Kentucky Derby Betting Guide

How to bet on the Kentucky Derby including odds, predictions and best racing sites

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most well-established and popular horse races in the US. If there was any race that best exemplified the stakes and excitement of betting, then this race is absolutely it. The Derby is held annually on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

Since the creation of the Triple Crown a hundred years ago, the Kentucky Derby is the first of the three major horse races. The Preakness Stakes is second, and the Belmont Stakes is last.

It’s safe to say, of all three races the Kentucky Derby takes top billing. However, horses and jockeys need to be made of stern stuff even to make it to the starting gate. The purse size for the Derby is a cool $2 million, with the vast majority going to the winner.

Best betting sites for the Kentucky Derby

Betting on horse racing has traditionally been an in-person activity.

You know the deal: You walk up to a counter, hand over your betting slip and, hopefully, come back and collect your winnings soon after.

Fortunately, the internet has made it so that you don’t have to trek hundreds of miles to place your bets anymore. Plenty of great horse racing websites will allow you to watch the biggest races and cast your bets remotely.

Also, they will provide the information you need to win big. The following contains how you can watch the races and place your wagers.

The Kentucky Derby is not the only race you can do this. In fact, hundreds of tracks from around the world can be spectated and bet upon throughout the year. These sites are subsequently designed so that even novice and first-time bettors can easily get involved in the excitement.

Sign up, collect any bonuses along the way and you’re good to go.

It is essential to check the gambling laws in your state before you place bets. Not all states allow people to place online bets on horse races, or to gamble at off-track facilities (OTB).

But, once you know that, you can dive right in and start playing the ponies.

Road to the Kentucky Derby

Before post positions are drawn and mint juleps are poured, how do the horses get their chance to Run for the Roses? In order to qualify for the KY Derby, each horse must participate in what is known as “The Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby contenders earn points in qualifying prep races, which begin in September and run through April. There are a total of 45 races that take place around the world. Horses receive points based upon the position in which they finish, with points awarded to the top four finishers. The 20 horses with the most points go on to compete at Churchill Downs.

The Kentucky Derby Championship Series is a series of 16 races that award either 50-20-10-5 or 100-40-20-10 points to the top four finishers. These are the races that we refer to as “win and you’re in” as 100 points are generally enough to qualify for the Derby. In the past ten years, almost all of the Kentucky Derby champions placed in at least one Championship Series Race.

In addition, there are a handful of races in Japan and Europe that will also qualify runners for the Derby. Keep an eye on our weekly Derby Dozen to see how the competition is going from week to week.

The top 20 horses at the end of the races are subsequently awarded a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

How to bet on the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is certainly a big-time horse race. So, it’s only right that you have a few ways to get in on the betting action.

Online betting

Gambling laws vary from one state to the next, but betting on horse races is legal in the vast majority of the US.

Meanwhile, it’s totally legal across Canada and the United Kingdom. This aspect is primarily true of online gambling as well, which is typically subject to similar scrutiny.

Online gambling seems like a brand-new activity. Nevertheless, it is merely a different method of doing what has been done for thousands of years. Moving with the times, betting on horse racing has galloped online and never looked back.

Thank your lucky stars.

After all, the best online betting sites out there mean you no longer have to travel to the racetrack to place bets. It can be done right in the comfort of your home, all with real money.

There are thousands of sites to choose from, too. Therefore, make sure to be discerning when deciding where to gamble your hard-earned money. Furthermore, the odds change as fast as the jockeys, so keep your eyes peeled.

Betting at the teller

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going to the track to place your bets.

Sure, you can still feel the excitement of gambling your money at home, but it doesn’t give you the thrill of watching the action unfold — even if it’s a hassle to get there.

If you haven’t spoken to a teller before, then here’s what you need to do to place your bet competently.

Describe your bet to the teller in this order:

  1. The racetrack.
  2. The race number (If you are placing a bet on a different track than the one you are currently visiting.)
  3. The amount you are betting.
  4. What specific kind of wager you are placing.
  5. The program number of the horse you’re betting on.

