The Kentucky Derby is the marquee race for American horse racing. It's traditionally the first leg of the Triple Crown and a day for all to celebrate with fancy hats and mint juleps.
Betting and the Kentucky Derby, of course, go hand in hand. It is the most popular horse racing event for North Americans to bet on and many will place their first horse racing bet on the Kentucky Derby. If you're new to betting on the ponies, our Kentucky Derby guide has you covered.
How to bet on the Kentucky Derby
There are many different ways to place a bet on the Kentucky Derby but for beginners, there are three areas to read up on before making a wager:
The different bet types available
How to place a bet online or in-person
Kentucky Derby bet types: Basic bets
The most common Kentucky Derby bets are the basic bets: Win, Place, and Show.
These wagers usually offer the lowest risk and are recommended to new bettors. The next level up, just outside of regular basic bets, would be your exotic bets: placing a wager on more than one outcome whether it is betting on more than one race or betting on the consecutive finishers in a single race.
A win bet is the easiest bet you can make in racing. You are simply picking the horse you think will cross the finish line first.
In 2020, a $2 Win bet on Authentic returned $18.80. Authentic closed as the third overall favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
A Place wager is betting on a horse that you think will finish in first or second. If the horse you bet finishes in one of the two top spots, you collect the amount shown in the place column. This bet is less risky than a Win bet, but also offers a smaller return.
In 2020 a $2 Place bet on Authentic returned $6.00, and a $2 place bet on the second-place finisher Tiz The Law returned $3.40.
A Show bet is a wager on a horse to finish within the top three positions. If the horse shows (finishes first, second or third), this is a winning bet. The payout is exactly the same, even if the horse finishes first or second.
In 2020, a $2 Show bet on Authentic returned $5.00, on Tiz The Law $3.20, and on third-place finisher Mr. Big News $16.80.
Kentucky Derby bet types: Exotic bets
Combination Bet: Across the Board
Betting across the board is a combination of Win, Place, and Show wagers. If you bet a horse "across the board" you are betting them to Win, Place, and Show. If the horse wins the race, then you collect the payouts displayed on all three bets.
Instead of it being a wager costing $2, this wager will actually cost $6 to bet as you are making three combined bets at once.
Combination Bet: Win/Place, Place/Show
This is a combination wager, and at the $2 base will cost you $4 to bet. You are wagering on a horse to finish first or second (Win/Place), or second or third (Place/Show).
An Exacta bet is successfully predicting the winning horse and the second-place finisher in that exact order.
In 2020 a $2 Exacta with Authentic and Tiz The Law returned $41.00.
A Trifecta bet is similar to an Exacta wager, except you are betting which horses you think will finish in the top three positions in that race in that order.
In the 2020 Kentucky Derby, a $1 Trifecta wager with Authentic, Tiz The Law, and Mr. Big News returned $1,311.80.
With a Superfecta bet you are selecting the top four finishers in the race in order. This is the hardest of the single-race exotics and yields the highest payouts.
In the 2020 Kentucky Derby a $1 superfecta wager with Authentic, Tiz The Law, Mr. Big News, and Honor A.P. paid out $ 7,925.80.
Kentucky Derby futures
Kentucky Derby odds can open shortly following the running of the previous Derby, with the top two-year-old prospects listed and odds to win the Derby assigned to each. As these horses race through the remainder of the year and into the spring qualifying races as three-year-olds, the odds adjust to results, injuries, and betting action. Once the field for the Kentucky Derby is set, oddsmakers narrow the futures to those competing horses and will move odds bases on betting action and practice runs heading into Derby Day.
There could be some significant odds movement following the post draw, which typically takes place on the Tuesday before the race. Learn about how the post position affects odds and betting with our Kentucky Derby post positions guide.
How to place a bet
There are two ways to place a bet on the Kentucky Derby, either in-person at a racebook or track or online via a digital race and sportsbook.
The majority of states in the U.S. and all provinces in Canada allow for legal online betting on horse racing. To bet on horse racing online you must sign up with a racebook and deposit into an account before placing any bets. From there you can sort the daily races by tracks, race numbers, individual horse numbers, and bet types.
