2024 Kentucky Derby – Betting Guide

Chris Adams

Written by: Chris Adams

Last Updated:

Read Time: 11 minutes

Horses break from the gate in the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is known as the fastest two minutes in sports.
Along with thrilling fans on the first Saturday in May, the race serves as the most prestigious race for young horses.

The following is a comprehensive guide to watching and wagering on the Kentucky Derby.

Why the Derby Showcases Racing’s Brightest Young Stars ?

The Kentucky Derby, and its sister race The Kentucky Oaks, are limited to three-year-old horses. Horses can begin their racing career at age two, so the race includes horses that are still very early in their racing career.

Making the Kentucky Derby

Ahead of the Derby each year there is a series of races run around the country known as the Road to the Kentucky Derby. During this series horses run for qualifying points. When the prep season has come to an end, the top 20 horses are given preference into the big race.

Even if a horse doesn’t have enough points initially, they can still get into the race if other horses need to withdraw. This famously earned Rich Strike a spot in the starting gate in 2022.

Triple Crown Dreams

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Kentucky Derby is that it kicks off the Triple Crown. To win a Triple Crown a horse must start by winning the Derby and then follow that up with subsequent wins in the Preakness and the Belmont.

The challenge of the Triple Crown is that horses must win all races in an extremely short period of time and face new challengers in each leg.

The Winners

American Pharoah wins the 2015 Kentucky Derby

American Pharoah wins the 2015 Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby’s Triple Crown Legacy: Past Winners, Challenges, and Future Stars

The Triple Crown is a daunting title to achieve. Since its inception there have only been 13 winners. Most recently Justify took the crown in 2018.

Prior to that victory American Pharoah broke the 37-year drought winning the 2015 edition. The recent wins put both horses, trained by Bob Baffert, in the company of the sports greats such as Affirmed, Secretariat, and Seattle Slew.

Betting on the Kentucky Derby Online

Although the Kentucky Derby carries a certain gravitas, the ways that players can wager on the race remains the same as all races during the year.

Along with the traditional methods of placing bets on site, at other tracks around the country, or at the local OTB, the world wide web provides another more convenient option.

Thanks to online platforms like Bovada, BetUS, and BetDSI, players can place wagers from the convenience of their own home or a Derby party.

Adding to the allure of these sites is the fact that players can increase their bankroll by taking advantage of signup bonuses, promotions, and rebates.

How to bet on Kentucky Derby

Best Racebooks: Trusted Sites for Betting on Horse Racing

Kentucky Derby Bet Types

The Kentucky Derby offers the same traditional bets offered at most racetracks daily. However, there are some great novelty bets that get added to the menu for the special event. Novelty bets such as the Oaks-Derby Double can often have massive pools and provide a great pathway to profit.

Betting News will cover the wagering menu each year prior to the race for a comprehensive look at the various bets being offered. However, there are some bet types that will be available.

Single Horse Bets

These wagers require players to pick a single horse to finish somewhere in the top 3.

Bet on a Horse to Win

When players bet a horse to win, the horse must win the race. This is the most challenging single horse bet but offers the highest return when correct.

Futures Bets

One of the unique win bets offered on the Kentucky Derby is called a future bet. This bet allows players to lock in a better price on the winning horse by picking it weeks or months in advance of the race.

The positive of this wager is the inflated payout that comes with a correct opinion. However, if your horse doesn’t make the gate of the Derby for any reason, your bet is a losing ticket.

Check out our analysis and current odds for the next running of the Kentucky Derby.

Place Wager

The place wager provides a little extra wiggle room, but the payouts are often much less than the win payouts. When betting a horse to place, you are betting that horse will finish in the top 2. If your horse takes first or second, you cash the ticket.

Show Bets

The final single horse bet is the easiest one to hit, but often provides very little return unless you are betting on a longshot. When betting to show your horse must come in first, second, or third for you to cash a ticket.

