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The Kentucky Derby Betting Guide

A lot of people around the world watch the Kentucky Derby, which is held on the first Saturday in May in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s the world’s biggest horse racing event, drawing over 160,000 patrons to Churchill Downs each year, with millions more watching at home or listening on the radio. A big part of the Kentucky Derby experience is betting on the race. Whether it’s at the track, at an off-track betting facility, the internet, or at a party, everyone likes to throw a few bucks down on a Derby horse. While the tried and tested horse racing fan generally knows all there is about how to bet, along with having the terminology down pat, there are plenty more passive fans that don’t know much past the basics. That’s where would like to help enhance your Kentucky Derby experience!


Win, place, and show are about the extent of the common or new fans knowledge on betting the horses, but there is so much more to it. In this section we will define some of the most common terms that you may want to be familiar with when considering how to bet.

WIN: Placing a bet for your horse to win

PLACE: Placing a bet for your horse to finish 1st or 2nd

SHOW: Placing a bet for your horse to finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd

Those are easy bets to place and most people are familiar with how they work. Of those three options, a bet to WIN will pay back the most, with PLACE and SHOW paying back less based on the better odds of hitting. With WIN, PLACE, & SHOW betting you can also bet ACROSS THE BOARD, which means you win if your horse finishes in any of the top three positions. As an example, if Johnny bets $2 ACROSS THE BOARD on the 5 horse, the bet will cost $6 ($2 for each position) and Johnny is a winner if the 5 horse comes in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd!

For racing fans who want to try to get a little more bang for their buck, there are more exotic options to choose from that are fun, but much harder to hit.

EXACTA: Placing a bet that picks the 1st & 2nd place horses in a race

TRIFECTA: Placing a bet that picks the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd place horses in a race

SUPERFECTA: Place a bet that picks the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th place finishers in a race

BOXING: A popular strategy among those who bet in the Exacta, Trifecta, and Superfecta categories is “boxing”. When a bettor boxes his wager, he is choosing his horses to finish in any order in accordance to the type of bet. These bets cost more, but acts as insurance on the picks. For instance, if Johnny bets a $2 Exacta Box on horses 5 and 7, either horse can win and as long as the other horse finishes second, Johnny is a winner!

Exotic Wagering

There are also betting options that involve more than just one race. In these types of bets, the bettor will try to pick the horses that will win in consecutive races. The payout for hitting on multiple races can be quite nice and really make your day at the track.

DAILY DOUBLE: Placing a bet choosing the winners of two consecutive races

PICK 3: Placing a bet choosing the winners of three consecutive races

PICK 4: Placing a bet choosing the winners of four consecutive races

PICK 5: Placing a bet choosing the winners of five consecutive races

PICK 6: Placing a bet choosing the winners of six consecutive races

Understanding Odds

Understanding the odds when gambling can get a bit confusing, but the odds tell you what your profit will be if you win your bet. For example, if you choose to bet $2 on a horse that is showing odds of 10-1, you will get $20 back on your bet. You are getting $10 back for every $1 that you wagered. Odds are controlled by the amount of money that is being wagered on a particular horse and there are deductions taken from the overall total for the track to use on taxes and expenses, as well as for purse money for the horsemen.

How to Place a Bet at the Track

Churchill Downs features betting windows with people ready to take your wager and print you a ticket. There are also kiosks at Churchill Downs were patrons can place their bets on an electronic computer. The kiosks are generally very easy to use, but the novice gambler may want to go with a “manned” betting window until they get more familiar with the process. When placing a bet, it is considered to be proper etiquette to recite you wager in this order; race number, amount of the wager, type of wager, and the program number of the horse (or horses) you are betting on. As an example, say you have $5 you want to bet on the 6 horse to win in the first race. To make it easy to process your bet, you would say it this way; “Race 1, $5 to win on 6.” Hand the teller your money and he or she will hand you a ticket back and off you go to cheer on your horse. It’s just that simple!

You won! Now what?

While watching a horse race can be a lot of fun, there is nothing more exciting than cheering on your horse (or horses) during a race that you have wagered on. The thrilling part takes place when you watch your horse cross the finish line and see that you have won your bet. After the race has been called “official” by the track announcer, take your betting slip back to the window and collect your winnings.

Enjoy Your Day at Churchill Downs

Gambling on horse racing can be a lot of fun and hitting on those bets can make for a fantastic day at Churchill Downs. Remember though, you should only gamble an amount that you are comfortable losing, as nothing is a sure thing and you don’t want to ruin your day by spending more than you wanted to. In addition to having fun picking the horses, enjoy the environment. Churchill Downs is a historic venue and on Derby Day it comes alive with celebrities, horsemen, and people from all walks of life who come together to share a common interest. Visit the Kentucky Derby ticket listings to find your seat, get to work on your hat or outfit, mix up a mint julep, and we’ll see you at Churchill Downs!

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