Kentucky Derby Betting Strategy


In 2013, Churchill Downs implemented a new method in which horses qualify for the Kentucky Derby, awarding points to the top four finishers in a series of Kentucky Derby “prep races” spanning from September of the previous year through April of the current year.


Prior to 2013, Churchill Downs used horses’ unrestricted stakes earnings to determine the field of 20 for the First Saturday in May. The major difference: horses could earn money in a wider variety of stakes races than those currently designated specifically as Kentucky Derby preps. Horses could earn money toward qualifying in the Derby in sprint races, or races shorter than a one-mile distance. Experts will argue that the new points system has eliminated a considerable amount of horses with early speed, changing the entire dynamic of how the Derby is run.

The main result? There are, of course, differing arguments to be made as to the impact of the points system, but one statistic has proven true in the last five Kentucky Derby’s: the post time favorite has won every time.

My Best Betting Derby

In 2013, I had my most successful Kentucky Derby from a betting standpoint. For  reasons both sentimental and strategic, I was high on a horse named Orb, who ended up winning that year. I bet $120 to win on Orb at 5.4-1, which yielded $768, or a $648 return on investment (ROI).

I also bet a series of exactas. I wheeled Orb in first and took ALL in the second position, which cost $19.00. I also wheeled the field in an exacta using ALL in first and Orb in second, which also cost $19.00. With Orb as a somewhat high price as a favorite, and longshot Golden Soul finishing second at odds of 34.5-1, I hit the $1 exacta which returned $490.80, good for a $452.80 ROI.


The Strategy

What I have started recommending to people as an approach to betting the Fastest Two Minutes in Sports, is to pick out one horse that you really like, and use that horse in the same betting strategy I used in 2013. If you’re having trouble picking out just one, history suggests that you take the favorite.

Derby Field

In this case, should (7) Justify end up being the post time favorite, you would make the following wagers:

  • $1 Exacta 7 with ALL (19 total bets, cost: $19)
  • $1 Exacta ALL with 7 (19 total bets, cost: $19)

The hope is that, obviously, Justify finishes either first or second, and that a longshot finishes in the opposite position.

The Strategy: Past Five Years

Orb’s exacta was by far the most rewarding in 2013, but if you made this same series of wagers wheeling the favorite with the field and vice versa, you’d still be quite profitable.


The image above illustrates returns if you only did one half of the wager, because the favorite has finished first in each of the last five years. Had you made both bets (favorite with ALL; all with favorite), you still would have made some significant money, you just would have spent more on betting.

If you placed both series of wagers each year, it would have cost a total of $184, with the same total return of $880.50, but would have only netted $696.50, still good for an average of $139.30 in profits over the five-year period.

My Recommendation

I am recommending making both series of bets, just in case a longshot ends up winning the race, you would still have the favorite in second, and would likely get an even greater return if it hits. The $1 series of bets will probably cost you $38 total. If you’re wanting to bet more, do the same series with a $2 exacta, which would cost $76. Or you could use the same betting sequence of $1 exactas for two different horses, also totaling $76.

Note: If this is too confusing, feel free to submit a question to

Of course, because I am writing this post out of the kindness of my heart, I’m sure things won’t work out in this manner for 2018! Which is why I say do your research, pick out one horse YOU really like (regardless of odds), and hope it finishes first or second with a longshot in the opposite position.

Stay Tuned

I plan to post an analysis of both the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby on here in the coming days, as well as for select other stakes races on Churchill Downs’ Friday and Saturday cards. Stay Tuned!



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