One example of this would be, “Kentucky Derby, Race One, $30 to win on No. 3.”

After this, you’ll receive a ticket. Be sure to hold on to this ticket because if you win, you’ll need to claim your prize in-person.

Off track betting

Off-track betting (OTB) is an option if you aren’t able to make it to the location, but want to place bets in a physical faction and feel the thrill of being surrounded by fellow punters.

Off-track locations are functionally the same as on-track locations and provide the same risk, reward and rush.

A typical example of OTBs is within a casino, the likes of which you’ll find on the Las Vegas Strip.

The same setup applies, too: Stroll up to the teller, tell them your bet and then wait for the result of the race.

There’s always excitement to be had and fortunes to be made, regardless of whether you decide to bet from the comfort of your home or at a major horse racing field.

Read on to discover all the information you need to place your bets and win big.

Is it legal to bet on the Kentucky Derby?

Of course. Betting on horse races is entirely legal in the US, in a similar fashion to how it’s legal in Canada and the UK.

The Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 was passed under president Jimmy Carter. So, this means that at the federal level, horse betting isn’t illegal.

Revisions to the law in 2006 were designed so that the horse betting industry was left alone.

The states are allowed to decide if they want to offer horse betting or not. Currently, 41 states allow people to bet on horse races in some way, with different levels of leeway and access.

In the meantime, more states are relaxing rules related to horse racing betting.

Types of bets you can place on the Kentucky Derby

The most popular option for gamblers is to wager on the “holy trifecta” of horse racing: win, place and show.

Some enjoy shaking things up and placing bets on more unusual pools.

Popular choices include exacta (first two placings), trifecta (first three placings), superfecta (first four placings) and super high five (first five placings).

The odds of winning these pools are much lower. However, this also means that the potential wins from these pools are significantly higher than for traditional wagers — more risk, more reward, as the old saying goes.

The following list contains more details on the type of wagers you can make when slapping down a bet on the Derby:

  • Win: Place a wager on the horse you think is going to finish first in the race.
  • Place: You place a wager on a horse, and win its place price if it finished first or second.
  • Show: Bet upon the horse that you think will finish third place or better (fourth or even fifth or better if you can find the right bookie). This wager carries the lowest level of risk, which means that your winnings will be smaller.
  • Exacta: Determine the first two placing horses in the correct order.
  • Trifecta: Determine the first three placing horses in the correct order.
  • Superfecta: Determine the first four placing horses in the correct order.
  • Super High Five: Determine the first five placing horses in the correct order. This bet carries the highest possible win ratio, as well as the lowest chance of winning.

An example bet

Here is an example of how these wagers will pay out.

Back in 2017, the horse Always Dreaming was the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. He had 9:2 odds to win and paid $11.40 on a $2 wager.

If a 33:1 longshot horse were to finish second, a $2 exacta payoff would net a return of $336.

A 40:1 longshot finishing third would yield a trifecta payoff of $16,594.

A superfecta payout would jump even higher to a dizzying amount of $151,949. As you can see, increasing the number of horses you bet on exponentially multiplies the chances of racking up a massive payday.

The majority of websites and racetracks will accept wagers of under $2 on exotic pools, due to their low odds of winning.

A typical example is being able to place a $1 exacta bet, or even a 50-cent trifecta bet. This bet is useful for gamblers who want to minimize their risk or don’t have a lot of money to spend.

And, as you can see, even small bets placed on these pools can yield colossal returns. In other words, you don’t need to bet big to walk away with stacks of cash.

There are several important factors to consider when it comes to betting on horse races. These include the race, field, what type of bet to make, your budget and most importantly, your appetite for risk.

Past winners of the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is a horse race steeped in glamour and tradition.

If you asked Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. what would become of his first horse races, he would not believe that the Kentucky Derby would grow to become a national phenomenon.

Ever since its establishment in 1875, the racetrack known as Churchill Downs has become the go-to for the nation’s most exciting horse race.

The Kentucky Derby is known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports” to aficionados around the world.

