Kentucky Derby Betting: How To Legally Place A Bet, And What All Those Strange Betting Terms Mean

Charlie RiedelAP Images

Kentucky Derby Week is officially here! As CBS News reports, the 144th running of horse racing’s most prestigious event will take place on Saturday. And as such, the Derby is the race where people who otherwise wouldn’t pay any attention to horse racing may be willing to place a bet, just because.

Fortunately, the Inquisitr is here to help you understand the sometimes-arcane world of betting on horse racing.

Louisville Is Too Far Away – Can I Place A Bet Online?

Yes – although at this point two disclaimers come into play. First, never bet more than you can afford to lose (and similarly, if you think you have a gambling problem, please consider getting help). And second, check your local laws before attempting to place an online wager.

With that out of the way, if you’re in the U.S. (more most of it anyway – again, laws vary by jurisdiction), you can place a bet on Churchill Downs’ website. In the U.K. and Ireland, Paddy Power has you covered.

OK, I’ve Figured Out How To Place My Bet – Now What’s This Business About Odds?

The odds on a particular bet tell you two things. First, the odds tell you the expected payout plus your bet back (referred to as your “stake”). So for example, if you bet $20 on a horse with 20:1 odds, you can expect one dollar back for every dollar you bet, plus your bet – $42, in other words. Second – and this is extremely important – the odds tell you only what the betting public is thinking about a horse’s chances of winning. The odds do not give any objective indication of a horse’s likelihood of winning (you have to figure that out on your own); rather, they only tell you what everyone else is willing to bet on him (or her) winning.

For example, as of this writing, Justify is the favorite at 2:1, while Dream Baby Dream is the long shot at 100:1. These odds don’t indicate that Justify has any better likelihood of winning than Dream Baby Dream (again, that’s for you to figure out); they only indicate that the betting public thinks Justify has the best chance (or more specifically, the most money bet on him), while Dream Baby Dream has the least money bet on him.

OK, So I Just Bet On My Horse To Win, Right?

You can. Or you can bet on him (or her) to Place or Show (what the horse racing industry calls a “straight bet”). What does that mean, you ask? Simply put, a Win bet means you only win if your horse crosses the finish line first; a Place bet means you win if he or she comes in first or second; and a Show bet means you take home some money if he or she comes in first, second, or third.

You will, of course, get less money depending on which bet you placed and on where your horse finishes.

For example, here’s how things played out at the 2017 Kentucky Derby:

Always Dreaming: $11.40 (win), $7.20 (place), $5.08 (show)
Lookin At Lee: $26.60 (place), $15.20 (show)
Battle Of Midway: $20.80 (show)

Bettors who bet on Always Dreaming to Show got back $5.08 (based on a $2 bet) – regardless of the fact that he won. Bettors who bet on him to Place got $7.20, and bettors who bet him to Win got $11.40. Meanwhile, the only bettors to take home any money on a Battle of Midway straight bet where those who bet on him to Show (since he came in third).

By the way, if you have a horse that you like and you want to bet on him to Win, Place, and Show, you can do that – it’s called betting “across-the-board,” and it’s a popular bet. You will, of course, have to wager for each position, so multiply your wager times three to place the bet.

What’s This Trifecta, Exacta, Superfecta, And Other Business?

These are what the horse racing industry calls “exotic bets.” Like the lottery or certain casino games, these bets are hard to win, but if you make the right bet, you could win quite a bit of money.

Exacta: This is a bet on the first two horses to cross the finish line, in the exact (get it?) order. Almost everyone who makes an exacta bet does so according to a “box” – that is, betting on both possible outcomes at the same time. And most tracks and online betting outfits in the U.S. will allow you to bet $1 on each outcome for a $2 bet (this is called a “box”).

So for example, if you think Justify and Dream Baby Dream are going to be the first two horses to cross the finish line, in either order, you would simply place a $1 Exacta Box bet on those two horses. You win if they’re the first two to cross the finish line, regardless of order.

Trifecta: Same as Exacta, but with three horses instead of two. Again, you can “box” this bet.

Superfecta: Four horses this time, and yes, you can “box” it (that makes it a $16 bet at $1 per).

Needless to say, these bets can sometimes bring in huge payouts. Last year’s Kentucky Derby Superfecta netted $75,974.50 for the few who made the correct bet.

Other exotic bets include betting on multiple races at the same track on the same day (the Daily Double, for example), or even on subsequent race days with jackpots rolling over (like the lottery). But those are beyond the scope of this article since they would require you to place bets on races that aren’t the Kentucky Derby.

So How Do I Figure Out Which Horse Is Going To Win?

Good luck with that – literally. There’s a reason it’s called “gambling” because you’re placing a financial risk on an unknown outcome. When it comes to horse racing, you can read up on a horse’s statistics and try to make a reasoned prediction – that process is called “handicapping” and there are literally thousands of books, websites, DVD’s, YouTube videos, and other media to teach you how to do it. Even so, handicapping only gets you so far. Perhaps the horse you bet on will have an injury that no one knew about until race day. Perhaps his jockey will make a mistake. Perhaps the track will be muddy and he doesn’t perform well in mud. Or any number of other factors that render your handicapping little more than an educated guess.

Long story short: if there were a foolproof way to predict the outcomes of horse races, everybody would be doing it by now.

The Kentucky Derby will take place on Saturday, May 5, at 6:34 p.m. Eastern Time.