Texas Woman Wins $1.2 Million On $18 Kentucky Derby Bet, Here’s How She Did It

You have to bet on the so-called "exotics" to make that kind of money at horse racing.

a texas woman won over a million in the kentucky derby
Watchara Ritjan / Shuttersock

You have to bet on the so-called "exotics" to make that kind of money at horse racing.

A Texas woman won big on the Kentucky Derby – so big, in fact, that her $1.2 million payout is more than winner Justify earned his owners for winning the prestigious race, ABC News is reporting.

To understand how she got there, you need to understand a little bit about the sometimes-arcane world of betting on horse racing.

If you’re only a casual horse racing fan, you may only be familiar with the so-called “classic” bets on horse racing; that is, Win, Place, and Show. You win only if your horse finishes in one of the top three positions, and if you bet accordingly, you win some money. However, about the most you’re going to make on such a bet is about $100 to every one dollar you bet – and that’s in the rare event that an extra-long long-shot wins.

However, the big money in horse racing is in the so-called “exotic” bets. In those bets, you’re betting on multiple horses in one race, or in the case of the Texas woman, betting on the outcome of multiple races. Specifically, the woman, who has asked not to be identified (and who, for simplicity’s sake, will be referred to as “Miss Sarah” for the remainder of this article), bet on the outcome of five races: the Kentucky Derby and the four preceding it at Churchill Downs last Saturday.

And so it was that Saturday afternoon, Miss Sarah went to Retama Park racetrack in Salem, Texas, and made her Pick 5 bets. Saturday being a wet, muddy day at Churchill Downs made for perfect conditions for long-short horses to come in (sometimes a wet track makes it more likely for long-short horses to finish in the money). In fact, two of her picks were indeed very long shots: Funny Duck won by a nose in his race despite 39-1 odds; and Yoshida won his race despite 9-1 odds.

The final horse was an easy pick: she chose Justify to win the Kentucky Derby, as did apparently everyone else at Churchill Downs that day. He won easily, at 3-1 odds.

When the dust had settled, Miss Sarah was $1.2 million richer.

Winning that kind of bank on a single horse-racing bet is all but unprecedented, says Retama Park spokeswoman Rachel Bagnetto.

“It’s extremely rare. To bet that little amount of money and win $1.2 million is unheard of. In fact, it’s the first time it’s happened at Retama.”

There does not seem to be an official record of the most money ever won on a single bet in horse racing. However, according to Northlands Park, Pick Six bets (just like Miss Sarah’s bet, only with one more race) often roll over to the next day (and the next day and so on) with no winners, and jackpots in the millions have happened before.