Kentucky Derby Betting Guide 2023

Ask a sports fan to name a horse race, and chances are they’ll respond with the Kentucky Derby. Dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Derby is the most widely known horse race in the US. Three-year-old thoroughbreds run a mile-and-a-quarter at Churchill Downs Racetrack every year on the first Saturday in May. Here’s everything you need to know about how to prepare to bet on the Kentucky Derby, also known as “the run for the roses.”

How to bet on the Kentucky Derby in Illinois

You don’t have to be at Churchill Downs Racetrack to participate in the festivities. Illinois horse racing enthusiasts can bet on the Derby through advance deposit wagering, or ADW, platforms. ADWs bring the thrill of horse betting to your computer, tablet or phone. If you’re legally able to gamble, it’s never been easier to start.

You can create an account on an ADW platform, such as TVG, in a few minutes. Provide your name, address, banking information and date of birth, and click on the “Complete Registration” button at the bottom of the page. Many ADW sites offer promotional codes you can use while signing up that will match your first deposit.

Once you’ve set up your account, you’ll be able to deposit money to use for betting in various ways. In Illinois, TVG offers you the ability to fund your account via e-check, credit or debit cards, PayPal, MoneyPak, a TVG prepaid card and PayNearMe.

After you’ve put money into your account, you’ll be set to bet.

What happens if I win?

If you place a winning wager, your profits will go into your account once the race finalists are called officially. Once the funds transfer, you’ll be able to request a withdrawal, which can be done either electronically or by mailing a check.

What bets can I make on the Kentucky Derby?

Each track has a wagering menu for each race that is usually incredibly diverse. Whether you’re a newcomer or someone who’s been betting the races for years, a track will have something for you.

If you like concentrating on one horse, you can bet to win, place or show. To cash a winning wager, your horse must win, while place wagers pay out if your horse runs first or second and show wagers hit if your horse cracks the top three.

Fancier bets called “exotics wagers” are also available. These are separated into “vertical” and “horizontal” exotics, and vertical wagers concentrate solely on one race. Most notably, an exacta requires your horses to run first and second, and a trifecta requires your horses to run first, second, and third.

Superfectas and “hi-five” wagers have also picked up steam, and those go down to the fourth and fifth-place finisher while sometimes offering smaller minimum bets to allow for more combinations. If you’d like to maximize your combinations, or if you’re unsure of the order in which you think horses will finish, you can pick a group of horses and “box” them to buy all combinations involving those horses. More combinations mean a higher investment, but it also allows for more coverage and can be seen as a safer wagering strategy.

Horizontal exotics, meanwhile, focus on multiple races within a single sequence. The most well-known of these bets is the Pick Six, which, fittingly, requires a handicapper (or group of handicappers) to pick the winners of six consecutive races correctly.

In recent years, Pick Four and Pick Five wagers have gained popularity, and these often carry 50-cent minimum bets that allow for more coverage in certain spots. Horizontal exotics bets go all the way down to doubles and Pick Threes, which require just two or three winners. If you like horses in multiple races close to one another, these may be the best for you.

How odds work in horse racing

Horse racing’s odds are based on a pari-mutuel betting system. Your money goes into the same pool as everyone else’s, and the winning tickets get the lion’s share of it while the track takes a certain percentage (called the takeout).

If few people think your horse has a chance, you’ll stand to make more money if it runs well. For example, the 2009 Kentucky Derby was won by a horse named Mine That Bird. Mine That Bird was one of the least-fancied horses in the field, and he was sent away at Kentucky betting odds of 50-1. So, every $2 win wager was rewarded $103.20, the biggest such payoff since Donerail won the 1913 Derby.

More recently, the historic disqualification of Maximum Security in 2019 (the first such disqualification of an unofficial winner due to events within the Derby) elevated 55-1 longshot Country House to the top spot. Those who bet Country House had to sweat out a 22-minute steward’s inquiry but were ultimately rewarded with a win payoff of $132.40 when Maximum Security was taken down due to interference with several horses around the far turn.

Meanwhile, if the public heavily backs your horse, it may be seen as a contender with a higher chance of winning, but it won’t pay as much if it factors in certain wagers. The 2020 Derby winner, Authentic, was seen as a contender leading up to the race, and he was the third-shortest price at odds of 8-1. He paid $18.80 to win and ultimately used the Derby as a springboard to a win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic two months later.

You can bet on Thurby and more

The Kentucky Derby is the culmination of a festival of racing in the Bluegrass State. While this has traditionally kicked off with a stakes-filled card on the Friday of Derby week, the Thursday card has gained prominence. It’s known as “Thurby” by some racing fans, and you can bet on these races through your ADW, too.

The Kentucky Oaks traditionally highlight Friday’s program, the Kentucky Derby’s sister race for 3-year-old fillies. Like the Derby, the winning horse receives a garland of flowers (though in this case, they’re lilies and not roses), and they’re traditionally welcomed to the Churchill Downs winner’s circle with cheers from more than 100,000 fans. Many don their flashiest, most fashionable outfits to celebrate the day, and the color pink is present everywhere a fan may look.

The Oaks has produced some of the most well-known female horses in recent racing history. In 2020, Swiss Skydiver ran second in the Oaks behind Shedaresthedevil before upsetting Authentic in a thrilling renewal of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Monomoy Girl won this race in 2018 and has since captured two separate runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. In 2009, Hall-of-Famer Rachel Alexandra won by more than 20 lengths without asking for her best effort. Alexandra would defeat males in that year’s Preakness, Haskell and Woodward before being named Horse of the Year.

The road to the Kentucky Derby

In keeping with the status of the race, it isn’t easy to get to the Kentucky Derby. Campaigns are mapped out months in advance, sometimes before the thoroughbreds even turn 3. The reasoning is that the Derby field is decided by a points system that rewards winners and runners-up in major prep races during the winter and spring.

Winners of races like the Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Florida Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, and Wood Memorial will get spots in the Kentucky Derby. Many recent winners have come from these March and April prep races, and due to the recent form they’ve shown, several have been very low prices. Every year from 2013 to 2018, the Kentucky Derby betting favorite emerged victoriously and earned the roses.

Points are also offered for stakes races dating from September. Among many other well-known races for developing horses, this list includes the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which serves as the flagship race for 2-year-olds in North America and often crowns an Eclipse Award winner for the country’s top 2-year-old male.

However, just two Juvenile winners have gone on to win the following year’s Derby. Street Sense became the first with a win in 2007, one of Calvin Borel’s three Derby scores in just four years. Nyquist, meanwhile, won the 2015 Juvenile and carried an unblemished record into the following year’s Derby. He stretched his record to 8-for-8 by winning the roses, but he would not win another race before retiring to stud later in 2016.

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