The Kentucky Derby is one of the highlights of the world’s horse racing calendar. Often dubbed as the “fastest two minutes in sports,” it attracts the elite of racehorses. We explain how to bet on the Kentucky Derby, what markets you can use, and betting strategies to make you much more profitable when betting on the race.
What is the Kentucky Derby?
When we talk about the biggest horse races in the world, few come bigger than the Kentucky Derby. The race has been run since it opened its gates in 1875 and forms part of The Triple Crown along with the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes.
The race is run at the iconic Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. The track measures 1 ¼ miles and has around 20 entrants each year. Qualification for the race is determined by the horse’s age (three-year-olds only) and points from the previous 12 months, ensuring that the most competitive horses gain entry.
2023 saw a record purse for the race set at $3 million, with 1st place taking home $1.86 million for its efforts. Two of the most iconic winners in recent times were Justify in 2018 and American Pharoah in 2015, both of which followed up their wins in the Kentucky Derby with wins in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes to complete the Triple Crown.
How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby – Example Bet
Odds for the Kentucky Derby will be released during the Post Position Draw, which takes place on the Wednesday before the race (Saturday). This is the first official look at any morning lines, but given the size and popularity of the race, you can generally get a feel of where horses might be prior to this.
To place a bet on the race, you need a betting account. Most of the major racebooks will cover the Kentucky Derby in great detail, and all will have at least reasonable coverage. However, we recommend waiting until the draw has been made before placing a bet, as this has a strong bearing on the horse’s chances.
The image above overviews horses running, the morning line odds, and the post position. For the sake of our bet, we will choose the second favorite, Tapit Trice, priced at 9/2.
It’s worth noting at this point that most horse racing betting odds are in fractional form. Some sites will let you convert, but not always. Reading fractional odds is simple. The left column is the amount you must stake to win the right.
So, odds of 9/2 for Tapit Trice would mean that for every $2 you bet, you will win $9, or $1 gets your $4.50.
Let’s assume that we place a $50 wager on Tapit Trice to win, and he goes on and wins the race. Our $50 would return $225 at odds of 9/2.
How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby – A Step-by-Step Guide
We will show you a step-by-step guide below to understand how to bet on the Kentucky Derby at any of the top US sportsbooks. We’ve used DK Horse as our racebook for this, but it won’t be too different, regardless of the operator you choose.
1. Open DK Horse Racebook
First, open the DK Horse racebook and create a new account. To get started, click the “Join Now” button at the top of the page.
2. Create an account
To create your account, enter your name, email address, and any promo code into the box when prompted. The registration process should take no more than a couple of minutes but you will need to verify your account before you start, which may take longer.
3. Log in and deposit
Once your account has been set up, you must log in and deposit. Head to the cashier and choose a payment option. Some options may be limited based on your location.
4. Locate the racebook
When your deposit has been processed, click the “Bet Now” button at the top of the page. This will allow you to see all the upcoming races. When live, the Kentucky Derby will be in the “Featured” section at the top of the page.
5. Place a bet
Click the “Morning Line” button to add your bet to the bet slip. Click on the “Submit Bet” and choose your stake. Confirm your bet, and then confirm your stake. Click “Place Bet,” and you’re done.
Ready to sign up and start betting on the Kentucky Derby? Head to DK Horse.
Kentucky Derby Betting Markets
The Kentucky Derby’s popularity means that betting options are boosted on the day of the race and the days leading up. It’s one of the best things about the festival, and the increased exposure results in more exciting betting markets.
In this part of our guide on how to bet on the Kentucky Derby, we’ve included a list of the range of betting markets you can expect from the fastest two minutes in sport.
- Win – The win bet is where you bet on the outright winner of the race. This is the most popular betting market, simply for ease, and is one that most regular bettors will use.
- Place – The place bet is where you bet on the horse to finish within the top two positions. The order they finish doesn’t matter as the bet pays the same for 1st and 2nd
- Show – This is an extension of the place bet, but instead of paying the top two spots, it pays the top three. Again, the horses can finish in any order, and there is no additional bonus for finishing 1st.
