Although there are a number of exciting events on the horse racing calendar throughout the year, one race simply stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.
The Kentucky Derby attracts attention like no other, and the betting volume for the race is through the roof.
For diehard racing fans, it’s the biggest highlight of the season. Even those who don’t pay much attention to horse racing get involved, as Derby Day is the sport’s equivalent of the Super Bowl.
We’ll detail how to bet on the Kentucky Derby, with information for bettors across the whole racing spectrum — from newbies all the way up to experienced handicappers. We’ll cover in full detail the best bets you can make and how the horses make the cut and qualify for the biggest racing event of the year.
We’ll also cover the best racing sites to bet online or via a mobile Michigan betting app, and run through the contenders and odds for this year’s Run for the Roses. Let’s kick things off by taking a look at the best ways for you to get in on the action.
When it’s time to get your bets in on the Kentucky Derby, you have two main options to consider. Here’s the scoop on each of them.
When betting on the Kentucky Derby, you can simply pick on the winner and move on to enjoy the race. However, there’s a lot more to see on the horse wagering menu. Let’s start with the basics.
These are the simplest wagers to understand. You can place any of these bets for as little as $1 at some tracks, but others require a minimum of $2. If your selection proves to be correct, then your ticket will be graded a winner.
Payouts will vary, based on the odds for the winning horse and the amount in the wagering pool. At online operators such as TVG, you can get a peek at the amount of win, place and show money that has been placed on each of the horses before the race goes off.
You can also combine these wagers onto a single slip, such as picking a horse to win/place/show or one to place/show. The bet amount will rise based on what you select, but it’s a good option for enhanced returns on a horse you are confident about.
Next, let’s take a look at a group of wagers known as exotics.
Exotic bets aren’t easy to hit, but they can provide some serious bang for the buck. They’re quite popular, as a result, and the bets can be placed for nominal amounts for straight selections. If you box your choices, then the cost of the ticket rises accordingly.
To demonstrate the potential, here’s what the returns looked like for some of these bets at the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
Those returns are phenomenal, but there are two important points to keep in mind. First, the race was won by longshot Country House. Second, the Derby attracts a ton of betting action, so the pools are much larger than they would have been for an average race.
Last but not least, remember that there’s a lot more to Derby Day than just the main event. There will be lots of other races on the card, so you can expand your horizons and use all of the above bet types for them, as well.
Additionally, there are bets you can place on the winners of multiple races in a row, ranging from the Pick 3 to the Pick 6. Once again, these bets are hard to hit, but they can provide awesome returns on really small wager amounts.
The field for the 2021 Kentucky Derby comes into focus each spring as the race draws near. We can get an idea at the standings on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard to project each year’s field.
In order to qualify for the Derby, horses need to perform well in the bigger races that precede the Derby, and they earn points as they do so. We’ll walk through the qualification process in full detail shortly.
Although there’s no guarantee that any of these top runners in the lead-up will ultimately perform well in the Derby, they have all proved themselves to date. As a result, they are certainly names to keep on the short list as you prepare to handicap the race.
Here’s the full list of horses in the Derby, per the Kentucky Derby official website. (Editor’s note: Odds and posts are updated through noon ET Thursday, April 29.)
History is made at every edition of the Kentucky Derby, but some of the races have just been more special than others. We’ve seen a number of memorable performances through the years, including some of the record-breaking variety.
The Kentucky Derby is traditionally the first leg of the Triple Crown, which includes the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. To date, just 13 horses have managed to win all three. Here’s the list of winners with the winning time they recorded at the Derby.
In recent years, we have seen a number of interesting developments. Included on that list is the 2018 win for Justify, whose Triple Crown season becomes even more historic when you consider that he never raced as a 2-year-old.
The following year was one for the record books as well, but for vastly different reasons. We’ll go through the lowdown on what went down later on.
The horses in the field for the Kentucky Derby are at the head of the class for the racing season. These are the best 2- and 3-year-olds in the nation, and they all will have proved that on what’s known as the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
This is a qualifier that goes through two phases, and the horses earn points based on how well they perform. The points are awarded on a sliding scale to the top four finishers, and the amounts increase as the process moves along.
For example, the top finisher in the first series of races will earn 10 points, while the amount increases to 50 for a first-place effort later on. By the time we get to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, the number doubles.
This series of races has come to be known as the Super Six, and the top finisher gets a whopping 100 points to add to the running tally. For those who regularly follow horse racing, these are some of the best events of the year.
Here are the six biggest qualifying events on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, along with the track where the event is held and purse amount:
|Arkansas Derby||Oaklawn Park||$1 million|
|Blue Grass Stakes||Keeneland||$1 million|
|Florida Derby||Gulfstream Park||$1 million|
|Louisiana Derby||Fair Grounds||$1 million|
|Santa Anita Derby||Santa Anita Park||$400,000|
|Wood Memorial Stakes||Aqueduct||$750,000|
As you would expect, the horses that knock it out of the park in these races move on to become favorites for the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown season as a whole. When it’s time to break down this year’s Derby, be sure to examine how the entrants have finished in previous races, especially the bigger ones.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a lot more to Derby Day than just the big race. The same applies to the rest of the weekend at Churchill Downs. It’s quite the event to experience in person, and it certainly deserves a spot on the sports bucket list.
