The Kentucky Derby is one of the most thrilling and prestigious horse racing events in the world. Known as the most exciting two minutes in sports, the Derby draws thousands of spectators each year, many of them hoping to win big at the races. But the real question is how to bet at the Kentucky Derby!

How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby in 2024 (By A Local)

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most thrilling and prestigious horse racing events in the world. Known as the most exciting two minutes in sports, the Derby draws thousands of spectators each year, many of them hoping to win big at the races. But the real question is how to bet at the Kentucky Derby!

If you’re new to the world of horse race betting, the process can seem daunting. With so many different types of bets and factors to consider, it’s difficult to know where to begin. But don’t worry, you’re in the capable hands of the daughter of some true Kentucky horse racing fanatics. And who better to learn the ins and outs of betting on the Kentucky Derby from than my seriously obsessive passionate Louisvillian family?

In this post, I’ll walk you through everything I’ve learned about betting on the Kentucky Derby, all cultivated from a lifetime of listening to my parents meticulously handicap horses and a background soundtrack courtesy of TVG. It’s time to master the art of betting on the Kentucky Derby, y’all. Grab a mint julep and let’s dive in!

Check out all our Kentucky Derby related posts:

2025 Kentucky Derby Tickets & Parking Passes

Need to pick up a ticket for Derby, the Oaks, Thurby, or Dawn at the Downs, or a parking pass for Churchill Downs? Before you pay full price, we highly recommend looking on VividSeats and StubHub, where you can usually find reduced price tickets, single-day tickets, and even parking passes to help you save money (so you can spend more on betting and Mint Juleps, obviously)!

Oh, and make sure to check out our other local’s guides to the Kentucky Derby:

Horses crossing the finish line of the Kentucky Derby Louisville Kentucky

How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby

Betting on a horse race can seem complicated at first, but once you understand the basics, it’s fairly straightforward. (I mean, that’s what my dad says, anyways!) There are several types of bets, each with its own set of rules and payouts. First, let’s get familiar with the most common types of bets and their simplest variations. Then we’ll discuss how to determine the cost and payout.

Standard Bets

Standard bets are great for beginners. They’re quick, easy, and painless!

  • Win – a bet on a horse to finish first
  • Place – a bet on a horse to finish first or second
  • Show – a bet on a horse to finish first, second, or third

Exotic Bets

Exotic bets are for advanced horse racing connoisseurs and can often payout more significant winnings than a standard bet – it comes at a cost, however, and that cost is not money, but rather, math. Depending on how far you want to go, things can get quite complicated. If you want to dive into exotic bets as a beginner, it’s best to stick to the minimum wager and only choose one horse per position.

  • Exacta – a bet on two horses to finish first and second in exact order
  • Trifecta – a bet on three horses to finish first, second, and third in exact order
  • Superfecta – a bet on four horses to finish first, second, third, and fourth in exact order

Box Bets

A variation on an exotic bet, a boxed bet makes it so that your chosen horses can finish in any order. (And yes, it changes the cost – we’ll dive into that next.) For example:

  • Exacta Box – a bet on two horses to finish first and second in any order
  • Trifecta Box – a bet on three horses to finish first, second, and third in any order
  • Superfecta Box – a bet on four horses to finish first, second, third, and fourth in any order

Why box your bet?

The benefit to boxing your bet is that it increases the number of possible winning combinations. If you really like two specific horses, but aren’t sure who’s more likely to win, an exact box makes it so you never even have to choose. For example:

  • If you bet on the #7 to Win and #3 to Place (7-3), you have 1 possible combination. 
  • If you box your exacta, you have 2 possible combinations 7-3 and 3-7.  
See also
The Best Hotels Near Churchill Downs and Where to Stay for the Kentucky Derby (a local’s guide)

 
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Mint Julep at Churchill Downs in Louisville Kentucky
You don’t need to attend the Kentucky Derby to bet on the Derby, but Mint Juleps are appropriate no matter where you’ll be watching.

Where to Place your Kentucky Derby Bet

If you want to know how to bet on the Kentucky Derby, you’ll need to consider where you plan to place your wagers. There are a couple of options available for those who will be at Churchill Downs on Derby day, and for those who won’t!

It’s worth noting that laws surrounding sports betting and online gambling can vary by state, so it’s important to research the laws in your specific location before placing any bets. Additionally, always make sure to bet with licensed and reputable operators to ensure that your funds are safe and secure.

Onsite Wagers at Churchill Downs


Onsite Windows: If you’re lucky enough to attend the Kentucky Derby in person, you can place your bets at one of the many betting windows located throughout the track. Simply approach one of the tellers, hand them your money, and let them know what type of bet you’d like to place.

Onsite Machines: If you bet with a machine, the process is similar. You’ll still need to pay with cash before you select the race, horse, and bet type.

  • TIP: When betting at a machine, make sure you hit the “Cash Out” button after placing your bet if you have a balance leftover. The machine will then print a voucher for the remaining amount.
See also
What to Wear to the Kentucky Derby: The Ultimate Guide

How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby Online

The official online betting partner for the Kentucky Derby is TwinSpires. You can place a bet through their website, app, or even their dedicated phone line. We recommend signing up and funding your account prior to Kentucky Derby Day so you’re ready to bet on Derby Day.

