It’s time to get out those fancy hats, as we are less than a week away from the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby. It’s without question the biggest horse racing event of the entire year and arguably the quickest. What is considered by many as the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” will certainly draw plenty of attention at the betting booths from both experts and amateurs.


Race Information

Date: Saturday, May 2
Time: Aprox. 6:24 pm EST
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Track: Churchill Downs
Surface: Dirt
Distance: 1 1/4 Mile Track
Horses: 3-Year-Old Thoroughbreds

Different Betting Options

Here’s a detailed look at the different types of wagers you can make on a single horse race. For those of you that are new to betting on horses, I would recommend sticking with a straight wager, as these are much easier to understand and more likely to hit. Exotic bets do provide bigger payouts than a straight bet, but require a much stronger degree of knowledge on the field. The minimum bet for most wagers is $2, though you it’s lowered to $1 on a Box Trifecta and Box Superfecta.

If you are wondering how much money is bet on the Kentucky Derby, here’s a look at the year-by-year betting totals.

Straight Bets (Minimum Cost)

  • Win ($2)– Horse must win race to win bet.
  • Place ($2) – Horse must finish 1st or 2nd to win bet.
  • Show ($2) – Horse must finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd to win bet.
  • Win/Place ($4) – Same thing as making two separate wagers on the same horse to win and place.
  • Show/Place ($4) – Same thing as making two separate wagers on the same horse to place and show.
  • Across the Board ($6) – Same thing as making three separate wagers on the same horse to win, place and show.

Exotic Bets (Minimum Cost)

  • Exacta ($2)– Pick exactly which horses will finish 1st and 2nd
  • Box Exacta ($4) – Pick the two horses that will finish 1st or 2nd (any order)
  • Quinella ($2) – Pick the two horses that will finish 1st or 2nd (any order)
  • Trifecta – Pick exactly which horses will finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd
  • Box Trifecta ($6) Pick three horses that will finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd (any order)
  • Superfecta ($2) – Pick exactly which horses will finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th
  • Box Superfecta ($24) – Pick four horses that will finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th (any order)

*You will notice that a “Box Exacta” and a “Quinella” is exactly the same bet. However the “Quinella” minimum wager is just $2 and has a smaller payout than the “Box Exacta”

*When you “Box” an exotic wager, you are simply placing a separate wager on each combination of the horses included for that bet. For example if you pick out three horses for a trifecta, there are six different combinations that you could make for straight trifecta. As mentioned earlier the minimum bet is $1 on a box trifecta, so therefore you are essentially making a $1 wager on each of the six combinations.

Understanding the Odds

Unlike other sports, where you get the exact odds when you place your bet, horse racing odds are calculated by what is known as a “Pari-Mutuel System.” In simple terms, the odds are determined by the people wagering on the race. They are calculated based on the amount of total money bet on a horse in comparison to how much is bet on the other horses in the field. The more money bet on a single horse, the worse his odds will get.

The final odds aren’t officially set until the betting window closes right before the race starts (post time). It’s also worth noting that while race tracks will show a horses current odds at 6 to 1, the odds are actually rounded to the nearest .10 cents. So while a horse may be listed at 6 to 1, it might actually be 5.9 to 1 or 6.2 to 1.

One thing that I want to address in regards to the odds is the “Morning Line Odds,” which are the official odds set by Churchill Downs odds-maker Mike Battaglia. These odds aren’t posted until the Wednesday before the race (April 29th) and are quickly adjusted following the post-position draw later that evening. Most of the odds you see prior to the Morning Line Odds are from online sportsbooks.

How to Place/Collect a Bet

You can place a wager on the Kentucky Derby either at a local or nearby racetrack (click on the link for a list of North American racetracks)  or at an online sportsbook. A lot newbies think they have to actually be at Churchill Downs to wager on the race, but that’s not the case at all.

When you place your bet on a race is up to you, just as long as you get it in before the window closes for that particular race. For races that have odds posted well in advance like the Derby, you can wager on it days in advance. Just keep in mind that the odds you get can change quite a bit by the time the race actually starts.

If you are placing your bet(s) at an actual racetrack, here’s a quick rundown of what you need to have ready at the window for each wager.