In 2015 American Pharaoh paid just $4.20 to show. This is significantly more than the average show payout on a favorite which can be just cents on the dollar. However, with 20 horses, money does get spread around.

Inversely, Rich Strike who won as an improbable longshot paid $29.40 to show on a $2 bet.

Verticals Wagers

Vertical wagers refer to picking horses in multiple finishing positions. One of the unique aspects of vertical wagers is the ability to play them straight, boxed, or wheeled. These concepts can be applied to any of the vertical wagers.

Straight Wager

In this case, the player is predicting the exacta order of finish. The wager will cost the denomination of the wager placed. Betting a $1 trifecta on 1-2-3 will cost $1 but the final order of finish must be #1 in first, #2 in second, and #3 in third to win.

Boxed Wager –  Opposite of Straight Wager

Boxing is the opposite of a straight wager. When a wager is boxed, players cover every possible combination of the horses they selected. However, you will have to pay for each combination.

The same $1 trifecta on 1-2-3 will now be more expensive but give you more chances to win. A $1 trifecta box on 1-2-3 will cost $6 because there are 6 different combinations that 1, 2, and 3 can finish together in the top three spots.

Boxes can include more horses than finishing positions, but the cost will escalate quickly. For example, a 4 horse $1 trifecta box has 24 possible winning combinations and would cost $24.

Wheels –  Between the Cost Efficiency of Straight Bets and the Coverage of Boxes

Spending $24 on a 4-horse trifecta box may seem a bit steep. Wheels can be a nice hybrid between the cost efficiency of straight bets and the coverage of boxes. In a wheel bet, players isolate horses in specific positions.

Let’s say that you like horses 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in the race to cover the top 3 positions. For a $1 trifecta box this is going to cost $60. However, your opinion is that #1 or #2 is likely to be the winner and #5 is only a threat to clunk up into third.

Doing the Math

Using this information, you can now bet a $1 trifecta wheel the 1, 2 over the 1, 2, 3, 4 over the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. That $60 wager has now been reduced to $18 (2 possibilities in first, 3 possibilities in second, and 3 possibilities in third or 2x3x3x$1).

Although this option doesn’t cover as many combinations as the box, it still gives you adequate coverage while matching your wager to your opinion.

With the knowledge of how to bet verticals, let’s look at the wagers offered in this category.

Exacta Wager

The exacta is usually a $1 minimum wager and requires the player to have the first and second place horses correct.

Trifecta Bets – With Increased Difficulty comes Increased Payouts

Trifecta’s provide a little extra challenge with the bettor needing to correctly pick the first, second, and third place horses. With the increased difficulty comes increased payouts. The minimum denomination for this wager is typically $.50, though some tracks and events set the minimum at $1.


Hitting the superfecta in any race is no small feat, but it is particularly difficult in a big field like the Derby. This wager requires players to select the top 4 finishers in order. The difficulty makes this bet daunting, but the reward if hit tends to compensate for the added risk.

Most days you can play the wager for as low as $.10 but depending on the year the Kentucky Derby usually sets the minimum at $1.

Horizontal Wagers

These wagers are called horizontal because they require players to select the winner of multiple races in a row or in a particular sequence.

Daily Double – Simplest of all horizontal wagers

The Daily Double is the simplest of all horizontal wagers requiring the player to select winners of 2 races. Usually these are connected, but in the case of novelty bets the double will sometimes connect races not run together on the race card.

Pick X

These wagers can require players to pick anywhere from 3 to 6 races within a given sequence. The payouts tend correlate with the number of legs in the sequence meaning that a pick 3 is likely to have the lowest payout, while a pick 6 score is usually the largest payout of any wager at the track on a given day.

These wagers can range anywhere from $.50 minimums to $2 depending on the wager type and track.

Kentucky Derby Picks

Several services and handicappers will offer up their selections for the Kentucky Derby. However, the Derby is a unique handicapping puzzle.

Horses are running against more horses than they ever have, against many horses they’ve never faced as they are still in the early stages of their career.

