Kentucky Derby Betting

Betting the Derby

Although it’s not the only great part about the Derby and horse racing, wagering and handicapping is certainly where the fun is had while you’re at the track, unless you’re losing money of course.

In this section we will attempt to teach the basics of betting on horse races. If you’ve never gambled at the track before, or if it’s been awhile since you put your last $2 down, this page is for you. Later in the page, we will share some of its Derby betting tips.

Divided into several sections, site is an introductory explanation of how to bet on horse racing. Throughout the explanation there will be definitions of important terms. The text of these definitions, as well as most of the info on this page, are taken from the official Web site of the Daily Racing Form, the bible of horse racing. Feel free to utilize this page as you wish; while reading the page straight through is recommended, you can also pick and choose whichever subject you desire.

The Basics of Horse Race Betting

Important Horse Racing Terms

First, let’s get a definition of the term used for horse race betting, handicapping. Handicapping means evaluating the various factors of a horse’s history, then balancing that information against the same info on horses in the same race. Simply put, it is the technical way of determining which horse will win a given race. Factors to study include pedigree, trainer, jockey, class, track, pace and speed.

A horse’s ancestral line. If a horse’s sire or dam were winners, then chances are that horse could be a winner also.

The person responsible for a horse’s development and race preparation. Not to be confused with the owner, whose claim to the horse is purely financial.

The person who rides the horse during a race. If you didn’t know that already, you may want to avoid handicapping and stick to the mint juleps.

The level or quality of race at which a horse is running. Most well-known races are graded, Grade I being the highest, Grade III the lowest. For instance, if a horse which normally runs in only graded races were to step down in class and run in a non-graded race, that horse would be a sure favorite. If a horse were stepping up in class, that horse might, though not always, be less of a favorite. Movements between class is a great way to distinguish horses in a given race.

The actual place where the race is held. Often times a horse that races well on one track will struggle on another.

How a horse likes to run a race. Some horses like to take the lead early and try to hold it, others like to reserve energy and come from behind. Pace and the distance of a race go hand-in-hand.

How fast a horse usually runs. Speed horses generally take to the lead early and establish pace. Those with stamina hope to outduel speed runners by the end of the race.

The Track

While you might already have a good idea of what a track is, there are some basics to be covered which will probably answer a question or two for novices. First, there are two types of racing surfaces, dirt and turf. All Triple Crown races are raced on the dirt. Second, most tracks are one-mile ovals. For races that are longer than one-mile—the Derby is a mile and a quarter—the starting gate is lined up with the appropriate pole. The poles are placed one-eighth of a mile apart. In racing terms, one eighth of a mile is also a furlong. (A lot of horse races are six furlongs, or 3/4 of a mile, long.) So, the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby is located at the 2/8 (or 1/4) pole, which is 1/4 mile from the finish line; the horses complete one and a quarter ovals. (The numbers attributed to poles refer to their respective distance from the finish line.) The poles themselves are color coded: 1/8 poles are green and white, 1/4 poles are red and white, 1/16 poles are black and white.

Why are the poles important? Because when looking at the racing record of a particular horse, you can tell where and how in previous races the horse was running. If a horse was leading but then tired at the 1/4 pole, it ran out of steam a good quarter-mile from the finish and probably lacks stamina.

Types of Bets to Place at the Kentucky Derby

OK. Now we get to the fun stuff. These are the most familiar types of wagering available at horse tracks:

Win: You win if the horse you bet on wins.
Place: You win if the horse you bet on wins or comes in second.
Show: You win if the horse you bet on wins or comes in second or third.
Across the Board: A bet on a horse to win, place and show. If the horse wins, the player collects three ways; if second, two ways; and if third, one way, losing the win and place bets.

According to these definitions, it would seem to make the most sense to make show bets in order to guarantee a payoff. A show bet may indeed increase the chance of a payoff, but it will also lower your payoff. Let’s look at the following result:
1998 Kentucky Derby Results Win Place Show
2-Real Quiet $18.80 $8.80 $5.80 $2 Exacta 2-12 — $291.80
12-Victory Gallop $13.00 $7.60 $2 Trifecta 2-12-7– $1,221.00
7-Indian Charlie $4.20 $1 Superfecta 2-12-7-3– $3,007.40

