How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby [Ultimate Guide]
Placing a wager on which horse will cross the wire first is as old as racing itself, and no horse race in America, or perhaps the world, is more anticipated each year than the Kentucky Derby.
The annual run for the roses is held each spring at Churchill Downs on the first and attracts a large field of up to 20, including the best 3-year-old horses in the country, and sometimes an international star or two. The 2021 edition will be back to its traditional first Saturday in May place on the calendar — this year it will be Saturday, May 1.
Whether you are a seasoned bettor of the horses or not, the Derby is one race where everyone will want to place a wager and pick a winner, and often the reward for a winning ticket can be fantastic.
Kentucky Derby Fast Facts
|Kentucky Derby Race Information|
|Date||May 1, 2021|
|Distance||1 ¼ miles|
|Last Year’s Winner||Authentic|
|Horses||The Kentucky Derby is restricted to horses 3-years-old|
Kentucky Derby Odds
In this year’s running (2021) Essential Quality is expected to be the heavy favorite, meaning most think he will win. His odds will probably be in the 2/1 range. While he is the most likely winner, his heavy favoritism means that every other horse in the race will have attractive odds if they can upset the favorite.
The odds you see listed on each horse will be the odds for them to win. For example, if Essential Quality were to go off at 2/1 in this year’s Kentucky Derby, you would win an extra two dollars for each dollar purchased. A $10 win bet, for instance, would return $30, which would include your investment plus $20 in winnings.
A longshot winner, though, would pay much more. A $10 win bet on a horse at 20/1 would return approximately $210, for $200 in winnings.
While these odds correspond to win prices only, they do generally correspond with how much they will pay in other bets as well — higher odds mean higher payouts in all bets.
How to Place Your Wager on the Kentucky Derby
While the most traditional way to make your bet on the Kentucky Derby is to get on line at one of many betting windows at Churchill Downs, it is now easier than ever to place a wager even if you cannot be among one of the many fans attending the run for the roses.
Millions of viewers will tune in to the ‘most exciting two minutes in sports’ on their televisions sets. Once again, NBC Sports will have live TV coverage of the 2020 Kentucky Derby, and as you watch from the comfort of your own home, you can easily place your bets on one of many online betting companies, such as TVG.
Whether on your laptop, tablet, or phone, you can download the TVG app, make your deposit and start betting. They make it very easy to get your bets in.
You can even watch from your device if unable to be in front of your television with live online streaming of this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Picking a Winner
There are few things more satisfying in betting the horses than picking out the winner of the one race that everyone is watching. Making your choice for the Derby can be as complicated as you want to be, from watching all the prep races in preparation and studying the past performances, or as simple as picking your favorite number or color of silks. In the end it is your decision.
The race program and multiple forms of past performances of the Kentucky Derby horses are available, and learning how to read them is the ultimate in handicapping the races. For more visual learners, watching replays on YouTube of the horses’ previous races gives you a great idea of each runner’s strengths and weaknesses.
There are also a plethora of analyses and selections from the professionals out there — including right here on WSN — if you would rather leave it to the experts.
Finally, if you are waiting for the final minutes to place your bets, it is always wise to take a look at both the odds to see which horses offer the best value, as well as looking at the horses out on the track to see how they look before running in the most prestigious race of their careers.
Ultimately, and especially in a big field like the Kentucky Derby, you will need a little luck to win your wagers. As they say, it’s better to be lucky than good!
Types of Bets
There are numerous options when betting the Kentucky Derby, from very simple to quite intricate. The more difficult the wager is to predict, the more money each wager will return on your investment.
This one is the most straightforward bet you can make — pick the winner, and win your bet. If your horse wins the race, you cash your wager. If your horse finishes anywhere but on top, it is a losing ticket. In the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the longshot winner Country House paid a whopping $132.40 to win for a $2 investment, after being placed first due to the disqualification of Maximum Security
If you are not quite as confident in winning, but you feel like your horse has a great chance to finish in the top two, you can make a place bet. This wager will pay out if your horse finishes either first or second. Like the win and show bets, the minimum wager is $2. In the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Country House paid $56.60 for a $2 place bet.
The easiest bet to cash in horse racing is the show bet. It almost never pays as much as a win bet, or even a place bet, but it gives you the best chance to cash. This wager will pay out if your horse finishes either first, second or third. In the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Country House paid $24.60 for a $2 show bet.
If you want to win even more money wagering on the large field of the Kentucky Derby, you can make an exotic wager, but remember while the payouts are higher, so is the level of difficulty.
The most straightforward of the exotic bets is the exacta. It requires you to select the first and second-place finishers in the correct order. The minimum wager for an exacta at Churchill Downs is $1. To improve your chances of hitting your exotic bet, like an exacta, you can box them, where they can come in either order. Or you can play multiple horses for each spot. In this case, you would need to cover the cost of every combination. For example, a three-horse exacta box would be six total combinations, so a $1 exacta box would cost $6. In the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the combination of Country House and Code of Honor paid $3,009.60 for a $2 exacta bet.
The next step up from the exacta is the trifecta. This wager will pay out if you pick the top three horses in the correct order. Once again, you can play multiple horses in each spot, and just pay for every combination. The minimum bet for a trifecta for the Kentucky Derby is 50-cents. In the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the combination of Country House, Code of Honor, and Tacitus paid $5,737.65 for a $50-cent trifecta bet.
Perhaps you are not satisfied with the small stuff, and really want to make a big score on America’s biggest horse race. The superfecta may be for you. All you have to do is pick the top four finishers in the correct order, and you are a winner. The minimum bet for a superfecta for the Kentucky Derby is $1. In the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the combination of Country House, Code of Honor, Tacitus, and Improbable paid $51,400.10 for a $1 Superfecta bet.
Super High Five
While the show bet is the easiest to cash, this one is the most difficult. At least of the single-race wagers, This bet will pay out if you correctly select the first five finishers in order. With 20 horses, you can imagine how difficult this once can be. In the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the combination of Country House, Code of Honor, Tacitus, Improbable, and Game Winner paid $544,185.90 for a minimum $1 Super High Five bet. Good luck hitting this one!
Another way to hit it big in the Kentucky Derby is by pairing it up with other races. In most cases, these are consecutive races leading up to the big ones.
In multi-race wagers, you are required to have the winner of each race. You can try this wager with as few as two races (daily double), on up, including the Pick-3, Pick-4, Pick-5, and Pick-6.
Minimum Bet for Kentucky Derby Multi-Race Wagers
Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
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