How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby: Bet Types, Tips & More

The Kentucky Derby is one of the biggest betting days of the year. Learn everything you need to know about how to wager on the Run for the Roses ahead of today's race.

Robert Criscola - Contributor at
Robert Criscola • Publishing Editor
May 4, 2024 • 09:32 ET • 4 min read
How to Bet Kentucky Derby
Photo By - By Michael Clevenger/Courier Journal, Louisville Courier Journal

The Kentucky Derby is the marquee event in 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 go hand-in-hand. It is the most popular horse racing event for North Americans to bet on, and many place their first horse racing bet on Kentucky Derby odds. If you're new to betting on the ponies, our guide to the 2024 Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 4 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


Tips on making informed Kentucky Derby wagers

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. 

Win bet

A win bet is the simplest bet you can make in horse racing. You are simply picking the horse you think will cross the finish line first.

In the 2023 Kentucky Derby, a $2 Win bet on Mage returned $32.42. The biggest long shot to ever win the Kentucky Derby was Donerail, who returned $184.90 for a $2 Win wager in 1913.

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Place bet

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 2023, a $2 Place bet on Kentucky Derby runner-up Two Phil's returned $10.44. 

Show bet

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 2023, a $2 Show bet on Angel of Empire paid out $4.70. 

More Kentucky Derby betting options

Combination Bet: Across the Board

Betting across the board is a combination of Win, Place, and Show wagers. If you wager on 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 bet 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 within the top two or top three (Place/Show).

Exacta bet

An Exacta bet tasks the bettor with predicting the winning horse and the second-place finisher in that exact order. You can also "box" an exacta with two or more horses, but at an increased cost. A $2 exacta box with two horses would be $4, since you're betting two combinations. A three-horse exacta box would cost $12 for every $2 wagered, as you're now covering six combinations.

In the 2023 Kentucky Derby, a $2 Exacta with Mage over Two Phil's returned a healthy $330.44. 

Trifecta bet

A Trifecta bet is similar to an Exacta wager, except you are betting which Kentucky Derby horses you think will finish in the top three positions in that race in that order.

In 2023, a $2 Trifecta wager with Mage over Two Phil's over Angel of Empire returned $1,964.72.

Superfecta bet 

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 2023 Kentucky Derby, a $2 superfecta wager with Mage over Two Phil's over Angel of Empire over Disarm paid out a whopping $31,287.30.

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. 

Pro Tip

There could be some significant odds movement following the post draw, which takes place the Saturday 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:

Standings 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. 

It's been a parade of long shots since, with Rich Strike at 80-1 topping them all in 2022.

Horse And Jockey 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.

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Rainy spring weather can always be a factor on the first Saturday in May, though we've only seen "fast" tracks in Churchill since 2019's "sloppy" rendition of the Kentucky Derby. Be sure to keep an eye on the forecast leading up to race day, as the condition of the track can impact horses both positively and negatively.

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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)

These are the jockeys who have won multiple times since 2009:

  • 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 and don't forget to check out our guide on pari-mutuel betting before laying down a wager.

Kentucky Derby betting FAQs

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