How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby – Expert Guide and Strategy

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. This prestigious horse race has been run since 1875 at the iconic Churchill Downs in Louisville and forms part of The Triple Crown along with Preakness Stakes later in May and Belmont Stakes held in June.

With around 20 entrants each year, the Kentucky Derby has a distance of 1¼ miles. Qualification for the race is determined by two factors. First, the horses’ age as only three-year-olds are eligible. Second, qualifying points from the Road to the Kentucky Derby, ensuring that the most competitive horses gain entry.

A record purse for the race set at $3 million, with 1st prize with $1.86 million in 2023 to the winner. Two of the most iconic Kentucky Derby winners in recent times were Justify in 2018 and American Pharoah in 2015. Both followed up their Churchill Downs victories with wins in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, completing the Triple Crown.

Ready to start betting on the Kentucky Derby? Check out the valuable markets at BetOnline.

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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 online sportsbooks ahead of time because of the size and popularity of this event.

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.

kentucky derby example betThe image above 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 (the plus sign indicates a lower implied probability).

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. The left column is the amount you must stake to win the right.

How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby – 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 offshore sportsbooks online today. We’ve used BetOnline as our racebook for this, but it won’t be too different, regardless of the operator you choose.

1. Open BetOnline

First, open BetOnline and create a new account. To get started, click the ‘Join’ button at the top of the page.

betonline signup

2. Create an Account

To create your account, enter your name, email address, and any other required details.

betonline account

3. Make a Deposit

Once your account has been set up, head to the cashier and choose a payment option to make your first deposit.

betonline deposit

4. Locate the Betting Markets

When your deposit has been processed, head to the ‘Horse Racing’ section of the sportsbook.

betonline horse racing

5. Place a Bet

Choose the bet you want to make, adjust your stake, and submit your bet.

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. Increased exposure results in more exciting betting markets with both Straight wagers and Exotic wagers available to sports bettors.

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 in horse racing 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 – Only seasoned bettors should try this, 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 Horse racing bets don’t get more difficult than this. You must picked the first five horses in the exact order, so it’s even more complex than a Superfecta.
  • Box Bet – Box betting is where you increase the bet to include all possible combinations of your picks. This applies to Exacta, Quinella, Trifecta, Superfecta bets and the Super High Five. 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.
  • Across the Board – Like the each way bet, but where you bet the same horse to Win, Place and Show.
  • 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.
  • Headto-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 opportunities.

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.

horse racing bet

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.

Year Winner Jockey Trainer Owner Track
condition
Time
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 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 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 BetOnline, Bovada, and BetNow. They consistently have the best betting lines, offering boosted odds for the race on selected horses.

Get fixed-odds futures for the Kentucky Derby at Bovada.

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2. 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.

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).

Post Position Kentucky Derby winners
1 8
2 7
3 5
4 5
5 10
6 2
7 8
8 8
9 4
10 9
11 2
12 3
13 5
14 2
15 6
16 4
17 0
18 2
19 1
20 2

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. The bonus money can be used across the racebook and placed on the race.

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 that 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 sports betting and horse racing betting sites due to a relative lack of exposure.

6. 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 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.

Use our tried and tested Kentucky Derby betting strategies today at BetOnline.

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Jonathan Askew

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.