Kentucky Derby Betting Guide

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How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby

Every year since 1875, the finest three-year-old thoroughbreds in the world have made the trip to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. They’ll be back again this year for the latest running of the Kentucky Derby – the most prestigious horse race of them all. Whoever wins the “Run for the Roses” on the first Saturday in May will go down in history with former champions like Secretariat, Seattle Slew and American Pharoah. Millions of people around the world will be betting on the big race. We’ll get you ready by showing you how to bet on the Kentucky Derby like a true horseplayer.

First, a quick note about the race itself. A field of up to 20 horses will be invited to Churchill Downs, based on their performance on the Road to the Kentucky Derby – a series of prep races leading up to the Run for the Roses. If you’re interested in Kentucky Derby betting, you’ll definitely want to keep track of how the horses performed in these races. Then you’ll be better prepared to make one of the following wagers on the big day.

 

Kentucky Derby Betting Options

Things can get a bit confusing when you’re betting on Kentucky Derby for the first time. Not to worry – most bettors will be placing very simple wagers known as straight wagers. But even the more exotic bets are easy enough to learn. Here’s a look at all the Kentucky Derby betting options you can find at Bovada.

 

Kentucky Derby Straight Wagers (Win/Place/Show)

The most popular choice for how to bet on Kentucky Derby horses is also the easiest: Which horse will win? Put your money down – $2 is standard in horse racing, although larger bets are welcome – and if your pick crosses the wire first, you win. For example, let’s go back to the 2014 Kentucky Derby, where rockstar horse California Chrome was the winner with odds of 5/2. If you had bet $2 on California Chrome to win, you would have gotten back $7 ($2 X 5/2, plus your original $2 wager).

If you’d prefer a less risky wager than picking the winner, you can bet on a horse to place, i.e. to finish either first or second. In this case, a $2 bet on California Chrome would have paid out $5.60, and you would have won even if he had finished second. Still too risky? You can make a show bet on a horse to finish anywhere in the top three. A $2 show bet on California Chrome at the 2014 Derby would have paid out $4.20.

 

Kentucky Derby Exotic Bets

Any wager other than Win/Place/Show is considered an exotic bet. Some of these wagers can indeed get a little tricky, but there are also some very simple exotic bets for the Kentucky Derby – and if you pick the right horses, you can win big. Let’s start with the easiest exotic bet of them all:

 

Kentucky Derby Exacta Betting: What Is an Exacta Bet?

Bet on two horses to finish 1-2, in that order. At the 2014 Kentucky Derby, a $2 exacta bet on California Chrome and Commanding Curve would have paid out handsomely at $340.

Kentucky Derby Trifecta Betting: What Is a Trifecta Bet?

Bet on three horses to finish 1-2-3, in that order. If you had Danza finishing third behind California Chrome and Commanding Curve in 2014, your $2 trifecta bet would have paid out $3,424.60.

Kentucky Derby Superfecta Betting: What Is a Superecta Bet?

Bet on four horses to finish 1-2-3-4, in that order. Adding fourth-place finisher Wicked Strong to the above horses in a $2 superfecta would have paid out a hefty $15,383.80.

Kentucky Derby Quinella Betting: What Is a Quinella Bet?

Bet on two horses to finish 1-2, in any order. A quinella bet on California Chrome and Commanding Curve in 2014 would have been a winning bet even if Commanding Curve had come in first.

 

What Are Boxed Wagers in Kentucky Derby Betting?

Bet on any number of hoses to cross the finish line in any order. A quinella is essentially a boxed exacta, where the two horses you pick can finish 1-2 or 2-1. When you place a boxed trifecta, your three horses can finish 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-1-3, 2-3-1, 3-1-2, or 3-2-1. The more horses you add, the more different winning combinations there are.

 

How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby - Bovada

What Are Wheeled Bets in Kentucky Derby Betting?

Bet on one horse to finish in a specific position, and any number of additional horses to finish in any order. It’s like taking a boxed wager where one horse is always finishing in the same spot – usually in first. For example, a trifecta wheeled around the winner will pay out if your chosen horses finish 1-2-3 or 1-3-2.

Kentucky Derby Futures Betting: What Is a Futures Bet in Horse Racing?