- Exacta – This bet requires you to pick the first two horses in the correct order. This is an extension of the place bet, but you must pick 1st and 2nd as they cross the line. It’s a tougher bet than the place but pays a lot more as a result.
- Quinella – This bet is where you pick two horses that can finish in any order. This is similar to the exacta, but you don’t need to get the order correct for it to win.
- Trifecta – This bet requires picking three horses that finish in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the correct order. It’s one of the more difficult Kentucky Derby bets to execute, and payouts are huge as a result.
- Superfecta – This market requires bettors to pick the first four horses in the correct order. Again, like the Trifecta, this is an exceptionally difficult bet to pull off, but the rewards are huge if you manage it.
- Box Bet – Box betting is where you increase the bet to include all possible combinations of your picks. This applies to exacta, quinella, trifecta, and superfecta bets. You pay per combination so that the stake will increase as your bet per line. It is, however, a good way to cover multiple combinations, especially with the likes of trifecta and superfecta bets where you’ve more horses included.
- Each Way – An each-way bet is two bets rolled into one. Half of your stake goes on the horse to win, and half goes on the horse to place. The place odds will be 1/5th of the win odds. For example, if the win bet were 5/1, the place would be Evens.
- Win/Place/Show – The win/place/show bet is where you pick three horses for each category. So, you have one horse to win, one to place, and one to show. You need all three to win this bet.
- Matchup Bets – This bet is where you bet on battles between three horses. You must pick which two horses will finish ahead of the other in the race.
- Head–to-Head – An extension of a matchup bet, but instead of picking two horses, you just need to pick one horse to finish ahead of the other.
- Futures Bets – These are bets placed an amount of time before the race starts. These markets are considered to be any time before the day of the race and usually include the outright winner. It’s often the time to get the best odds, especially on favorites, as when the money pours in on race day, the odds will drop.
- Group Betting – Group betting is where you pick multiple horses to be part of your group, and then if any win, your bet wins. This is a good way to take multiple outside picks for the race at decent odds.
- Over/Under Bets – Over/under bets can include a number of variables. One of the most popular is the time to complete the race.
Kentucky Derby Prop Bets
The Kentucky Derby is very much an elevated race. This means that the volume of bets placed is much higher than almost any other for a US sportsbook.
To feed off this, most betting sites will have an increased number of prop bets, some of which are just a bit of fun, but others can provide great value betting.
The list below highlights all of the prop bets you can place on the Kentucky Derby.
- Winning margin – Bets are placed on how far ahead first place is compared to second. Margins are measured in lengths, which reference the length of a horse. Some betting sites will have brackets (1-3 lengths, 4-6 lengths, etc), and some will provide an over/under betting line (over/under 4.5 lengths).
- First jockey to remove helmet – This market starts when the race finishes. You need to predict which jockey will be the first to remove their helmet once the race has been run. It’s very much a niche market and is not that widely available.
- Color of the winning horse – Betting on the color of the winning horse. Mixed horses will take into account their most prominent color (eg black, brown, gray, etc).
- Time of the winning horse – This market is the time that the winning horse sets in the race. Most races are around the two-minute mark for the Kentucky Derby, and the betting site usually sets an over/under line to bet on.
- Gender of winning horse – The Kentucky Derby is open to colts and fillies. You need to pick whether the winner will be male or female.
- Celebrities in attendance – The race attracts many of the biggest stars from around the world, and not just sports stars either. You can bet on who might be in attendance and if they have any affiliation (are the owner) to the winning horse.
- Odd/even starting gate number – Betting on if the winning horse will start from an odd or even starting gate.
- Odd/even race number – Betting on whether the winning horse will have an odd or even race number.
- Hat color of the winning jockey – Many of the jockeys will have similar colored hats so that you can include multiple horses into a single bet. This is an underrated market, and very much novelty from the outside could form a formidable group bet.
- If the winning owner cries in an interview – You heard that right, you can bet on whether the winning owner will cry when doing the post-race interview. This must be the first interview they do when the race is complete, and it must be streamed live on TV for it to count.
