Kentucky Derby 2019: A beginner’s guide to betting the biggest horse race of the year

Here’s everything novice bettors need to know to gamble on the Kentucky Derby. Bill Brine/Flickr
  • The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place this Saturday with 20 horses competing in the Run for the Roses.
  • While thousands head to Churchill Downs to bet on the race in person, millions more will watch at home with the option of betting either online or at their local off-track betting site.
  • For novice gamblers, betting on horses can be a bit intimidating.
  • Below is everything beginners need to know before betting on horses.

This Saturday 20 horses will enter the gate at the 2019 Kentucky Derby, looking to win the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Often called “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports,” the Kentucky Derby is one of the most compelling events of the year, for both casual viewers and even more so for bettors.

Betting on horse racing can be intimidating – filled with insider language and with so many ways to bet, it’s not surprising that some might be hesitant to head to the betting window. But you shouldn’t be!

Gambling on horses is surprisingly easy, extremely fun, and offers bettors the rare option of winning a lot of money with a minimal bet, should they be lucky enough to have an eye for the right horses on a given day.

Below, we’ll go through everything you need to know so you can head to the betting window with confidence and hopefully make some money on the “Run for the Roses” this Saturday.

Betting to Win, Place, and Show


The easiest way to bet a horse race is, unsurprisingly, merely picking a horse to win. Like I said, easy! You can do this on a whim wherever you happen to be watching the race as long as you have another person who’s game to put something on the line.

You can bet on a horse to Win at the track and off-track betting parlors, but there are plenty of other ways to bet your favourite horse in the race while still keeping things simple. For instance, you can bet on a horse to Place, which is to come in first or second place, but your return on a winning bet will be a bit lower than on one to win. Similarly, you can bet on a horse to Show, meaning it finishes in the top three, with an even lower return.

Finally, you can elect to bet Across the Board on a horse, which is technically three different bets on the horse to win, place, and show. So, betting $US2 Across the Board on a horse would cost you $US6 – this is what is known as a “combo straight wager.”

Depending on how much faith you have in your horse and how much return you’re willing on your bet, picking a win, place, or show is a simple way to dip your toe in the waters of horse racing.

Exactas, Trifectas, and Superfectas


While these bets are harder to hit, they’re where bettors can start to make big money on smaller investments.

An Exacta is a bet on two horses to come in first and second in the race in exact order. If you’re confident in two horses racing, but aren’t as sure on the order they will come in, you can place an Exacta Box, which is essentially placing two bets – one exacta with one of your horses finishing first and the other second, and a second bet with their order reversed. Because both of these bets have multiple horses in play, they will net you much more, but are also tougher to hit.

Gamblers can also bet a Trifecta, picking three horses to finish first, second, and third (Win, Place, and Show) in order. These can deliver huge payouts to bettors, especially if a longshot that you have on your ticket sneaks into the top three – at the 2017 Kentucky Derby, a $US2 winning trifecta bet on Always Dreaming, Looking at Lee, and Battle of Midway won bettors a whopping $US8,207.20.

Like the exacta box, on the Trifecta Box, you’re betting three horses as a trifecta in every possible order, resulting in six different bets. Thus, a $US2 box trifecta will cost you $US12 at the betting window, but you no longer have to pick the exact order.

And for the truly brave of heart, there is the Superfecta, which follows the same logic as the trifecta, but with the top four horses to finish.

How to place your bet


Placing your bet at the betting window is not as complicated as the insider language of horse racing makes it sound. Follow a simple formula, and you’ll be set to go. Lead with the racetrack you are betting and the race number you are betting on – in the case of the Kentucky Derby, you can say that, but when off-track betting parlors are showing numerous races on days other than Kentucky Derby Saturday, you would have to clarify.

Then, state the amount you want to bet, the type of bet you want to make, and the numbers of the horses you’re picking.

Example: “Churchill Downs, Race 12. $US1 trifecta box – 6-7-14.”

You would then hand the person behind the counter $US6 for your bet – remember, a trifecta box is six bets – and take your ticket once it is printed out.

Also, always remember to tip your ticket-taker – in the world of picking ponies you can use all of the good karma you can get.

How to pick winners at the track


In horse racing, as in any other form of gambling, there is no sure-fire strategy to winning. This is what makes it so difficult, but also what makes it so thrilling when you win (well, that and the money.)

But I like to think of picking horses as akin to filling out a bracket for March Madness – there’s plenty of strategy and statistics you can throw in, but if you want to just pick your lucky numbers or horses with names you like, nothing is stopping you.

That said, for those that want to dive deep, there are all sorts of information on the horses, jockeys, trainers, and history of the race that you can use to form your favourite picks.

For novice bettors, betting on favourites to show is a simple way to get a little bit of action on a race without risking too much – your margins will be low, but as long as your horse finishes in the top three, you’ll turn a profit.

Those looking to spread their money a bit more strategically can bet trifectas involving different horses, or place a few bets on longshots hoping one pays out big.

Personally, I like to pick a $US1 box trifecta on a race, then put $US5 on one horse to win. Including a $US1 tip, my tickets will cost me $US12, and I’m set for the race.

Who to pick at the 2019 Kentucky Derby


Sadly, same as you, I don’t yet know the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

In a 20-horse field, it’s tough to predict with any degree of certainty who will cross the finish line first to win the roses.

After Justify’s dominant year in 2018, the field looks wide open at Churchill Downs this year, with plenty of contenders, including probable favourite Omaha Beach, Bob Baffert’s Roadster and Game Winner, and Todd Pletcher’s underdogs Cutting Humour and Spinoff.

Any of these horses could wind up the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby. If you can figure out which it will be, there’s plenty of money to be made.

Good luck!

More on the Kentucky Derby:


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Forget owning a sports team: Rich people are snapping up race horses for up to $US2.4 million, and they will probably never get that money back

Here’s the best way to mix the legendary mint julep for your Derby Day party this weekend

The Kentucky Derby has been a playground for celebrities and rich people for over 100 years – here’s how it has evolved over time