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How to bet on the Kentucky Derby

In this guide to betting on the Kentucky Derby, we’ll go over the different types of wagers you can place leading up to the race, along with how to read the odds and which horses are most likely to finish in the money. We’ll also provide a history of the Derby and list the legal racebooks where you can place your bets.

Fact checked by: Gary Garry
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The Kentucky Derby is one of the most beloved sporting events in the United States, an annual race that is the first leg of horse racing’s “Triple Crown.” Held on the first Saturday in May, the Derby is the most-watched, most-attended, and most-wagered-on horse race in the U.S.

Note: Undercard races are held as part of the Kentucky Derby weekend, but for the purposes of this piece, we’ll only be referring to the headline race unless otherwise indicated.

About the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is a 1 ¼ mile race held annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY. First held in 1875, the race is typically run on the first Saturday in May, though the dates changed during World War II and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the oldest continuously held major sporting event in the United States.

Thoroughbreds who are three years old are eligible to run in the race, meaning each horse gets only one crack at winning. The field typically consists of 20 horses and is dominated by colts, though three fillies have won the race: Regret in 1913, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988.

The Derby carries the nickname of “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports,” as most winning times come in right around the 2:00 mark (the fastest win was Secretariat at 1:59.40 in 1973). It is also known as the “Run for the Roses,” as the race winner is adorned with a rose blanket in the winner’s circle.

History of the Kentucky Derby

Here is a brief timeline of the major moments in the history of the Kentucky Derby:

  • 1875: The first Kentucky Derby is held with a field of 15 horses in front of a crowd of around 10,000 people. Aristedes was the winning horse with a time of 2:37.75
  • 1896: The Derby changes from a 1 ½ mile distance to 1 ¼ miles.
  • 1913: At 91-1 odds entering the race, Donerail sets the record for longest odds to win the Kentucky Derby, a record which still stands today.
  • 1915: Regret becomes the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby.
  • 1919: Sir Barton becomes the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes, though the term “the Triple Crown” wasn’t coined until 1930.
  • 1921: The tradition of playing “My Old Kentucky Home” as the horses parade to the starting gates begins as the University of Louisville Marching Band provides the music.
  • 1925: For the first time, the Kentucky Derby is broadcast on the radio, with WHAS Louisville and WGN Chicago covering the race.
  • 1930: Event organizers announce a date change to the first Saturday in May (the Derby had previously been held in mid-May).
  • 1952: The Kentucky Derby makes its television debut.
  • 1968: Dancer’s Image becomes the first horse to have a Derby win overturned after a failed post-race drug test.
  • 1970: Diane Crump becomes the first female jockey at the Kentucky Derby.
  • 1973: Secretariat becomes the first horse to finish the race in under two minutes. His 1:59.40 finishing time is still a race record.
  • 1986: Churchill Downs is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
  • 2004: A court decision allows jockeys to wear corporate logos on their clothing for the first time.
  • 2005: Rules for the purse change to include a prize for the fifth-place finisher (previously, only the top four finishers received a payout).

Kentucky Derby racing odds explained

Kentucky Derby racing odds can be represented in several different ways, and this is often a stumbling block for those new to the betting scene. However, with a little preparation, you’ll have the odds mastered in no time.

The most common listing you’ll see, especially when watching the Kentucky Derby on TV, is called “fractional odds.” These would be written out as “15/1,” “15-1,” or “15:1.” All of those representations mean the same thing: for every dollar wagered, you’ll earn $15 on a winning bet.

Outside of the United States, seeing decimal odds listed is more common. Decimal odds list a single number which is the payout total of a $1 bet. Using the same odds from the previous example, a horse at 15/1 odds would be listed as “16” in decimal odds ($1 bet plus $15 profit = 16).

You may also see “implied probability” listed next to the odds lines. Implied probability is the likelihood of a given outcome happening and is calculated by dividing 1 by the decimal odds. From our example, this would be 1/16 for an implied probability of 6.25, meaning a 6.25% chance of that horse winning.

Where can you bet on the Kentucky Derby?

You can bet on the Kentucky Derby both in-person and online in KY, with advantages and disadvantages to each. Most of the time, it will be more convenient to use an online racebook to place your wager. Still, if you’re willing to travel to Churchill Downs to make your bets, you’ll be in for an incredible atmosphere, and a one-of-a-kind betting experience.

Since that may not be feasible for a majority of players, here are some of the top online options.

  • TwinSpires: TwinSpires is the official betting site of the Kentucky Derby and is owned and operated by Churchill Downs. It first began accepting wagers in 2006 and features daily pari-mutuel markets for horse racing events around the world.
  • FanDuel Racing: FanDuel is one of the most popular Kentucky online sports betting operators and is moving to dominate the horse racing space as well with FanDuel Racing. The platform features live streaming of races as well as free tips and analysis daily.
  • DK Horse: DK Horse is one of the newest racebooks on the scene, launching just ahead of the 2023 Kentucky Derby. An extension of DraftKings Sportsbook, DK Horse has a very easy-to-use interface on both the app and website.

What kind of bets can you place on the Kentucky Derby?