Past Kentucky Derby Winners
In this part of our guide on how to bet on the Kentucky Derby, we’ve included a table that highlights the past winners of the race. For each race since 2000, we’ve included the winning horse, winning jockey, trainer, owner, track condition, and time. We will keep this table up to date for future races.
|2023||Mage||Javier Castellano||Gustavo Delgado||OGMA Investments, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing||Fast||2:01.57|
|2022||Rich Strike||Sonny Leon||Eric Reed||RED TR-Racing||Fast||2:02.61|
|2021||Mandaloun||Florent Geroux||Brad Cox||Juddmonte||Fast||2:01.02|
|2020||Authentic||John Velazquez||Bob Baffert||Spendthrift Farm, MyRaceHorse Stable, Madaket Stables, Starlight Racing||Fast||2:00.61|
|2019||Country House||Flavien Prat||Bill Mott||Mrs. J.V. Shields Jr., E. J. M. McFadden Jr., LNJ Foxwoods||Sloppy||2:03.93|
|2018||Justify||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert||China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners, Starlight Racing, WinStar Farm||Sloppy||2:04.20|
|2017||Always Dreaming||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, Teresa Viola, St. Elias, Siena Farm, West Point Thoroughbreds||Wet Fast (sealed)||2:03.59|
|2016||Nyquist||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||Reddam Racing||Fast||2:01.31|
|2015||American Pharoah||Victor Espinoza||Bob Baffert||Zayat Stables||Fast||2:03.02|
|2014||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||Steve Coburn & Perry Martin||Fast||2:03.66|
|2013||Orb||Joel Rosario||Claude McGaughey III||Stuart S. Janney III, Phipps Stable||Sloppy||2:02.89|
|2012||I’ll Have Another||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||Reddam Racing||Fast||2:01.83|
|2011||Animal Kingdom||John Velazquez||Graham Motion||Team Valor International||Fast||2:02.04|
|2010||Super Saver||Calvin Borel||Todd Pletcher||WinStar Farm||Sloppy||2:04.45|
|2009||Mine That Bird||Calvin Borel||Bennie Woolley Jr.||Double Eagle Ranch, Buena Suerte Equine||Sloppy||2:02.66|
|2008||Big Brown||Kent Desormeaux||Rick Dutrow Jr.||IEAH Stables, Paul Pompa Jr.||Fast||2:01.82|
|2007||Street Sense||Calvin Borel||Carl Nafzger||Jim Tafel||Fast||2:02.17|
|2006||Barbaro||Edgar Prado||Michael Matz||Lael Stables||Fast||2:01.36|
|2005||Giacomo||Mike Smith||John Shirreffs||Jerry & Ann Moss||Fast||2:02.75|
|2004||Smarty Jones||Stewart Elliott||John Servis||Someday Farm||Sloppy||2:04.06|
|2003||Funny Cide||José Santos||Barclay Tagg||Sackatoga Stable||Fast||2:01.19|
|2002||War Emblem||Victor Espinoza||Bob Baffert||The Thoroughbred Corp.||Fast||2:01.13|
|2001||Monarchos||Jorge Chavez||John Ward Jr.||John Oxley||Fast||1:59.97|
|2000||Fusaichi Pegasus||Kent Desormeaux||Neil Drysdale||Fusao Sekiguchi||Fast||2:01.0|
Kentucky Derby Betting Strategy and Tips
The Kentucky Derby takes over $200 million in bets for the race alone, with more than $400 million for the race week leading up to it. As a result, this is one of the biggest races in the world, let alone the United States, and with races of this magnitude comes great opportunity for bettors.
In this section, we’ve created a solid betting strategy that you can apply to the Kentucky Derby. The race is unique, so these strategies are directed at betting on this race alone, although there is some crossover into general horse racing betting.
Shop for the Best Lines
The increased popularity of the Kentucky Derby means that all of the best gambling sites will cover the race in great detail. There’s also a massively inflated number of bets, meaning that betting lines deviate more from book to book.
Therefore, it’s imperative that you shop around for the best betting lines, as there can be huge differences between each racebook. You will massively improve your bottom line and win more money for the same bet by taking an extra few minutes to search across some of the bigger sites.
Our top three sites to try are FanDuel, Caesars, and DK Horse (DraftKings). They consistently have the best betting lines, offering boosted odds for the race on selected horses.
