer in the slop – like My Boy Jack (18/1), who won the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on February 19 in the mud at Oaklawn Park.

Racing Surface: European-based horses like Mendelssohn (4/1) tend to do poorly on the dirt track at Churchill Downs, because they’re used to racing on turf. However, Mendelssohn took down the Grade 2 UAE Derby on March 31 on the dirt track at Meydan, and also has victories on turf (including the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Turf event) and synthetic surfaces.

Exotic Bets: If there isn’t one specific horse you like as a winner, there are dozens of “exotic” bets you can make instead. Can’t choose between Justify and Mendelssohn? Put them both in a quinella, where you’ll win the bet as long as those two horses finish 1-2 or 2-1. Not sure which of Todd Pletcher’s four horses (Audible, Magnum Moon, Vino Rosso and Noble Indy) will prevail? You can combine them in a coupled entry, where a bet on one of these horses is a bet on the entire foursome. And if you’re looking for a giant payday without betting a large amount and affecting the pari-mutuel odds, the superfecta is your best bet. All you have to do is pick the first four horses to cross the finish line in the correct order. Last year’s Kentucky Derby superfecta paid out nearly $76,000 on a $1 bet – just make sure to buy the next round of mint juleps if you cash in.


*Odds as of May 3, 2018