Horse racing bets use different terminology than the traditional sports betting lingo, but they aren’t nearly as intimidating as they might seem at first. Here are some of the most common kinds of bets you can place on the Kentucky Derby.

  • Win/place/show bets: Win, place, and show are the terms for the first, second, and third place finishes, respectively, in a horse race. If you place a win bet on the horse, it means you think that horse will win outright; a place bet wins if your horse finishes in either of the top two spots while a show bet wins for a finish anywhere in the top three. Typically, each of these bet types carries a $2 minimum bet.
  • Exacta: One of the more exotic wagers is the exacta. An exacta bet is called an “exotic wager” because it involves placing a bet on more than one horse. Exactas are wagers on the exact order of finish for the top two horses.
  • Trifecta: Adding another layer to an exacta bet, a trifecta wager is a wager for the top three Kentucky Derby finishers. Most of the time, the minimum wager for a trifecta is $0.50; however, you can still get a sizable payday even at this lower wager amount. In the 2023 Derby, a winning $0.50 trifecta bet paid out $491.18. If the trifecta wasn’t enough, you could also try for a “superfecta,” which is correctly predicting the top four finishers.
  • Double/Pick 3/4/5/6: If trying to pick the winner of one race wasn’t enough to sate your betting appetite, you could try to predict the winning horse for multiple consecutive races. The double is betting on two consecutive races, Pick 3 is three in a row, etc., up to a Pick 6. The Pick 6 usually has a jackpot bonus because it is so challenging to hit, but the paydays could exceed $10,000 for a wager as low as $0.20.

Guide for betting on the Kentucky Derby online

Betting on the Kentucky Derby online will be easy wherever you decide to place your bets. The process will look similar regardless of the site or mobile app you use, and these are the steps you take:

  1. Pick the right racebook: You should only wager with online operators that are legal and licensed. If you didn’t see the bookmaker on the list above, they probably aren’t legit or safe to use. Legal operators may also have a lucrative signup bonus, which you’ll also see listed on this site.
  2. Study the field: Knowledge is power when it comes to any type of betting, and the more information you can get, the more likely you are to place a winning bet. Knowing a horse’s lineage, who trained the horse, which jockey will be riding, past race experiences, weather and track conditions, and odds movement should all be considered before you put money on the line.
  3. Choose the horse(s) and bet type(s): However you want to play your betting slip, you’ll find markets for backing a single horse or multiple racers. The payouts will change depending on the horse you choose as well as the overall pool when you’re placing a pari-mutuel wager.
  4. Choose your betting amount: Keep in mind the minimum wager amount will vary based on the bet type you’re placing. Make sure you only bet what you can afford to lose and don’t chase your losses. Most minimums will be $2, though they may be lower; you’re also welcome to wager more if you choose to do so.
  5. Enjoy the races: After your bets are in, there’s nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy the race, perhaps with a mint julep in hand. Good luck!

Famous past winners of the Kentucky Derby

Each horse that wins the Kentucky Derby carries a degree of fame and prestige. As one of the top races in the world and the first leg of the Triple Crown, all winners are special, but a few have separated themselves from the rest. Here are some of the most famous past winners of the Kentucky Derby.

  • Secretariat: Among the most famous racehorses of all time, Secretariat set the mark for the fastest time in the Kentucky Derby with a 1:59.40 time in 1973 en route to the Triple Crown; he also holds the course records for the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. A life-sized statue of Secretariat stands outside the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY.
  • Seattle Slew: Like Secretariat, Seattle Slew’s Kentucky Derby win ultimately led to a Triple Crown title in 1977. However, Seattle Slew was the first to win the Triple Crown while being undefeated in any prior race (so far, the only other horse to accomplish the feat is Justified, who is a descendant of Seattle Slew).
  • Regret: In 1915, Regret was the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby, and only two other fillies since have accomplished the feat (Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988). She won nine of 11 races over her career and finished second one other time.


Where does the Kentucky Derby take place?

The Kentucky Derby takes place at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, KY. The track opened in 1875 and has been the site of the Derby every year since.

Who won the Kentucky Derby in 2023?

Mage won the Kentucky Derby in 2023, finishing 1 ½ lengths ahead of Two Phil’s for the top spot. The win was the second of Mage’s career, but a third-place finish at the Preakness Stakes prevented a chance at a Triple Crown for the three-year-old thoroughbred.

Is the Kentucky Derby the biggest horse race in the US?

Yes, the Kentucky Derby is the biggest horse race in the U.S. The race upped to a $3 million purse in 2019 and saw a betting handle of $288.7 million in 2023; including the handle from the undercard races, the total rose to $412 million. The track itself has one of the largest audiences as well, with more than 150,000 people in attendance for the 2023 Derby and roughly 14.4 million watching on TV.

Can you bet on the Kentucky Derby through DraftKings?

Yes, you can bet on the Kentucky Derby through DraftKings. The betting operator launched DK Horse ahead of the 2023 Derby, but before that, bettors could only enter free-to-play contests for a share of a much smaller prize pool.

Fact checked by: Gary Garry