How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby – Guide to Bet Types & Strategy

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It’s easy to learn how to bet on the Kentucky Derby and get involved in one of the biggest sports betting events of the year. If you’re new to the world of wagering, let us walk you through the betting markets and how to place a bet, plus some tips to help you make smarter bets.

How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is the biggest horse racing betting event in the US, which means it attracts a lot of novice bettors looking to place their first wager on the horses.

There are many ways to bet on the Kentucky Derby, so we know it can be overwhelming when you first start out. If you’re a beginner, we’d suggest reading up on the following areas first:

  • The different betting markets and types of bets available.
  • How to place a bet, either online or in person.
  • Tips for making informed bets on the Kentucky Derby.

We’ll be covering all of the above in our Kentucky Derby betting guide.

Kentucky Derby Betting Markets

When learning how to bet on the Kentucky Derby, it’s worth getting to grips with basic bet types first. Once you feel comfortable with how they work, you can explore some of the more complicated betting markets.

Basic Bets – Best for Beginners

The most common ways to bet on the Kentucky Derby are the Win, Place, and Show bets.

These bets are usually lower risk and are the simplest to understand, which is why they are the recommended choice for beginners.

  • Win – Horse finishes 1st
    The Win bet is where you bet on the outright winner of the race. This is the most popular and simplest betting market.
  • Place – Horse finishes 1st or 2nd
    The Place bet is where you bet on a horse to finish in one of the top two positions.
  • Show – Horse finishes 1st, 2nd or 3rd
    The Show bet is an extension of the Place bet where you bet that the horse will finish in one of the top three positions. You don’t get anything extra if it comes in 1st place.

You can place a bet on any horse that takes your fancy. However, for a better chance of a winning bet, we’d suggest reading our guide to this year’s Kentucky Derby favorites for information on the odds and why they might win or face potential trouble.

More Kentucky Derby Betting Options

Exacta

Exacta

An Exacta 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

Quinella

A Quinella bet is where you pick two horses that can finish in any order. It’s similar to the Exacta, but you don’t need to get the order correct for it to win.

Trifecta

Trifecta

In a Trifecta bet, you pick 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

Superfecta

Only seasoned bettors should try this one, as you must pick the first four horses in the correct order. Again, like the Trifecta, the Superfecta wager is an exceptionally difficult bet to pull off, but the rewards are huge if you manage it.

Super High Five

Super High Five

Horse racing bets don’t get more difficult than the Super High Five. You must pick the first five horses in the exact order, so it’s even more complex than a Superfecta.

Box Bet

Box Bet

Box betting is where you increase the bet to include all possible combinations of your picks, so the horses can finish in any order. This applies to Exacta, Quinella, Trifecta, Superfecta bets, and the Super High Five. As the number of winning combinations increases, the cost of the bet goes up – but so does the number of ways to win.

Each Way

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.

Across the Board

Across the Board

An Across the Board bet is like betting Each Way, but you bet the same horse to Win, Place, and Show.

Matchup Bets

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

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

Futures Bets

Futures 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

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

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 a hugely popular betting event, which means that all of the best online sportsbooks offer an increased number of prop bets.

The list below highlights some of the prop bets you can place on the Kentucky Derby.

  • First jockey to remove helmet.
  • Color of the winning horse.
  • Time of the winning horse.
  • Gender of winning horse.
  • Celebrities in attendance.
  • Odd/even starting gate number.
  • Odd/even race number.
  • Hat color of the winning jockey.
  • If the winning owner cries in an interview (yes, really).

Most Kentucky Derby prop bets are just a bit of fun but some can provide great betting opportunities.

How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby – Example Bet

Morning Line odds for the Kentucky Derby will be released during the Post Position Draw, which takes place on the Wednesday before the race (Saturday).

Prior to this, futures betting is available through the best offshore sportsbooks ahead of time because of the size and popularity of this event.

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 below is a horse racing prop available at BetOnline. We can see that the odds for ‘Yes’ are placed at a positive (+) value, meaning the sportsbook doesn’t think it’s likely to happen. You can learn more about what plus and minus means in betting in our dedicated guide.

kentucky derby example bet

Let’s imagine we bet $50 on Frankie Dettori to win the 2024 Kentucky Derby, priced at +1000, and he wins. Our return would be $550 ($500 profit + our original $50 stake).

Although our example is in American odds, 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, though. The left column is the amount you must stake to win the right.

How to Place a Bet on the Kentucky Derby

There are two ways to place a bet on the Kentucky Derby: in person or at an online sportsbook.

Many people choose to place wagers at one the top online gambling sites in the US as it’s often quicker and easier than doing it in person.

Below we’ve explained the steps for placing a wager online, so you know what to expect:

  1. Visit an online sportsbook such as BetOnline, or another recommended operator.
  2. Create an account, adding all of the required details.
  3. Make a deposit and claim your welcome bonus.
  4. Head to the ‘Horse Racing’ section of the sportsbook.
  5. Find the Kentucky Derby betting markets.
  6. Choose your bet from the available options, adjust your stake, and place your bet.

Place your bets on the Kentucky Derby with BetOnline.

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Kentucky Derby Betting Strategy & Tips

The final part of learning how to bet on the Kentucky Derby involves a bit of strategy. The race is unique, so these strategies are directed at betting on this race alone, although there is some crossover into how to bet on horse racing in general.

1. Shop for the Best Lines

The increased popularity of the Kentucky Derby means that all of the best horse racing 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. 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.

2. Bet Online Instead of at the Track

If you’re at the race, we highly recommend that you bet online instead of trackside as you’ll get a much better price online. The thrill of cashing in that bet slip for cold hard money is fun, but you’re leaving money on the table.

This is because trackside bookmakers have more overheads than online, so they charge extra juice. Plus, the Derby brings in a lot of recreational bettors, so betting lines are squeezed further to maximize profits. You’ll almost always get a better price online.

3. 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).

4. 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 special 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, which you can then use in your betting.

5. Track the “Derby Trail”

Entry into the race for Kentucky Derby runners uses a points-based system. There are 48 qualifiers held from September through April on race tracks around the world that allow you to see how prospective horses fair. They call this series the the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

You need to follow the results of key prep races and recognized trials to see if any notables stand out. Some have more points on offer for winning than others. The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park and Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland are notable examples.

Besides domestic graded stakes races in America, international events in Japan, the Middle East and England are also part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Do not discount these. These are often overlooked on sportsbooks due to a relative lack of exposure.

6. Consider 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 1¼ miles, the Kentucky Derby demands both speed and stamina. One of the main reasons horses find the race hard is the quality of the field.

The winners aren’t always speed horses and 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.

7. 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 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.

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of how to bet on the Kentucky Derby, you can confidently place a wager at BetOnline.

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Jonathan Askew
Sports Betting and Casino Expert
Jonathan Askew
Sports Betting and Casino Expert

Jonathan is a freelance writer working with Techopedia. He has been working within the gambling sector for over 15 years and has been fortunate enough to work with brands that include Gambling.com, CheekyPunter.com, BasketballInsiders.com and Betfair. He specializes in US and UK-based sports and casino content for Techopedia.