On the Friday before the Derby, the biggest highlight of another packed day of racing action is the Kentucky Oaks. This is a Grade 1 stakes race with a purse of $1.25 million and an eye-popping first-place prize of $750,000.
The race is contested over 1-1/8 miles with a field consisting of 3-year-old fillies. For fillies, this is one of the signature races of the season, and it also attracts plenty of action at the betting window.
The Oaks can be a great way to get in some last-minute prep for the Derby, as it affords another chance to break down a high-stakes race. Here’s a look back at the last decade of winners and their winning times.
For the 2020 edition, here’s what the payouts looked like for the top three finishers and some of the exotic bets on the race.
The history of the Kentucky Derby goes all the way back to 1875. A horse by the name of Aristides won the inaugural race, which was contested over 1-1/2 miles in a time of 2:37:75. The Derby remained at that length for several years before switching to 1-1/4 miles in 1896.
It’s still contested at that length to this day. The legendary Secretariat set the speed record with a time of 1:59:40 in his record-setting 1973 campaign.
For some perspective on the evolution of Kentucky Derby betting, consider the betting handle for the entirety of Derby day back in 1985, which checked in at $26.8 million. By 1998, it was up to $88.9 million. For the 2019 edition, the all-sources handle was a staggering $250.9 million.
On the Derby alone, $165.5 million was bet on the race, besting the previous record from just one year prior by 10%. The Kentucky Derby is a special sporting event — and one that attracts bettors in droves, to boot.
There is often a good deal of movement in Kentucky Derby betting numbers once the money starts flowing in. Here’s a look back at how the field shook out in 2019.
|Post #||Horse||Morning Line||Final Odds||Finish|
|1||War of Will||20-1||16-1||7|
|3||By My Standards||20-1||18-1||11|
|9||Plus Que Parfait||30-1||56-1||8|
|13||Code of Honor||15-1||13-1||2|
|14||Win Win Win||15-1||16-1||9|
|18||Long Range Toddy||30-1||54-1||16|
Improbable, Maximum Security, Tacitus, and Game Winner were the clear favorites when the race took off, but it was Country House with the win after a stunning turn of events. Here were the payouts for the top three finishers.
|Horse||Win payout||Place payout||Show payout|
|Code of Honor||-||$15.20||$9.80|
When the race was over, it looked like Maximum Security had won a thrilling race in front of a jam-packed crowd of more than 150,000. However, objections were filed by jockeys for two of the other runners almost immediately.
After a rather unprecedented and lengthy review, Maximum Security was shockingly disqualified over the objections. The horse had made contact with another entrant and interfered with two others prior to the stretch run.
The rulebook states that if a horse veers off course in a way that affects another entrant, then that activity can be grounds for disqualification. The team behind Maximum Security was stunned, as was just about everyone else, as this was the first disqualification for an infraction on the course in Derby history that affected the top spot.
When all of the dust had settled, Country House was declared the winner, followed by Code of Honor and Tacitus. The Derby is always a history-making event, but the 2019 edition was really one for the record books.
Normally, the Kentucky Derby comes our way on the first Saturday in May. Things are back to normal in 2021 (at least as far the calendar is concerned). This year’s Run for the Roses is on May 1 at Churchill Downs in Louisville. In 2020, the race was moved to Saturday, Sept. 5, to account for the early nature of the coronavirus pandemic.
The field size for the race has been capped at 20 horses since 1975. The year prior to that, 23 horses faced off to decide the Kentucky Derby. Although that’s the maximum number, that doesn’t mean there will always be 20 starters. For example, there were two scratches in 2019 and one also eligible that joined the field, so the race went off with 19 horses.
For the 2021 Run for the Roses, the purse size checked in at $3 million, which matches the record first set in 2019. The top five finishers were paid out when all was said and done. Here’s what the breakdown of prize money for the top five finishers looks like:
Yes, but it has only happened three times, with the last one coming more than three decades ago. Here are the three fillies who have won the Derby, along with their winning times.
Races for fillies are no longer included on the Road to the Derby, thereby making it impossible for one to qualify. However, Derby weekend also hosts one of the signature events on the filly circuit in the Kentucky Oaks, which is held the Friday prior to the big race.
The Derby record at its current length of 1-1/4 miles was set more than four decades ago. In 1973, the legendary Secretariat pulled away for victory with a final time of 1:59:40. Just one other runner has broken the two-minute mark at the Derby. That was Monarchos back in 2001, with a time of 1:59:97. Northern Dancer is third on the all-time list with a time of 2 minutes flat. In the early days of the event, the race was contested over 1-1/2 miles. Spokane holds the record at that length, with a winning time of 2:35:50 in 1889.