Bet Online Instead of at the Track
If you’re at the race, we highly recommend that you bet online instead of trackside. The reason is that you’ll get a much better price online than at the track. The thrill of cashing in that bet slip for cold hard money is fun, but you’re leaving money on the table.
Trackside bookmakers have more overheads than online, so they charge extra juice. The Derby brings in a lot of recreational punters, so betting lines are squeezed further to maximize profits. You’ll almost always get a better price online using a mobile betting site that accepts players from Kentucky.
Take Note of the Draw
The draw for the post positions at the Derby takes place the Wednesday before the race and should be a key component when deciding on who to bet on, as they massively impact the race.
The lower gate numbers have the advantage in the Derby, with the most wins coming from Post 5, closely followed by Post 10 and then Post 1. Post 17 has never had a winner, and only five winners have come from 18-20 since 1930.
Inside posts have a slightly shorter track to navigate than the outside, which is a big advantage over the 1m 1/4f track. However, those toward the middle tend to get a better jump and have more space.
It’s a good idea to track the odds before and after the draw to see the winners and losers here. You might want to rethink if you were planning on an outside horse, and they get a less-than-favorable draw. The flip side is that the bet could offer even more value if they get a great draw (Post 5-10).
|Post Position||Kentucky Derby winners|
Take Advantage of Increased Promotions
Racebooks see Derby Day as a great way to get new people to sign up, and one of the ways that they do this is to offer a large range of promotions than they normally would. Some offer better value than others, but any promotion you can work into your bet will provide additional value.
Here’s a look at the types of offers you want to look out for:
- Boosted odds – Boosted odds are where the racebook increases the price of a horse for the race. For example, the horse might have been priced at 5/1, and they’ve been boosted to 6/1, a 20% increase.
- Bet credit – Bet credit is awarded for new accounts and usually matches your opening deposit. You can use the bet credit on the race to bolster your bankroll.
- Enhanced places paid – Each way bets can be enhanced in the number of places paid for the “place” part of the bet. Instead of paying 3, the racebook may extend this to 4 or 5 places. The more places you can get, the better your chance of winning.
- Deposit match – A deposit match is where the racebook matches your opening deposit in the form of a bonus. The bonus money can be used across the racebook and placed on the race.
Track the “Derby Trail”
Entry into the race is done on a points-based system. There are 48 qualifying races held from September through April on courses around the world that allow you to see how prospective runners of the Derby fair.
You need to follow the results of each race to see if any notables stand out. Some fields will be stronger than others and, as a result, will have more points on offer. The Championship Series (16 races) has more points on offer than the Prep Season (21 races).
There are two international series that run as part of the Derby Trail. These take place in Japan and then a series across Europe. Do not discount these. They have some of the biggest names in flat racing, running in each race, and are often overlooked by the American public due to lack of exposure compared to domestic races.
Stamina Over Speed
All of the horses that qualify for the race are quick. This is a cumulation of the best three-year-olds on the planet, and they are there for a reason.
But, at 1 ¼ miles, the Kentucky Derby is long for a flat race which means that stamina is needed to go well. One of the main reasons horses find the race hard is the distance and quality of the field. The winners aren’t always the quickest over the mile marker, but they stay on incredibly well, and this is something you need to target.
Use tracking of the prep races to see which horses fit this criterion. Don’t just look to see who’s won, but the manner of their victories. The longest prep race is 1 3/16 miles, so you won’t know how they travel over the longer distance.
Check to see how they were pulling as they crossed the line. Did the horse have more in the tank? Was it fading towards the end? Did they ease out before they got to the line?
If you can answer these questions, it’s likely going to give you a good idea of how they will perform in the big race.
Avoid Overrun Horses
Freshness is key to winning the Kentucky Derby, and in previous years, horses who’ve run multiple times between January and April in the lead-up to the race have struggled. The main reason they are racing as many times as they have is usually to get the points to get into the race in the first place.
The sweet spot is between two to three races in this period. This allows them to pick up points and be ready for race day. Between 2005 to 2018, every winner of the Kentucky Derby had raced just two or three times from January onwards.
It’s also uncommon to see winners race more than three Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races throughout the season. There have only been two winners since 2007 that have competed in more and won.