The Kentucky Derby is an American tradition.
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How To Bet On The Kentucky Derby: Win Or Lose, Gambling Is Fun!

Not only is betting on the race fun, but it’s easier than ever. You don’t have to head down to the nearest racetrack or off-track betting location to make that exacta or trifecta wager. Sports betting is now allowed in more than 30 states and territories (including Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico), so betting on the Kentucky Derby is easier than ever.

Where to Wager and Watch The Kentucky Derby

But hanging with some friends is always a great option for checking the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports. NBC once again has the coverage and sports bars and sportsbooks across the country will be happy to seat you and your homeboys.

With mobile wagering so easy in many states now as well, it’s simple to pick those ponies right on your phone. Scoreboarding your friends on your winning wagers only adds to the afternoon’s excitement.

The Kentucky Derby attracts betting from across the globe.
(Photo by iStock Photo)

Wagering Options

Those new to horse racing will find some standard wagering types. Here’s a look at some of those:

  • Win – The horse selection must finish first. A second-place is a loser, but these bets pay the maximum winning odds.
  • Place – First or second and this ticket cashes. However, it pays less than a win bet.
  • Show – The horse can finish first, second, or third and this wager pays even less in regards to odds. This bet is sometimes worth a flier on a horse with long odds.
  • Across the board – This is a wager on the same horse to win, place, and show. If the horse wins, a bettor wins on all three wagers.

A Look at the Odds

Horses are ranked according to the odds each horse receives. These are written in terms of 2-1 (2 to 1), meaning you’d win $2 for every $1 bet. They change depending on how much money is bet on each horse.

So if you bet $20 on a 2-1 favorite to win and that steed indeed crossed the finish line first, you’d collect $40. Perhaps that less-dynamic longshot caught your eye, but faced longer odds of 12-1.

If this horse found the winner’s circle, you’d collect a nice $240 for your $20 wager. That would certainly be worth a round of drinks for your betting buddies.

Exotic Wagering

Beyond those traditional wagers above, there are also other “exotic” wagers that can make the day’s action even more interesting. These usually involve picking more than one horse, usually with extra dollars heading your way if things work out. Here’s a look at a few of those:

  • Exacta – This has a bettor picking the top two horses in a race. Pick them in the exact order or “box” the selections for a few bucks more. Boxing means they can come in either place, as long as they both are in the top two. You can also even throw in another horse to box with those selections with just any two of them finishing in the top two spots. Longer odds for the winners mean bigger payouts.
  • Trifecta – Similar to the exact, but instead you’re picking the top three horses.
  • Superfecta – A tough bet indeed, this one has you picking the top four horses in a race. Selecting four will cost you $24, but many tracks allow a 10-cent super. This allows for some fun handicapping at a bargain price, but can be rewarding with a decent payday if it hits.

This Year’s Kentucky Derby

Many may be tempted to just splurge all that bankroll on the favorite. Epicenter was at 5-1 over the weekend and has plenty of credentials (already won more than $900,000).

However, it’s important to remember that favorites only win the Derby about 35% of the time (and the same goes for an average horse race in general). Picking a mid-tier favorite may offer an opportunity at an even bigger return.

In the past, horses in the 8-1 to 12-1 range have paid off. Some of those this year close to that range include Mo Donegal (8-1), Smile Happy (14-1), and White Abarrio (14-1).

Some other favorites also at least offer a bit longer odds, such as Messier, Taiba, and Zandon (all at 6-1). Find what works for you and consider some of these in exotic wagers.

The Kentucky Derby features 20 horses and the track can become a real traffic jam. A favorite caught in the pack may not find space to recover. There are just a lot of intangibles that don’t always favor the favorites.

Churchill Downs is the iconic location of the Kentucky Derby.
(Photo by iStock Photo)

Other Considerations

Those who want to really dig deeper for some real handicapping have a few things to look at. Certainly the horse’s record and winnings so far can be big signs.

Consider the level of competition a horse has competed against in the past as well. A horse’s recent workouts also matter. A nice few performances against others can be a sign of a horse really ready to run.

Track position also can play a role. Those horses on the inside tend to have an easier path around the track than those on the outside. This might also be worth considering.

But win or lose, handicapping the field makes for a fun raceday. Cashing a ticket makes things even better as you take part in one of America’s oldest sporting events.

Side Notes

In the 148-year history of the Kentucky Derby, no horse has won from the No. 17 position. That doesn’t bode well for this year’s 17-horse Zozos, which faces odds of 20-1.

For those looking to extend their horse betting bonanza, The other two legs of the Triple Crown are the Preakness Stakes (May 21) Belmont Stakes (June 11). Here’s a look at the horses who have won all three.

  • Sir Barton (1919)
  • Gallant Fox (1930)
  • Omaha (1935)
  • War Admiral (1937)
  • Whirlaway (1941)
  • Count Fleet (1943)
  • Assault (1946)
  • Citation (1948)
  • Secretariat (1973)
  • Seattle Slew (1977)
  • Affirmed (1978)
  • American Pharoah (2015)
  • Justify (2018)

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