Kentucky Derby 2018: A beginner's guide to betting the biggest horse race of the year

Getty/Patrick SmithThe Kentucky Derby is often referred to as ‘The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports’ and with good reason — few events are more compelling to watch, or to bet on every year. Here’s everything novice bettors need to know to lay a few bucks down on the big race.

This Saturday 20 horses will enter the gate at the 2018 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

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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 a bet 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 bet is a simple way to dip your toe in the waters of horse racing.


Exactas, Trifectas, and Superfectas

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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.

Taking this thinking to another level, gamblers can 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.

Since these bets are tough to hit, and worth so much money that you as a gambler would be extremely disappointed to have picked the correct top three horses in the incorrect order, many gamblers choose to bet a Trifecta Box. Like the exacta box, you’re betting three horses as a trifecta in every possible order, technically resulting in six different bets. Thus, a $US2 box trifecta will cost you $US12 at the betting window.

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. These feel all but impossible to hit, but if you have a vision on race-day morning, there’s plenty of profit to be made.


How to place your bet

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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 actually six bets – and take your ticket once it was 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

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In horse racing, as in any other form of gambling, there is no surefire 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 is 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 2018 Kentucky Derby

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Sadly, same as you, I don’t yet know the winner of the 2018 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.

Favourites are on a Kentucky Derby-winning streak, having taken the first race of the Triple Crown for five straight years, so Justify is your bet if you want to ride that trend – but he’s facing fierce competition.

Magnum Moon is also undefeated coming into the race, and Mendelssohn just won the UAE Derby by more than 17 lengths in what can only be described as a dominant performance. He could blow the field away again, but horses coming off of the UAE Derby have historically faired dreadfully in the Derby, never finishing higher than sixth. Also, it’s tough to tell how he might react to the field, not being used to have to fight out of the pack.

Good Magic, Bolt d’Oro, and Audible are also both potential contenders, and I like My Boy Jack and Enticed as longer shots to show just on the strength of their names alone. Whoever you end up picking, there’s no wrong way to bet.

Good luck!


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