Many other online sportsbooks and betting sites offer Kentucky Derby betting options. To place a bet online, you’ll typically need to create an account, deposit funds, and navigate to the section of the site that lists the Kentucky Derby betting options. Like at the race track, you won’t be able to use a credit card for any bets.

Twin Spires App

If you plan to bet on the Kentucky Derby online, we recommend the TwinSpires Betting App. The official app of Churchill Downs, it’s free, secure, and easy to use.

In the app, you’ll connect your funding account and then simply select the race, horse, and type of bet.

Off-track betting (OTB) facilities

OTB facilities are offsite locations that allow you to view simulcasts and bet on horse races that are taking place elsewhere. These facilities are often located at racetracks or at standalone betting venues. (And yes, people really do this, I played with my dolls at many of them as a child.)

You can find a list of OTB locations near you by searching online or by checking with your state’s racing commission.

If you’re in Louisville and want to check one out, we recommend Derby City Gaming!

See also
Kentucky Derby Tips: The Ultimate First-Timer’s Derby Guide (by a local)
Horses crossing the finish line of the Kentucky Derby Louisville Kentucky
The most exciting two minutes in sports end with the winning horse crossing the finish line. (Photo Credit)

How is betting on the Kentucky Derby different from other Horse Races?

Many first-timers don’t know this, but the Kentucky Derby is a singular race, usually the 3rd to the last of the day. You’ll have a handful of races that happen beforehand and there are a few small differences to be aware of, because betting on the actual Kentucky Derby is a little bit different from betting on a “regual” horse race. But don’t worry, not by much, all the basics are still the same!

Here are the ways that the Kentucky Derby differs:

  • Distance: The Kentucky Derby is run at a distance of 1 1/4 miles (or 10 furlongs), which is longer than most other horse races in the United States. This longer distance can be more challenging for the horses, and can also require different training and racing strategies.
  • Field Size (aka number of horses): The Kentucky Derby has a maximum field size of 20 horses compared to the usual 14, which is larger than the typical field size for most horse races. This can make the race more crowded and competitive.
  • Prestige: The Kentucky Derby is one of the most prestigious horse races in the world, with a long and storied history dating back to the 19th century. The race is widely regarded as the first leg of the Triple Crown, which includes the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
  • Superfectas: You’ll learn more on this in a minute, but on Derby day, the superfecta minimum is raised from $0.10 to $1.
While there is no strict dress code, there are certain dress standards for different areas of Churchill Downs, so be sure to look that over. But with our help, your gaudy getup will be grabbing the eyes of dazzled admirers and not getting you kicked out of the Turf Club boxes. 

Betting on the Kentucky Derby: How much does it Cost?

The cost of each bet in horse racing depends on the type of bet, the amount wagered, and the number of horses involved. You should note that different race tracks may have different minimums, but we’ll be focusing solely on Churchill Downs.

Win, Place & Show Costs

For Win, Place, and Show bets, the cost of the bet is simply the amount of the wager. The minimum bet at Churchill Downs is $2, but you can bet more if you’re feeling extra confident.

Exotic Bet Costs

This is when you start busting out the calculator. You’ll notice that the minimum wager decreases as the number of horses involved in a bet increases. This is because the likelihood that you predict the exact order of winning horses decreases as more variables are involved. (It’s easier to predict which 1 horse will Win than it is to predict which 3 horses will Win, Place and Show.)

Here, the cost of an exotic bet is determined by the number of possible combinations your bet includes. (For example, unless you bet more than the $1 minimum, an exacta with 3 horses gives you 6 possible combinations so it costs $6.)

When it comes to exotic bets, the possible winning combinations increase exponentially as do your options. Beginners should limit exotic bets to the minimum horses required, since it’s easier to calculate cost that way. For example: 

  • Increasing the $1 minimum to a $2 exacta box costs $4, because you have 2 possible combinations that you’re $2 wager each. 
  • If you wanted to bet more than the minimum on other bets, you would just multiply your wager by 2 (exacta), 3 (trifecta) or 4 (superfecta). 
  • Therefore, you can easily calculate that a $5 exacta box costs $10. 

Below, I’ve listed the minimum horses required for each bet, but if you wanted, you could choose any number of horses to Win, any number to Place, any number to Show, and any number to come in 4th. 

Want to choose 4 horses to Win, 6 horses to Place, and 1 to Show with 3 of the same horses for your Win and Place options? You can do that. Have fun calculating that cost! However, if you’re really committed to a certain bet, the teller, machines or online platform can automatically calculate the cost for you.

  • Exact: $1 & 2-horse minimum
  • Trifecta: $.50 & 3-horse minimum
  • Typical Superfecta: $.10 & 4-horse minimum
  • Derby Superfecta: $1 & 4-horse minimum

TIP: It’s important to know that on Derby day, the $.10 superfecta minimum is raised to $1. This is to help regulate the number of bets the track must manage. 