A vital part of the Derby’s persistent success is its remarkable consistency over the years. The Kentucky Derby has never failed to hold a race each year, even during the Great Depression and World Wars I and II. Although it was run in September 2020, instead of May, not even a global pandemic could stop the Run for the Roses.

For a long time, the Derby was its self-contained race. But in the 1920s, it was merged as part of a larger group.

It joined the Preakness and Belmont Stakes races to produce what is known as the Triple Crown, the most prestigious award for any 3-year-old racehorse to win.

More than 140 horses have won the Kentucky Derby since its inception.

Meanwhile, many more people have gotten rich betting on them. How many winners can you name?

How the Kentucky Derby runs

The Kentucky Derby is presented by Woodford Reserve, which is a regional maker of bourbon whiskey. Like other major races, a big-name sponsor is a must.

The Kentucky Derby is a Grade 1 race exclusively for 3-year-old thoroughbred horses. The track is exactly 1.25 miles long, and the race is run at the Churchill Downs Racetrack located in Louisville, KY.

Colts and geldings are limited to carrying 126 pounds of weight, and fillies are limited to 121 pounds. This is done to ensure that the conditions that the horses race under are relatively consistent.

Twenty horses compete on the track at any given time. That’s considerably higher than the eight that race on a typical horse track.

How to watch the Kentucky Derby on TV or via live stream

The next Kentucky Derby will be May 7, 2022, with more than 20 million people expected to watch from around the world. Additional races, such as the Kentucky Oaks, will also be broadcast online.

NBC Sports is typically the best channel to view these events on, due to the comprehensive level of coverage it offers to American audiences.

The NBC Sports Live app is also a good option if you are viewing the races on a mobile device. Fortunately, you don’t have to miss the Kentucky Derby even if you’re on the go.

Hardcore fans (or anyone that wants to get the edge on rival punters) might also be interested in viewing the Kentucky Derby Contender workouts for the qualifying thoroughbreds.

This is broadcast daily in the months preceding the Derby. You can watch these broadcasts through the official Kentucky Derby Twitter and Facebook accounts or rebroadcasts. You can’t bet on these, but you can get a good feel for which horses will win come race time.

History of the Kentucky Derby

Horse racing has been a part of the American consciousness since shortly after the Revolutionary era.

In the late 1700s, horse racetracks were constructed around Louisville, which was a small town of only 200 people. These tracks did not host the professional races we know today, and primarily catered to local audiences.

It wasn’t until the 1870s that the racing organizations of today would be formed.

Humble origins in the 1870s

In 1872, Lewis Clark traveled to England to witness the Epsom Derby, a famous horse race that had been held yearly since the year 1780.

After being impressed with what he saw, he traveled to Paris. Here, seven years earlier, the French Jockey Club had organized the first Grand Prix de Paris, which would later develop into the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. From this point on, it’s clear that Clark was inspired to create his own horse race in a similar vein.

Lewis Clark realized that the US, despite an already-established history of horse racing, had no such organization. He remedied that by founding the Louisville Jockey Club. The organization was then tasked with upgrading the humble racing fields that had been outside Louisville for nearly a century.

His most significant acquisition was the plot of land that would later become Churchill Downs. The racetrack was named in honor of his relatives, John and Henry Churchill. The track would not receive its modern name until 1937.

The first Kentucky Derby in 1875

The original length of the Kentucky Derby was 1.5 miles, which was the same distance as the Grand Prix de Paris and Epsom Derby. The race was later shortened to 1.25 miles in 1896, where it has stayed ever since.

The first Kentucky Derby was held on May 17, 1875, in front of a boisterous crowd of more than 10,000 people.

Fifteen horses participated in the race, with the winner being Ansel Williamson. His jockey was the now-famous Oliver Lewis. His impressive performance would continue at the Belmont Stakes, where he placed second.

The Kentucky Derby was an immediate hit with people from all over the East Coast. However, the track was not well-maintained in its early years, owing to a lack of funds.

In 1894, the New Louisville Jockey Club was then founded to bring in much-needed revenue for renovation and expansion. The organization met with little success until 1902, when Colonel Matt Winn organized several local business people to acquire Churchill Downs. This acquisition proved to be the breath of life it needed.

