Once you get beyond the impressive hats and mint juleps, you get to the heart of the Kentucky Derby. People often congregate at the event and treat it as a social affair. However, it’s more about horse racing, and that means betting.

Whether it’s your first time or fiftieth time at the Derby, you might appreciate some tips. Read on to learn everything you need to know about Kentucky Derby betting.

Table of contents

Use the links bellow to jump to each section

What Is Horse Racing?

Horse racing is a competitive sport that pits at least two horses against each other. Most modern races consist of a field of competitors in various events. 

Thoroughbred horse races involve a jockey astride the horse and may or may not include jumps or obstacles. Standardbreds usually feature a horse pulling a mechanism with a driver, like a cart.

A Brief History of Horse Racing

Would it surprise you to learn that the earliest official horse races took place in Ancient Greece? Though people likely raced horses much earlier, the Greeks featured chariot races in their Olympic Games. The chariot races involved horses pulling two-wheeled carts. 

Competitive horse races spread through most civilizations and eventually reached Europe during the Crusades. Professional riders raced the horses to demonstrate speed and agility, knights competed on horseback, and the practice of studding became a royal hobby.

Organized races became commonplace during the 1600s and 1700s. It primarily served as entertainment for the royal and noble houses. Different race types rose and fell in popularity as interests changed.

Modern horse racing traces back to the late 1700s when the English developed a series of three horse races. Not to be outdone, the United States created the American Triple Crown with the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness Stakes, and the Kentucky Derby.

Horse Races and Gambling

The earliest horse races typically occurred for competition or to demonstrate an animal’s abilities to determine the trade price. It’s not easy to figure out when gambling entered the equation, but horse racing betting is common practice today.

The United States classifies horse racing as sports betting and mentioned it in a recent Supreme Court decision. The May 2018 verdict allowed individual states to legalize betting on various sporting events, including the Kentucky Derby.

What to Know About Kentucky Derby Betting

If you value your money, it helps to learn how to bet before you head to Churchill Downs. Having an idea about what to expect could make things easier and give you a chance to walk away with something. 

Know the Terminology

Experienced betters can skip over this part and move on to the juicy stuff. Inexperienced gamblers or those new to the Derby should pay close attention.

  • Show wagers have small payouts but easy win rates. As long as your horse finishes in the top three, you win.
  • Place wagers mean you win if your horse takes first or second.
  • Win wagers mean your horse has to take first, but you see a bigger payout.
  • Exacta means picking the horses that place first and second in the exact order.
  • Trifecta is picking the horses that finish first, second, and third in the correct order. 
  • Superfecta is a solid payout, but you have to pick the top four horses in exact order. 

The Kentucky Derby also has Exacta Boxes, Trifecta Boxes, and Superfecta Boxes. While you have to get the placement correct for an Exacta, Trifecta, or Superfecta, the Boxes only require you to select the top two, three, or four places in no particular order.

Play the Odds

Speaking of odds, it’s a fundamental part of horse racing betting that determines how much money you get from a win. 

The odds for win wagers are the easiest to calculate. For example, the favorite in a race might be 4-to-1 odds, so you would get $4 for every $1 you bet if the horse wins.

Conversely, a long-shot horse might have 80-1 odds as Rich Strike did in 2022. When the surprise winner took first place, bettors received a nice payoff to the tune of $80 for every $1 they bet.

Don’t get too excited about dropping a load on the longshots, though. Even though the payout is nice, the chances of winning are low. Most people stick with the favorites because they win the Kentucky Derby one-third of the time.

Tips for Selecting Your Kentucky Derby Bets

There are many options for placing bets at the Kentucky Derby, but it’s best to keep things simple if you want to win. Since most people don’t place bets to lose, these tips and statistics might help you make the right decisions.

Easiest Way to Win

The easiest way to win is placing a show or place wager on the favorite because they win about one-third of the time and take second over 50% of the time. 

Make Multiple Smaller Bets

Spread the wealth by choosing a variety of horses and placing smaller wagers on each. You stand a better chance of winning, even if the payouts are smaller.

