Bet On The Kentucky Derby

by Alan Karre Jr

Everything You Need to Know About Wagering on the Kentucky Derby

There is no more famous horse race in America to bet on than the Kentucky Derby, and as one might expect, it has the most wagering options of any race in America as well. There are sucker bets and wise guy bets, and we can help you navigate through the maze of options and cash a ticket on the first Saturday in May.

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Kentucky Derby Futures Wagering

Many people may be unaware, but you do not have to wait until May to wager on the Derby. Wagering starts as early as February, almost three months before the race. There are three Kentucky Derby Future Wagering pools offered annually and the pool consists of 24 wagering interests. There will be 23 individual horses listed with odds determined by the official Churchill Downs handicapper. One betting interest includes the mutual pool or all other 3-year old colts and fillies that are not listed by name. The odds typically will range from 7-1 or so on the front runner favorite to 99-1. The mutual field, especially in the first of three pools that are offered is almost always the lowest odds to be found at 2-1, or even lower.

The three pools take place over the space of two days each, with pool 1 taking place in February and pool 2 and 3 take place in early in March and April. In the early stages of the futures wagering, expect the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile the previous November to be a favorite, but keep in mind that only Street Sense in 2007 has won both the Juvenile and the Derby, so there is little betting value for the horse player.

Straight and Very Exotic Wagering Options for the Kentucky Derby

The real wagering opens the day before the Derby, at Churchill Downs and off-track betting sites around the world as straight and exotic wagering starts on the day before the Derby. If you’re a fan of the fillies, the Kentucky Oaks is run on this day and you can wager a Oaks-Derby daily double. To win a daily double, the horses you select must win both races. You can choose as few as two horses or as many as you can afford, but the minimum wager is $2.

The Kentucky Derby annually has the largest straight pools of any race of the year. Straight wagering includes the win, place, and show bets. In a win bet, the minimum bet is $2, with the maximum decided by how deep your pockets are. Your horse does have to win the race for you to cash this ticket after the race. In place wagering, your pick must finish either 1st or 2nd for you to cash the ticket and the minimum wager is also $2. In show wagering, your horse must finish in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd to collect, and it is also a $2 minimum wager. Many people like to do what is referred to as an across the board wager. This is betting on one horse to win, place, and show, and the minimum wager is $2 for a grand total of $6.

Exotic Wagering Options at the Kentucky Derby

Exotic wagering at the Kentucky Derby includes all of the straight and exotic wagering you’ll find at most tracks, with several extra options. Exotic options hold the lure of high payouts, some of which have reached 5 figures or more in the past 10 years. The drawback of course is the difficulty of hitting these challenging wagers.

The most basic exotic wagers are the Pick bets, Pick 3, 4, and Pick 6’s are all available on Derby day. These wagers require the bettor to select the winning horse in each race. Also, if there was no winner on the previous day’s race card, the Pick 6 has a large amount of money that is carried over to the Derby day pot. Churchill Downs does not offer smaller bets such as 50 cent Pick 3’s or Pick 6’s like many tracks who like to give bettors an incentive to boost the pools, the minimum on all pick bets is $2.

But let’s be realistic, the odds of picking 6 straight winners is about good as the odds of you being hit by lightening. To be in the running, you need at least two picks in every race and that makes the bet exponentially more expensive. Many people join in pools in which they all contribute $20 or something similar in an attempt to hit the Pick 6. And the lure? A life-changing payout. In 2010 for example, when Super Saver, a lukewarm favorite won the race he completed a Pick 6 that was worth almost $53,000 on a $2 base bet.

More on the Exotics

One of this author’s favorite wagers is the exacta. In an exacta, you must pick the first two finishers of a race. And one of the best ways to make this wager to increase your odds of winning is to do what is called a box. The box merely covers you in both possible scenarios for your ticket. If you have the 6 and 7 horses and ask for a $2 exacta box, your total charge for the wager will be $4 since you have in effect made two wagers. And if the race finishes 6-7 or 7-6, you win. If you add a third horse to increase your odds of winning the total charge would $12, to cover all 6 possibilities, so in effect you have made 6 wagers. Exactas can pay off handily, especially in the Kentucky Derby with some payouts exceeding four figures in the past few years.

Another popular exotic wager is the trifecta. In a trifecta, you must pick the first three finishers in a race. Like the exacta, one of the best ways to give yourself a realistic chance to win is to box the wager. If you have three horses you feel strongly about, and go to the window to make a bet, the total charge for a $2 trifecta box would be $12, as you are making a total of 6 bets. The lure of this bet? In 2010, the payout for a $2 trifecta was over $2300.

The next two wagering options are even tougher, but hitting them can be life changing and up your income tax bracket considerably. The superfecta involves hitting the first 4 finishers of a race, and again, to have a realistic chance to win you need to box this wager or do what is called a wheel. You should use a wheel bet when you are fairly sure about the top two finishers, but are unsure about the 3rd and 4th finishers. With a base $2 wheel on a superfecta, you are betting 1-2 on top of the 3-4, so if the race finished 1-2-3-4, or 2-1-3-4, or 1-2-4-3, or 2-1-4-3 you win, so in effect you have made four wagers, and the cost for the wager is $8. In effect, a wheel is a way for a person with smaller bankroll to make a play on the exotics, since boxing that same bet would cost $24. But beware, it has been the experience of this gambler that going that route can be costly. There is no sicker feeling in the world than having a wheel superfecta ticket with all 4 winning numbers on it in the wrong order, when boxing those same horses would have made you a winner.

One of the newest entries on the wagering menu is the High Five, which involves picking the first 5 finishers of a race, and the same principles that apply to the other exotic wagers apply here. And while it may seem a daunting prospect to pick the first five finishers of any race, the lure is cash. The payout of the High Five is frequently in the six figure range.

Derby Day Betting Strategies

This author is not a big fan of the Futures wagers, but in the first pool, playing the mutual field is really your very best bet. On Derby day, it is best to spread your bankroll across a number of bets as you make a number of exacta, trifecta, and a one or two superfecta bets without breaking the bank while still giving yourself a good chance to cash a good winning ticket.

Do not be afraid to pick a few long-shots, but in general, horses that ran a poor last out Derby prep tend to run poorly in the Derby. Look for horses that seemed full of run at the end of a prep such as the Arkansas Derby or the Santa Anita Derby and you may very well find yourself a bargain play.

Good luck and happy wagering on Derby day!!