When placing an in-person bet on horse racing you need to have cash in hand to make the wager as well as know the track name, race number, horse number and type of bet you wish to place.
Kentucky Derby tips
The Run for the Roses is the biggest event in horse racing every year and here are some easy Kentucky Derby tips to follow before placing your bets:
Betting the favorite
Before the pandemic rescheduled the 2020 Kentucky Derby to September, the post-time favorite had won the Kentucky Derby six years straight from 2014 to 2019. The 2020 winner Authentic was the third overall favorite at 8/1 odds while race favorite Tiz The Law 3/5 placed second.
Since 2000, the lowest-priced winning favorite was in 2008 with Big Brown who paid $6.30 to win. Throughout that stretch, a horse has paid less than $10 to win six times. Although there are always enticing options betting a horse at big odds, betting the favorite this past decade has proven to be a very profitable venture.
Horse racing styles
Speed/Pacesetter: This is a horse that will be on the front end. They are typically the quickest out of the gate and thrive on the lead. Since 1875, there have been 23 wire-to-wire Kentucky Derby winners, meaning they have led at every point in the race, including 2020 champion Authentic.
Presser: A horse likely to be up and on the pace, but not the one leading the race.
Stalker: A horse most likely to stay off the pace, but close enough to strike early.
Closer: A horse that sits well off the pace and makes one late stretch run. Since 1875, there have been eight horses who have made a last-to-first rally in the Kentucky Derby.
Three of the past four Kentucky Derbies (save for the September 2020 running) have been raced over less-than-ideal conditions. Always Dreaming was victorious on a track listed as “muddy". For Justify, and most recently Country House, both were victorious over a “sloppy" track. Six of the last 12 Derbies have seen rain during or before the card. With the 2021 Kentucky Derby returning to its regular spot in the first weekend of May, rainy spring weather could be a factor.
Backing the hot hand
Winning the Kentucky Derby is no easy feat, but once you capture that illustrious first one, the second one seems not far away as wins tend to come in bunches.
Since 2010 there have been multiple trainers that have won the Kentucky Derby two or more times:
- Bob Baffert – 2015 (American Pharoah), 2018 (Justify), 2020 (Authentic)
- Todd Pletcher – 2010 (Super Saver), 2017 (Always Dreaming)
- Doug O’Neil – 2013 (I'll Have Another), 2016 (Nyquist)
For jockeys since 2009, these are the ones who have won multiple times throughout that stretch:
- John Velazquez – 2011 (Animal Kingdom), 2017 (Always Dreaming), 2020 (Authentic)
- Calvin Borel – 2009 (Mine that Bird), 2010 (Super Saver)
- Mario Gutierrez – 2012 (I’ll Have Another), 2016 (Nyquist)
- Victor Espinoza – 2014 (California Chrome), 2015 (American Pharoah)
Where can I bet on the Kentucky Derby?
Legal horse racing betting sites fill the void created by sportsbooks for wagering on the Kentucky Derby.
Check out our guide that identifies the best Kentucky Derby betting sites in your area.
Kentucky Derby betting FAQs
Is it legal to bet on the Kentucky Derby online?
Yes. There are a number of legal and authentic online racing books, which allow you to withdraw funds directly to your bank account.
How much money is bet on the Kentucky Derby?
There was a record $165.5 million bet on the 2019 Kentucky Derby. That was a 10 percent increase from 2018 which held the previous record of $149.9 million.
What is the minimum bet for the Kentucky Derby?
The lowest Win bet you can make is for $2. For the exotics, depending on where you play, many offer a 0.10 Superfecta wager at some betting locations.
How early can you bet on the Kentucky Derby?
You can bet on the upcoming Kentucky Derby as early as the day after the prior year's Derby. As the Kentucky Derby is limited to three-year-olds only, the early favorites are the horses having standout two-year-old campaigns.
When does betting close for the Kentucky Derby?
You can place your wagers until the gates open. Once you hear, “and they're off" the window is officially closed. Soak up as much information in the post parade and loading the gate as you can. Knowledge is power.