Ignore the information regarding the exacta, trifecta and superfacta for the moment. Had you bet $2 to win on Real Quiet, you would have won $18.80 (a profit of $16.80). Had you put $2 to show on Real Quiet your payoff would have been $5.80. However, had you bet $2 to win on Victory Gallop, you would have lost your bet. A $2 bet to place on Victory Gallop would pay you $13.00, but a $2 bet to place on Indian Charlie returns nothing. Had you bet across the board on Real Quiet you would have won $30.40 (18.80 + 8.80 + 5.80). An across the board bet on Indian Charlie would pay you only $4.20, which would mean a net loss of $1.20 because the minimum across the board bet is $6 ($2 each for win, place and show). Got it? One more point. When stepping to the betting window (after making sure you aren’t at the $100 minimum bet window unless you want to be) you need to know three things: first, the amount of your bet (which must be at least $2); second, the type of bet, like win, place or show; and third, the number of the horse on which you are betting. This number can be found in the program offered at the track, usually for a very small fee. The number given a horse does NOT correspond to his post position in the starting gate, so don’t make the mistake of getting them confused. Read the program, and you’ll be fine. If you have a question, ask before handing over your money. Once you place a bet its yours to keep. So, had you been a wise handicapper at the 1998 Derby, you would have gone to a betting window and said, “I’d like to bet $2 to win on the 2 horse.”

Now the other bets. Here are some definitions from the Daily Racing Form:

Exacta (or Perfecta): A wager in which the first two finishers in a race, in exact order of finish, must be picked.
Quinella: Wager in which first two finishers must be picked, but payoff is made no matter which of the two wins and which runs second.
Trifecta (or Triple): A wager picking the first three finishers in exact order.
Superfecta: You are a winner if your selected horses come in first, second, third and fourth in exact order of finish in a race.

We usually stays away from trifecta and superfecta bets simply because they aren’t very simple. On the other hand, exactas and quinellas are a big favorite. Although this can be seen more clearly at the Official Tip Sheet, exacta and quinella bets allow you to choose a group of horses, rather than just one, and place bets on all of them. Say there are three horses in a race you like, but you cannot choose between them. Pick who you think is the best of the three, then match that horse with the other two in an exacta or a quinella (a quinella protects you from picking the top two finishers but losing the bet because one beat the other by a nose.) Exactas are a great way to get started on handicapping, and offer more of a challenge, and a higher payoff, than simple win bets.

Betting at horse tracks is pari-mutuel betting, which means you are betting against other bettors, not house-made odds like at a sports book at a casino. Odds on horses are determined by the amount of money wagered on a particular horse; if no one bets on a horse, his odds will be lower (like 50-1) but there will be a higher payoff—therefore the lure of betting on the longshot.

Comparing the Field in Kentucky Derby

The greatest tool used in handicapping are the entries published in the Daily Racing Form. If you want more information on how to read these forms, head to their site. Instead of explaining those details here, Call To The Derby Post will focus on the ideas upon which the information in the DRF is predicated.

Condition of a Horse

One factor to consider is the condition of a horse. Is the horse running “in form” or “off form”? DRF writer Brad Free sums it up this way: “Determining condition can be a simple matter of evaluating a horse’s recent races. Has the horse been finishing in the top half of the field? If he is a front-runner, has he been showing speed? If he is a late runner, has he been gaining ground on the leaders?” In other words, has a horse performed well as of late? Condition can still be a tricky consideration, however, especially for young horses like the 3-year olds who race in the Triple Crown. More often than not, as a matter of fact, the Derby champion has lost his last race before the Derby. Could it be that horses that win Derby prep races are burnt out by the time they reach Churchill Downs? Or have the races they lost actually been close or to stiff competition? Still, although the condition factor can be a bit murky leading up to Derby Day, it is safe to say that a horse who has not shown any promise in his prep races will not have a “career” day and come from nowhere to win the Derby. If a horse has not been competitive in the prep races, forget about it.

Class of Horse In the Race

Again, a quote from DRF writer Brad Free: “Class is the next point of evaluation – is the horse running at a level where he previously has been competitive? Or, has he recently improved, enough to take his game to a higher level? Class is closely linked to current condition, and sharp horses frequently move up the ladder.” In all honesty, horses running in Triple Crown races are in a class amongst themselves. You can’t go higher in class than the Kentucky Derby. So it is fair to say that Derby contenders have already reached the top of the ladder and that the class principle in terms of handicapping applies more to the average race rather than the top races of the Triple Crown. Still, out of a field of about 20 horses, it is possible to use class as a way of cutting that field in half, or even down to a third, of top contenders. Once you’ve selected an elite group of horses you think are distinct from the rest of the field, you’ve taken the first step of handicapping a race like the Derby. After all, you don’t go from 20 horses entered in a race straight down to one; you’ve got to meddle through the field a bit more wisely than that. It’s a similar idea to condition: if a horse hasn’t been competitive with any of the other Derby horses in the preps, he is not going to magically win the Derby.

Horse Speed

The most popular standard of speed comparisons are the Beyer Speed Figures, which note how fast a horse can run and take into account the “fluctuating speed of a racing strip.” To read more about these figures, head to the Daily Racing Form. In essence, figures earned under similar circumstance as the race which you are handicapping will be the ones to use. What type of history does the horse have in terms of racing? Has he run longer or shorter races, around one turn or two, and how has he performed under varying circumstances? As you might expect, and as briefly alluded to earlier, speed is the brother of pace. Since the Derby is a relatively long race, speed horses generally do not fair well in the Derby. Those with pace and that can last the whole mile-and-a-quarter distance might have an advantage, although even if a horse with lots of stamina must have some speed. If he falls too far behind the speed horses, generally a race’s pace-setter, he may have too far to go to catch up at the end.