  1. Name of the track at which the race is being held
  2. Number of the race you are wanting to bet
  3. Amount you want to wager (keep in mind minimum prices)
  4. Type of Wager (win, place, show, exacta, box trifecta, etc)
  5. Number of horses included in your wager

*Note: I always recommend making sure that your ticket is correct before leaving the window and storing the ticket in a safe place (nothing worse than losing a winning ticket)

If you are wondering how to cash a winning ticket, simply return that ticket to the betting window where you purchased it an collect your winnings.

Betting Tips/Etiquette

Know What You Are Betting Before You Head to the Window– Make sure that you know exactly what you want to bet before making your way to the window, especially if you are waiting last minute. The lines can be painfully long and the entire process can be slowed down by people not knowing what they are doing.

Don’t Wait Last Minute – While I also don’t recommend placing your bet too far in advance, there’s really no reason to wait until just before the start of the race to place your wager.

Don’t Trust Media Hype – The media is going to peg one or two horses that they will consider locks to win the race. Don’t fall in love with what they have to say. Focus in on what the real horse racing experts have to say.

Don’t Go Crazy With Exotic Bets – I’m all for action, but too much can limit any chance of showing a decent profit. I’m all for taking a gamble on an exotic bet and going for a big payout, but make sure you don’t rely strictly on them to hit. Make sure you have the majority of your action on a straight wager.

Do Your Homework – Unless you are strictly betting on the race just to say you bet on it, take some time and actually research the horses in the field.

Don’t Ignore the Favorite – Telling you to “bet the favorite” sounds like profanity coming out of my mouth, but favorites win roughly a third of all horse races. Still, I wouldn’t recommend betting the horse with the shortest odds blindly, especially if your research leads you to believe that horse isn’t head and shoulders better than the field.

Handicapping Factors

There’s a number of different factors that goes into picking a winner. Below I’ve listed several factors that you will want to consider before placing your bet. I took all of these into consideration when making my 2015 Kentucky Derby Predictions.

Past Performance – This is extremely important as you can really learn a lot about a horse by studying their previous performances. It’s especially important to look at how a horse has done in Derby prep races. However, don’t just look and see if they won or not. Take a look at the field they were competing against if they won the race. If they didn’t win, try and see if there was a specific factor that prevented them from doing so (start position, poor start, caught inside, etc).

Jockeys – While the horses get all the glory, we can’t fail to acknowledge the significance of those getting the mount. You need to take into consideration the jockey that is mounting the horse. These are the guys that are guiding the horse and controlling when they make their move. A jockey can make all the difference in a big race like the Kentucky Derby. I highly recommend making note of the the jockeys who have a strong history at Churchill Downs and most importantly this race.

Trainers – Over the years, it has been a smart move to wager on Derby horses that have been trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, Bob Baffert and Carl Nafzger. Todd Pletcher has been one of the best trainers in the industry for a number of years now and we can add his name to the list after Super Saver got him his first Kentucky Derby win in 2010. Doesn’t it makes sense to put your money on a horse that has been trained by a proven winner?

Race Style – Make sure you know what style of race your horse likes to run. While it’s not unheard of a horse to win from start to finish, more times than not you don’t want to waste your money on a pace setter. Instead, you want a horse that can stay within striking distance early and close the gap with a strong finish.

Track Type – Some horses race better on different types of tracks, whether it be turf, dirt or artificial (synthetic). It’s usually a good idea to make sure that the horse you are looking to bet has had some kind of success on a dirt track when it comes to finding a winner at the Kentucky Derby.

Distance – Similar to horses racing better or worse depending on the track, some horses are built for shorter distances, while others are built for long distances.

Post Position – Where a horse starts the race can have a huge impact on their chances of winning. It’s a big reason why I don’t recommend betting on the Derby until the post positions have been announced.

2015 Kentucky Derby Betting Odds

Horse Odds
American Pharoah 9/4
Dortmund 5/1
Carpe Diem 5/1
Mubtaahij 12/1
Materiality 14/1
Firing Line 18/1
Frosted 18/1
International Star 18/1
Upstart 18/1
El Kabeir 33/1
Far Right 33/1
Bolo 40/1
Danzig Moon 40/1
Itsaknockout 40/1
Ocean Knight 40/1
Mr Z 50/1
Ocho Ocho Ocho 50/1
Tencendur 66/1

*Above odds are from Bovada on 4/22. I will update them periodically leading up to the race.