All the bets mentioned thus far are made available during race week, after the field of up to 20 horses has been finalized and their post positions drawn. But you can place a Kentucky Derby bet as soon as odds are available on the Kentucky Derby futures market. You’ll be picking a horse to win, and you’ll have your choice from a list of contenders on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. These odds will go up and down depending on the betting patterns and how the horses perform during their prep races.

 

Kentucky Derby Prop Betting: What Is a Prop Bet in Horse Racing?

Proposition bets are wagers on anything other than the final outcome of a race, like whether anyone will break Secretariat’s track record of 1:59.4 at the 1973 Kentucky Derby, or whether the winner will go on to complete the Triple Crown by winning the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

 

What Is a Coupled Entry Bet in Kentucky Derby Betting?

It’s common to find two or more Derby horses who have the same trainer, and/or the same owner. You have the option of betting on all these horses as a single group. Trainer Todd Pletcher had four horses running at the 2014 Derby: Danza, We Miss Artie, Intense Holiday, and Vinceremos. A coupled entry for all these horses to show would have been a winning bet as long as any of the four had finished in the top three – which is exactly what happened when Danza came in third.

 

What Is a Pick 3 or Pick 4 in Kentucky Derby Betting?

Bet on the winners of three (or four) consecutive races on the same card, with the races chosen by the racebook. The Kentucky Derby is one of a dozen or so races on the Derby Day card; the standard Pick 3 includes the two races before the Derby, including the Grade 1 Turf Classic.

 

Kentucky Derby Betting Guide: Betting on the Derby

What Is a Daily Double in Kentucky Derby Betting?

Bet on the winners of two consecutive races on the same card, again chosen by the racebook. This will typically be the Turf Classic and the Derby, although as a special promotion, you may be able to bet on the Kentucky Oaks (held the day before) and the Derby in your daily double.

How is my Racebook Payout Determined?

Betting on the Kentucky Derby is conducted differently than in most other sports. A system called pari-mutuel betting is used, where all the wagers are pooled together, and the winners are paid out after the racebook (or sportsbook) takes its "juice" – the commission it charges to process the transactions. Unlike other sports, the closing odds are the ones used to determine your payout in horse racing, not the odds that are on the board when you place your bet. There are different betting pools for different wagers; win, place and show will each have a pool, as will the exacta and trifecta and so on. There’s one notable exception to this rule: Kentucky Derby futures. The odds you get on the futures market are the odds that will be used to calculate your payout.

 

Kentucky Derby Betting Tips

There are several schools of thought when it comes to Kentucky Derby betting strategies, but if you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to focus on which horse will win. Thoroughbreds tend to fall into one of three running styles: frontrunners, stalkers, and closers. At 1-1/4 miles, the Derby is one of the longest races any of these horses will ever compete in, so frontrunners don’t perform particularly well here. Stalkers usually tuck in about 1-4 lengths behind the frontrunners, then make their finishing kick at the top of the final stretch, while closers like to make their charge from even farther behind.

One of the classic Kentucky Derby betting tips is to pick a stalker to win, and there’s a lot of merit to that – although it might be overstated. California Chrome was a stalker, coming from two lengths back at the three-quarters pole. So was 2015 winner American Pharoah (one length), who went on to complete the Triple Crown. However, there have been a number of winning closers over the years, including Orb (10 lengths) in 2013 and Mine That Bird (21 lengths) in 2009. And every once in a while, a horse will win the Derby from the front of the pack, like the brilliant War Emblem in 2002.

Since the Kentucky Derby is run on the dirt track at Churchill Downs, you’ll also want to give more consideration to horses who have run well on dirt – although these days, there are few (if any) Derby contenders who run primarily on turf or synthetic tracks. Weather is important, too; if it’s going to be a rainy day in Louisville, it’s nice to have a horse that’s a proven performer in sloppy conditions.

With all this knowledge, you are now more informed than the vast majority of people who will be betting on the Kentucky Derby this year. You know the details of the race, all the different wagers you can place, and even which racing styles to watch out for. Make sure to visit Bovada for fresh Kentucky Derby odds and sharp analysis on the big race, and don’t forget to stock up on Kentucky bourbon for your mint juleps.

 

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