Horse Pace

Brad Free introduces an interesting theory about pace, and used two past Kentucky Derbies as examples. His basic theory is that in a race filled with horses with similar styles, horses with the opposite style may hold an advantage. In the 1996 Kentucky Derby there were several speed horses, horses that jumped to the lead early like Honour and Glory, Matty G and Unbridled’s Song. These speed runners burnt each other out, tiring at the stretch and leaving room for late-closers Grindstone, Cavonnier and Prince of Thieves. By contrast, the 1988 Kentucky Derby was filled with closers, those who come off the pace. But while all the closers were waiting to make their move, speed horse Winning Colors took the early lead and held it. Her speed was too much for the closers who were waiting for her to fade. In Mr. Free’s words, the theory to take note of is this: “Generally, the more speed races there are in a race, the greater are a closer’s chance to win. Conversely, fewer front-runners mean those who do have speed may hold an edge.”

Analyzing these four factors together should help you create a a solid picture of how a race will be run, and hopefully, which horses will come in the money.
The Pedigree of the Horse in the Race

As noted in the Call To The Derby Post History of Horse Racing, the training and breeding of thoroughbreds goes back several hundred years. Whether it be for war, long races or short races, horsemen have always been looking to breed the best to the best then hoping for the best, aiming to engineer as close to the perfect horse as possible. It is no surprise, then, that when handicapping a race, pedigree plays a very large factor when determining which horse literally has the blood of a champion. What follows below is a more in-depth look at the fine art of breeding and the importance of understanding pedigree before heading to the betting window.

Bet on the Kentucky Derby

Betting on the Kentucky Derby is taking part of one of racing’s premier events. High profile horse races attract new bettors who are trying to figure out the seemingly endless varieties of bets available to them. Kentucky Derby betting online allows anyone, even first time bettors, to access the tools to research the Kentucky Derby’s horses and jockeys then make a smarter wager without ever having to travel to Churchill Downs.

Horse betting is legal in the United States

Within the United States, it is legal to bet on horses. This means that all betting racebooks that Americans access are usually licensed for American use only. If you live outside of the U.S., do not worry. There are worldwide racing books that will allow you to place an exotic horse wagers without being a United States resident.

Onshore websites typically offer parimutuel betting. This means that there is no “house” or bookmaker. Instead, all of the money that is bet throughout one pool will stay in one pool. Offshore websites offer track odds for most types of bets (Win, Place, Show) but limit the amount of payouts for exotic bets (Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta) to a certain cap which vary from one company to another.

Kentucky Derby Types

The Kentucky Derby is definitely one of the biggest events world-wide year after year, making it also one of the biggest if not the biggest event to bet on; hence why so many people bet on the Kentucky Derby, and hence why there are so many different betting types for the Derby as well, such as:
Kentucky Derby Wagering Offline

For those that are lucky enough to go to the Kentucky Derby, there are several options for wagering. Certainly, you can stand in line for the betting clerks or using the high tech self-service wagering options throughout Churchill Downs. This would be parimutuel betting on the Kentucky Derby.

Bet on the Derby Online

If you can’t go to Churchill Downs in person, remember that betting on the Kentucky Derby is entirely legal online for American citizens.
Our top choice for betting on the derby is US Racing .

Mobile betting on horse races

Most racebook websites will offer mobile betting. This is usually around the login area of the homepage. In some cases, a website will have a separate app for the iPhone that is found in the Apple Store. Otherwise, use you smartphone to browse the website as usual.

Making a deposit for your Derby bet

When you are ready to start using a web site to place a Kentucky Derby bet, entering your password and username is easy enough. Then, it is a matter of deciding whether to use your credit card, Western Union, Moneygram or a bank wire. If you are trying to place a bet the day of the derby, you will most likely choose to use your credit card because it is instantaneous.

Remember, if there is a conflict between the address you list in the login and the credit card address you use for billing, the processor may deny the transaction.  This is for the protection of the website and the custom.  Reputable firms must “know their customer.” Try to set up your first betting account in advance.

Once you log onto your first wagering account, you will soon see that there several betting terms that you may not be familiar with. In general, a new gambler should stick with the straight wagers such as placing a bet on a single horse in the win, place, and show categories.

For those gamblers looking for Kentucky Derby betting that is more advanced, the exotic horse wagers are definitely unique territory. Examples of exotic wagers include the exacta, quinella, trifecta, and superfecta bets.

Have fun and good luck on derby day!  Don’t forget to make your own mint juleps and enjoy the most exciting two minutes in sport!