With all of that it is important to mix data-driven handicapping with trend analysis. Betting News offers both our comprehensive track handicapping tools and narrative analysis of every race on the Oaks and Derby cards.

Flexible Opinions

An additional challenge with the Derby is that racing coverage during the weeks leading up can be exhaustive. Every breath a horse takes gets reported. As a horse player it is important to weigh each piece of information and determine whether it should impact your technical analysis of the runner.

Significance of the Post Position Draw

One of the biggest moments in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby is the announcement of post positions. This determines which gate each horse will race out of and as you will see in the chart below, some post positions produce far more winners than others.

Because of the field size, if you don’t have a lot of early speed and start from an inside position, you might end up being blocked all the way. If you start from way outside, you will probably run a longer race, being forced to the middle of the track on the turns.

The key the post draw is picking a horse that will start in a position that plays to their run style. While certain posts are more productive than others it can often be more important that your horse finds the right post for them, rather than a specific number in the gate.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Primarily in the extremes such as the inside and far outside posts.

Kentucky Derby Historical Information

While not necessarily valuable for handicapping the upcoming race, it can be interesting to look back at past results to see if any trends pop out. Which trainers produce the most winners? Which post position is most valuable? How often does the favorite win?

Let’s look at the winners of every race since 1960:

Past Kentucky Derby Winners
YearWinnerPost PositionJockeyTrainerTimeMarginOdds
2023Mage8Javier CastellanoGustavo Delgado2:01.571 1/215/1
2022Rich Strike21Sonny LeonEric Reed2:02.613/480/1
2021Mandaloun7Florent GerouxBrad Cox2:01.361/212/1
2020Authentic18John R. VelazquezBob Baffert2:00.611 1/48/1
2019Country House20Flavien PratWilliam I. Mott2:03.93165/1
2018Justify7Mike SmithBob Baffert2:04.202 1/25/2
2017Always Dreaming5John R. VelazquezTodd Pletcher2:03:592 3/49/2
2016Nyquist13Mario GutierrezDoug O'Neill2:01.311 1/42/1
2015American Pharoah18Victor EspinozaBob Baffert2:03.0215/2
2014California Chrome5Victor EspinozaArt Sherman2:03.661 3/45/2
2013Orb16Joel RosarioShug McGaughey2:02:892 1/25
2012I'll Have Another19Mario GutierrezDoug O'Neill2:01.831 1/215
2011Animal Kingdom16John VelazquezGraham Motion2:02.042 3/420
2010Super Saver4Calvin BorelTodd Pletcher2:04.452 1/28
2009Mine That Bird8Calvin BorelBennie L. Woolley, Jr.2:02.666 3/450
2008Big Brown20K. DesormeauxR. Dutrow, Jr.2:01.8283.5
2007Street Sense7C. BorelC. Nafzger2:02.172 1/44.5
2006Barbaro3E. PradoM. Matz2:01.366 1/26
2005Giacomo10M. SmithJ. Shirreffs2:02.751 1/250.30
2004Smarty Jones13S. ElliottJ. Servis2:04.062 3/44.10
2003Funny Cide5J. SantosB. Tagg2:01.191 3/412.80
2002War Emblem5V. EspinozaB. Baffert2:01.13420.50
2001Monarchos16J. ChavezJ. T. Ward1:59.974 3/410.50
2000Fusaichi Pegasus15K. DesormeauxN. Drysdale2:01.121 1/22.30