The Kentucky Derby then re-emerged stronger and more popular than ever before.

Kentucky Derby traditions

The traditions surrounding the Kentucky Derby are almost as well-known as the race itself.

The mint julep is the world-famous drink that is traditionally served at the track. The mint julep traditionally consists of a mint leaf, Kentucky bourbon, shaved ice and sweetened syrup.

Additionally, the Kentucky Derby is where you can find people in fancy dresses, umbrellas and clothing befitting a fine 19th-century, upper-class dandy.

The race is also known as the “Run for the Roses.”

This tradition dates back to 1883 when the wealthy New York City socialite E. Berry Wall presented some of the women attending the event with roses.

Lewis Clark was attending the event at the time, and it inspired him to make the rose the event’s official flower. By 1896, giving the winner of the races a wreath of flowers became established as one of the Kentucky Derby’s many famous traditions.

Part of the Triple Crown

The Kentucky Derby is the best-known as one of the three Triple Crown races.

But for jockeys competing at the Derby, it’s the first of three races they must run. A few weeks after the Kentucky Derby ends, the Preakness Stakes takes place at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

This race is followed by the Belmont Stakes, which takes place in Elmont, NY. These three races feature a combined purse, as well as a special award that goes to the winner of all three races: the legendary Triple Crown.

The first horse to win all three races was Sir Barton in 1919. However, winning all three races wasn’t known as the Triple Crown until 1930.

The winner that year was Gallant Fox, and his jockey Charles Hatton made the term known to the general public. The public went wild with the idea that a horse could place first in every race.

To better facilitate the new Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby was subsequently moved to the first Saturday in May from its original timeslot of mid-May. This shift also meant that gamblers didn’t have to wait as long to place their bets.

In 1952, the Kentucky Derby was aired on TV for the first time, bringing the race to a broader audience than ever before.

Fast-forward to present day, and the Kentucky Derby is one of the can’t-miss sporting events of the year.

Kentucky Derby FAQ

The Kentucky Derby is usually the first Saturday in May. In 2022, it is taking place on May 7.

Per tradition, a total of 20 horses will compete in the race. 

The qualifiers are known as “the road to the Kentucky Derby,” the results of which are available on the Kentucky Derby’s official Facebook and Twitter channels. These are well worth tracking in the run-up to the event to see who will make the final cut.

For more than a decade, the total purse size was $2 million.

In 2019, this was raised to $3 million, adding more weight to the already lofty figure. It has since dropped back to a cool $2 million for 2022.

The majority of the prize money, $1.86 million, will go to the winning team. Meanwhile, the remaining $1.14 million will be split among those finishing between second and fifth place.

The Kentucky Derby is a Grade 1 states flat race, held at the Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, KY. All of the horses that participate are 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

The post-time for the Kentucky Derby is 6:50 p.m. EST.

Three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby since its inception. 

No filly has ever managed to win the Triple Crown. Given the world of horse racing, though, it could happen sooner rather than later.

Tickets for the Kentucky Derby are sold on a scale, so the early birds can pay $75 per a ticket. The price goes up to $80 if you purchase during the second stage of the sale and $85 on the day of the races. 

In terms of value for money, you’ll find that the Kentucky Derby provides plenty of bang for your buck — especially for a sub-$100 event.

You might be sitting in your seat for hours prior to the race.

The actual race itself, however, takes place over a 1.25-mile track, with the “the most exciting two minutes in sports” over in — yes, you guessed it — about two minutes.

To this day, Secretariat’s time of 1:59.40 seconds remains the fastest on record, set in 1973

Few other horses have ever managed a sub-2-minute time. Monarchos came the closest in 2001 with a time of 1:59.97, but even all these years later, the record of this legendary horse from 1973 remains intact. Secretariat went on to win the Triple Crown that year and was also named Horse of the Year. Not bad for a 3-year old stallion. 

He lived out the rest of his life in retirement until his death in 1989 with his place firmly stamped in the history books.

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