Sounds complicated… why bother?

What’s so special about exactas and superfectas? Horse racing fiends love these types of bets, because of their low minimum and high potential.

These things can pay out big time… if one hits. Spending a little time crafting the perfect bet could well be worth it! Are you feeling lucky?

Horse on the Track at Churchill Downs in Louisville Kentucky

How much can you win betting on the Kentucky Derby?

The amount you can win on a horse racing bet depends on the type of bet you place, the odds of the horse you bet on, and the amount you wager. Sounds simple, right? Not so fast, speed racer, there’s more to it.

Horse Racing Odds

Odds are an important factor in horse racing. They don’t impact the cost of your bet, but they do determine the payout. The odds are determined by the betting public and reflect the perceived chances of each horse winning the race. Bettors can use the odds to inform their betting decisions and determine which horses are more likely to win. Keep in mind that the odds can change up until the race begins so it’s best for beginners to avoid placing a bet too far in advance.

At Churchill Downs, the odds will be displayed on boards around the track in a format that looks like this: 5-1. (Read as five to one odds.) If the odds are 5-1, this means that for every $1 you bet, you would receive a payout of $5 if the horse wins. But, of course, the track wants their cut too…

The Pari-Mutuel System

Are you still with me? We’re almost at the finish line (heh), I promise. Winnings are not only dependent on the odds, but are also impacted by something called the pari-mutuel system. In this system, the amount you can win on a horse racing bet is determined by the total amount of money bet on the race and the number of people who bet on the winning horse. In this system, all bets are pooled together, and the track takes a percentage of the pool as commission (usually 10%) before distributing the remaining money among the winners.

Betting on the Kentucky Derby can be an exciting and unforgettable experience for both beginner and advanced horse racing fans! To make the most of your trip, it’s important to plan ahead by reading about tips for attending race day, finding the right hotel, planning your route to Churchill Downs, buying tickers for the big day, and picking out that perfect Derby ‘fit. Whether you’re a seasoned bettor or a first-time spectator, there’s nothing like the thrill of winning big. So, grab your glamorous hat and find a program guide. We’re off to the races! 

Fashionable Kentucky Derby attendees holding betting ticket

Betting at the Kentucky Derby: More Things to Know


Now that we’ve covered the basics, there are a few more important things to know about preparing for a successful day of betting at the Kentucky Derby.

  • Bring cash to the race track: Listen up, Millennials, Gen Z and everyone else who lives a modern lifestyle:  If you plan to bet at the Churchill Downs teller windows, you can only bet on horse racing with cold hard cash or a debit card- no credit cards allowed. Avoid long ATM lines and potential fees at the track by showing up prepared. (Unless, of course, you plan to bet online- which is much more convenient, but does however, mean you’ll miss out on waving that fun paper ticket around when you win and honestly, isn’t that what it’s really all about?)
  • Take precautions with your money: If you’re carrying cash on you, make sure you’ve got a secure place to store it. Depending on your seats, there likely won’t be a great spot to stash your bag. Consider bringing a small, cross-body bag that won’t be a bother when you’re sitting down.
  • Study, study, study: Read up on Derby contenders ahead of the big race with outlets like Daily Racing Form and BloodHorse. You’ll want to check out how the horses have been performing, which notable jockeys and trainers are headed to the race… or, you know, pick out a horse name you have some fun, obscure connection to, because to hell with strategy! You’ve got a fabulously chic Derby outfit to shop for and a taste for bourbon to cultivate.
  • Pack a portable phone charger: If you’re betting through the app, looking up stats or texting your friends about all your big winnings, you could run your battery down pretty quickly. Derby’s a full day of fun that can last from as early as 10am until after 6pm. A portable phone charger will ensure all your high school friends are aware of the very moment you won your first $2 at the track.
  • Winnings over $600 are taxed: Sorry to be a downer, but it’s better to know from the get-go. If you win anything over $600 on a single bet, the government’s going to want their cut. You’ll get an IRS form, it’ll be a whole thing, but in the end, you’re coming out ahead so cheers to winning big!
  • For any of my advanced students out there, keep in mind that there are no 10 cent superfectas on Derby day. (Don’t know what this means? Don’t worry about it, you’re doing great, sweetie! We’ll get there.)
  • You guys, I have to say it: Don’t overdo it with the ponies, okay? Remember that gambling can be addictive, so it’s important to only bet what you can afford to lose and to do so responsibly.

We’ve got loads more tips for attending the Kentucky Derby in our first timer’s guide! Check it out:

See y’all at the track!

See also
Getting to the Kentucky Derby, a Transit Guide for Churchill Downs (by a local)

What questions can we answer about betting on the Kentucky Derby? Drop us a comment below!

Before you go, check out all our Kentucky Derby related posts:


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The Kentucky Derby is one of the most thrilling and prestigious horse racing events in the world. Known as the most exciting two minutes in sports, the Derby draws thousands of spectators each year, many of them hoping to win big at the races. But the real question is how to bet at the Kentucky Derby!
 
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