1999Charismatic16C. AntleyD.W. Lukas2:03.29nk31.30
1998Real Quiet3K. DesormeauxB. Baffert2:02.381/28.40
1997Silver Charm5G. StevensB. Baffert2:02.44hd4.00
1996Grindstone15J. BaileyD.W. Lukas2:01.06no5.90
1995Thunder Gulch16G. StevensD.W. Lukas2:01.272 1/424.50
1994Go for Gin8C. McCarronN. Zito2:03.7229.10
1993Sea Hero6J. BaileyM. Miller2:02.422 1/212.90
1992Lil E. Tee10P. DayL. Whiting2:03.04116.80
1991Strike the Gold5C. AntleyN. Zito2:03.081 3/44.80
1990Unbridled8C. PerretC. Nafzgar2:023 1/210.80
1989Sunday Silence10P. ValenzuelaC. Whittingham2:052 1/23.10
1988Winning Colors1G. StevensD.W. Lukas2:02 1/5nk3.40
1987Alysheba3C. McCarronJ. Van Berg2:03 2/53/48.40
1986Ferdinand1W. ShoemakerC. Whittingham2:02 4/52 1/417.70
1985Spend a Buck10A. Cordero Jr.C. Gambolati2:00 1/55 1/44.10
1984Swale15L. Pincay Jr.W. Stephens2:02 2/53 1/43.40
1983Sunny's Halo10E. DelahoussayeD. Cross Jr.2:02 1/522.50
1982Gato Del Sol18E. DelahoussayeE. Gregson2:02 3/52 1/221.20
1981Pleasant Colony7J. VelasquezJ. Campo2:023/43.50
1980Genuine Risk10J. VasquezL. Jolley2:02113.30
1979Spectacular Bid3R. FranklinG. Delp2:02 2/52 3/40.60
1978Affirmed2S. CauthenL. Barrera2:01 1/51 1/21.80
1977Seattle Slew4J. CruguetW. Turner2:02 1/51 3/40.50
1976Bold Forbes2A. Cordero Jr.L. Barrera2:01 3/513.00
1975Foolish Pleasure3J. VasquezL. Jolley2:021 3/41.90
1974Cannonade2A. Cordero Jr.W. Stephens2:042 1/41.50
1973Secretariat10R. TurcotteL. Laurin1:59 2/52 1/21.50
1972Riva Ridge9R. TurcotteL. Laurin2:01 4/53 3/41.50
1971Canonero II12G. AvilaJ. Arius2:03 1/53 3/48.70
1970Dust Commander2M. ManganelloD. Combs2:03 2/5515.30
1969Majestic Prince8J. LongdenW. Hartack2:01 4/5nk1.40
1968Forward Pass (via DQ)13I. ValenzuelaH. Forrest2:02 1/5n/a2.20
1967Proud Clarion7R. UsseryL. Gentry2:00 3/5130.10
1966Kauai King12D. BrumfieldH. Forrest2:021/22.40
1965Lucky Debonair8W. ShoemakerF. Catrone2:01 1/5nk4.30
1964Northern Dancer7W. HartakH. Luro2:00nk3.40
1963Chateaugay1B. BaezaJ.P. Conway2:01 4/51 1/49.40
1962Decidedly4W. HartakH. Luro2:00 2/52 1/48.70
1961Carry Back14J. SellersJ.A. Price2:043/42.50
1960Venetian Way9W. HartackV. Sovinski2:02 2/53 1/26.30


How to watch the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is more than just a single race. It is actually a four-day racing festival that takes place at Churchill Downs. Here’s how to watch all the races from Kentucky the first weekend in May.

Wednesday: Champions Day

  • Stream races on your favorite online wagering platform

Thursday: Thurby

  • Stream races on your favorite online wagering platform

Friday: Kentucky Oaks Day

Saturday: Kentucky Derby Day

Kentucky Derby FAQ

Can I bet on the Kentucky Derby Online?
Yes, you can bet on the Kentucky Derby online. Find a sportsbook or racebook offering odds on the races, sign up and make a deposit.
How are horses picked for the Kentucky Derby?
Three-year-old thoroughbreds compete in the Road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of prep races around the world, and win points for finishing in the top four spots. The 20 horses who accumulate the most points at the end of the series gain entry into the Kentucky Derby.
What types of bets can I make on the Kentucky Derby?
The most common bets placed on the Kentucky Derby are Win, Place, Show, Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta bets.