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale best demonstrates this approach. He’s well-known in gambling circles where he bets on most major sporting events. 

Mattress Mack bet $1.5 million on Epicenter to win the 2022 Derby. He lost that one but still managed to pull in $12 million on his lesser bets. 

Consider Unusual Wagers

The Kentucky Derby bets feature some unusual options, like Daily Doubles and multiple-pick bets. These wagers require you to pick consecutive races. 

A Daily Double requires you to correctly choose the winner in two consecutive races. The Derby also offers a Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, and Pick 6 wager where you choose that many consecutive winners. 

These wagers have incredible payouts for low bets. However, they have terrible odds, so winning is rare.

Can You Place Kentucky Derby Bets Online?

Yes, most people in the United States can bet online. Residents of 30 states can place online bets on the Kentucky Derby. 

If you don’t live in one of those 30 states, you might consider offshore betting as an alternative. Derby fans hoping to use offshore betting can expect to work with countries that regulate gambling, making them subject to rules in those jurisdictions.

Benefits to Offshore Betting for the Kentucky Derby

Offshore betting offers a solution for those fans who can’t place online bets in their respective states. However, there are some notable benefits for everyone. 

  • It is usually less expensive than other avenues.
  • You get a wider range of betting options. 
  • Expect better odds and payouts with offshore betting since it is not subject to the same taxes and fees.

You may also want to keep an eye out for sites that offer a welcome bonus when you get started.

How to Choose an Offshore Gambling Site for the Kentucky Derby

The United States permits citizens to engage in offshore gambling as long as the site meets three requirements:

  • The gambling site must be located outside the U.S.
  • A government jurisdiction must license and regulate the site.
  • The site must accept U.S. customers.

To protect yourself, look for a reputable offshore gambling site that holds a valid gaming license. It helps to check reliable sites for customer reviews. Look for red flags, like unpaid accounts and poor customer service complaints.

Finally, you want to consider the platform to make sure it’s user-friendly with competitive odds.

Fun Facts About Kentucky Derby Betting 

Most people think of big, colorful hats, mint juleps, celebrities, and a garland of roses when you mention the Kentucky Derby. Fans of the event might go a little deeper, but the betters, jockeys, and owners can tell some unique tales about Kentucky Derby Bets.

How Much Is the Kentucky Derby Bet?

The Kentucky Derby is a highly-bet race each year, but the race set new records in 2022 at $179 million. That’s 17% more than the total bet in 2021 and 8% more than the previous record set in 2019.

Plus, that only reflects in-person betting at Churchill Downs. One can only imagine what the figures would be with online and offshore betting!

Interestingly, of that $179 million, only $501,135 (less than 0.003%) was bet on Rich Strike, the horse who ultimately won despite long odds of 80-1.

What Was the Biggest Bet at the Kentucky Derby?

In 2021, James McIngvale, also known as “Mattress Mack,” placed a $2.4 million bet on Essential Quality to win the Kentucky Derby. He lost that $2.4 million when Essential Quality placed fourth in the race. This also happens to be the biggest single bet placed on a horse.

Who Was the Longest Shot to Ever Win the Kentucky Derby?

Though Rich Strike made a statement at the 2022 Derby, there was a longer shot in 1913. l Donerail won with 91-1 odds that netted a bettor $184.90 on a $2 bet.

What Happens In Case of Disqualification?

Once the race results become official, those bets will be paid, even if the horse is later disqualified. If the horse you choose wins the race but is subsequently disqualified, you still get to keep your winnings. 

Interesting Kentucky Derby Betting Statistics

  • The first horse across the finish line is the favorite 35% of the time
  • 80-1 Rich Strike won the 2022 Kentucky Derby
  • “Mattress Mack,” placed a $2.4 million bet in 2021 on Essential Quality
  • In 2022, it set new records for the amount wagered at $179 million
  • $501,135 (less than 0.003%) was bet on Rich Strike
  • In 2022 was 17% more than was bet in 2021 and 8% more than the previous record set in 2019

Access my free content and join exclusive, private email circle for strategic advice, personal stories, and expert tips.

No spam. Betting value only.