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It’s time to get out those fancy hats, as we are quickly approaching the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby.

It’s the biggest horse racing event of the year and arguably the quickest. There’s a reason it’s referred to as the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.”

All you have to do is look at the yearly betting totals to see just how big a race this is. Whether it’s experts or amateurs, everyone wants a piece of the action.

I’ve put together my own personal betting guide for the Kentucky Derby below.

Kentucky Derby Betting 101: Understanding Where & How to Bet the Race

2021 Race Information

Date: Saturday, May 7
Time: 6:57 pm EST
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Track: Churchill Downs
Surface: Dirt
Distance: 1 1/4 Mile Track
Horses: 3-Year-Old Thoroughbreds

List of the Different Types of Bets You Can Make: Straight & Exotic Wagers

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.  These are much easier to understand and more likely to hit.

Exotic bets provide bigger payouts, but require a better understanding of the field.

The minimum bet for most wagers is $2, though it’s lowered to $1 on a Box Trifecta and Box Superfecta.

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 the 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 placing a separate wager on each combination of the horses. Let’s take a look at an example of a “Box Trifecta” to get a better idea.

You select three horses that you think will finish in the top three. There are six different combinations that you could make for a straight trifecta. As long as those three horses come in 1st, 2nd or 3rd, you win your bet.

Understanding How Horse Racing Odds Work

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.

Odds are calculated based on the amount 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.

What this means is that you won’t know the exact odds of your wager until right before race time. The final odds aren’t set until the betting window closes at post time.

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.

I also want to point out that the “Morning Line Odds” are not released until Wednesday before the race. The Morning Line Odds are the official odds set by oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. Most of the odds you see prior to this point are from online sportsbooks. Here’s a link to the current Derby betting odds.

How & Where to Place a Bet on the Kentucky Derby

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

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 well in advance. Just keep in mind that the odds you get can change quite a bit by the time the race actually starts.

Plan on 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 the horses included in your wager

*Note: I recommend making sure your ticket is correct before leaving the window. You are also going to want to store the ticket in a safe place (nothing worse than losing a winning ticket). 

Wondering how to cash a winning ticket? Simply return that ticket to the betting window where you purchased it. I’ll post the betting results and payouts after the race is finished.

Handicapper Guide to Making Smart Bets on Horses at the Derby

Expert Tips

#1 – Know What You Are Betting Before You Head to the Window

Everyone likes to wait until the last minute to place their wager. Don’t be the one that holds up the line. You also don’t want to run the risk of forgetting to place a bet.

Have everything you want to bet down on a piece of paper before heading to the window. You can also avoid the long lines by getting your bet in early.

#2 – Don’t Trust Media Hype

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

#3 – 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. You want the majority of your action on a straight wager.

#4 – Do Your Homework

Don’t expect to do five minutes of research and cash a winning ticket. Not saying you won’t get lucky, but the more you prepare the better chance you have of winning. There’s a lot of info out there to help you make a educated prediction.

#5 – 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, so they deserve our attentionIf your research strongly backs the favorite, go with it. 

Different Factors to Consider

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

Past Performance – This is extremely important. You can really learn a lot about a horse by studying their previous races. Be sure to pay extra attention how a horse has done in Derby prep races.

At the same time, don’t just look and see if they won or not. Take a look at the field they were competing against. If they didn’t win, try and see if there was a specific factor that prevented them from doing so.

Jockeys – 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 this. Make sure you know who the top jockeys are for this year’s race. 

Trainers – It has been a smart move to wager on Derby horses that have been trained by one of the best. Some of the top trainers are D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, Bob Baffert, Todd Fletcher and Carl Nafzger. 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. Rarely do we see a horse lead the race from start to finish. More times than not you don’t want to waste your money on a pace setter. 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). For the Derby you want a horse that  has had some kind of success on a dirt track.

Distance – You want to make sure that you are betting on a horse that can handle the length of the race. Some horses are better suited for longer distances. Others are better off on a shorter track.

Post Position – Where a horse starts the race can have a huge impact on their chances of winning. Especially with a big field like we typically see at Churchill Downs.

Vegas Betting Odds for the 2022 Kentucky Derby

1Mo Donegal10-1
2Happy Jack30-1
4Summer Is Tomorrow30-1
5Smile Happy20-1
7Crown Pride20-1
8Charge It20-1
9Tiz the Bomb30-1
11Pioneer of Medina30-1
14Barber Road30-1
15White Abarrio10-1
17Classic Causeway30-1
18Tawny Port30-1
20Ethereal Road30-1
21Rich Strike30-1
22Rattle N Roll30-1