Kentucky Derby 2020: Betting Odds, Favorites, And How To Pick A Winner

Written By FairwayJay on September 2, 2020 - Last Updated on September 6, 2020

The pageantry surrounding the 2020 Kentucky Derby won’t be the same on Saturday, Sept. 5. America’s biggest horse race will have no spectators in the stands at Churchill Downs. But betting will still provide millions of fans great entertainment as 18 three-year-old thoroughbreds get prepared in the paddock before taking to the racetrack and loading into the starting gate in The Run for the Roses.

Fans and recreational race bettors are focusing on Tiz the Law, who opened at 3/5 odds on the morning line and is positioned to be the lowest-priced horse to go to post in more than 30 years. It could be more than 40 years if his odds drop further at post time, as 1979 Kentucky Derby winner Spectacular Bid went to post at 3/5 odds and beat nine rivals on his way to winning 26-of-30 lifetime races.

Tiz the Law is 6-for-7 including a win in the Belmont Stakes in June and the Travers in early August. A win in the Kentucky Derby will set him up for a chance at horse racing’s Holy Grail – the Triple Crown. Usually the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes will be the finale this year as it will take place on Oct. 3.

The beauty of betting on horse racing and especially an oversized field like the Kentucky Derby means not only larger payouts in the Win-Place-Show pools, but a chance for a bigger score on horizontal and vertical bets including Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta wagers.

Kentucky Derby post positions and odds

Post positions and opening odds were released on Tuesday, Sept. 1. The original 20-horse field of 3-year-olds was made up from the Top 20 points earners during the 57 Derby prep races from September 2019 through August 2020. Churchill Downs extended the Derby trail and added prep races to the schedule following the cancelation of races due to the coronavirus health crisis and pandemic.

The biggest challenger to Tiz the Law for many handicappers and racing experts was Art Collector, who was 4-for-4 this year. But Art Collector was scratched from the Derby following an Aug. 31 training session at the track when he suffered a minor foot injury. That affected the morning line odds on Tiz the Law, who has one less major challenger. Authentic and Ny Traffic are ones to watch on Derby Day, however, along with unknown and aptly-named late-developing newcomer, Money Moves. Projecting improvement of 3-year-olds is key and part of the process when handicapping and betting on the Kentucky Derby.

Betting odds provided by TVG (Click here to get $300 risk-free bet, just for signing up!)

PostHorseKentucky Derby odds: Morning Line
1Mo Donegal10-1
2 Happy Jack30-1
4Summer Is Tomorrow30-1
5Smile Happy20-1
7Crown Pride20-1
8 Charge It20-1
9Tiz The Bomb30-1
11Pioneer Of Medina30-1
14Barber Road30-1
15White Abarrio10-1
17Classic Causeway30-1
18Tawny Port30-1
20Ethereal Road30-1

Betting the Kentucky Derby

Why is the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby such a great wagering opportunity? Beyond being a major event and the biggest 3-year-old race in the world, the Derby is stacked with up to a 20-horse field (18 this year). So a big betting pool with a lot of uniformed money is bet on the Kentucky Derby.

The post time favorites had won six straight Derby’s since the prep series races and points system was implemented in 2013. Then in the 2019 Derby, co-favorite Maximum Security crossed the finish line first but was disqualified in a controversial ruling. Longshot runner-up Country House (65/1) was declared the winner, providing one of the biggest win payouts in Derby history as a $2 win bet on Country House paid a whopping $132.40.

Big payouts in recent Kentucky Derby races

Along with Country House stealing the controversial 2019 Derby at long odds, the $2 Exacta with Country House winning and Code of Honor (14/1) finishing second returned $3,009. A $1 Trifecta with Country House, Code of Honor and Tacitus (5/1) in third paid $11,475. That’s what attracts bettors to the biggest races with larger betting pools and fields.

While the odds of a huge longshot winning are rare, you can still have big payouts with a favorite winning or finishing second. In the 2017 Kentucky Derby, race favorite Always Dreaming won the Derby at odds of 9/2 and paid $11.40 on a $2 win bet. So a $20 win bet on the favorite returned $114. No bad for a favorite winning the race. But with a 33/1 longshot, Lookin At Lee, finishing second and a 40/1 longshot, Battle of Midway, in third – the $2 Exacta paid $336. A $1 Trifecta returned $8,297 and a $1 Superfecta with Classic Empire in fourth paid $75,974.

The opportunity for a big score is possible in the Kentucky Derby, and large betting pools bring out more bettors. Bonus offers from major online betting platforms like TVG allow bettors to join and get risk free bets as well.

ALSO READ: Exacta? Trifecta? How To Get Exotic At The Kentucky Derby

Identifying a Kentucky Derby contender and winner

Some keys to handicapping the contenders and determining which runners can pass the test and move up in the Classic 1 1/4 mile Derby distance are speed figures and final 3/8 mile times in their final race before the Kentucky Derby.

Equibase Speed Figures (ESF) measure how fast a horse has been running in each of its races – adjusted for track, distances and conditions. Fifteen of the last 20 Derby winners posted a career-best Equibase Speeed Figure in their final race before the Derby.

Kentucky Derby contenders must also show the ability to finish fast traveling 1 1/8 miles if they’re going to have any chance at handling 1 1/4 miles in the Run for the Roses. One key stat and time has proven effective year-after-year in assisting handicappers with identifying potential winners and top finishers in the Kentucky Derby. Horses that finished strong in their final race before the Derby and sprinted home to the finish in less than 38 seconds in the final three-eights of a mile have won each of the last eight Derbys – and 18 of the last 22 overall.

This year’s runners that fit the final 3/8 mile parameters include:

  • Tiz the Law – 1st in Belmont Stakes (36.39)
  • Max Player – 3rd in Belmont Stakes (36.74)
  • Honor A. P. – 1st Santa Anita Derby (37.63)
  • Thousand Words – 2nd Los Alamitos Derby (36.76)
  • Enforceable – 4th Blue Grass Stakes (37.93)
  • Attachment Rate – 2nd Ellis Park Derby (37.78)
  • Money Moves – 2nd Allowance Race (N/A) but qualifies

In the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the three top finishers before the disqualification of Maximum Security all fit the final 3/8 mile profile: co-favorite Maximum Security (9/2), Country House (65/1) and Code of Honor (14/1), along with co-favorite Improbable – who finished fifth, just a neck out of fourth place.

2020 Kentucky Derby runners and contenders

Three main contenders will take the most wagering action with Tiz the Law the prohibitive favorite at 3/5 odds.

  • Tiz the Law: Has won 6-for-7 races including 4-for-4 this year with recent Grade 1 wins in the 1 1/8 mile Belmont Stakes and 1 1/4 mile Travers. Tiz the Law posted Equibase speed figures of 113 and 116 in those two races, which is best of the Derby runners. His best ESF was 117 in the Grade 3 Holy Bull in February. Tiz the Law’s second half and closing race speed in winning the Travers at the same 1 1/4 mile Derby distance ranks among the very best speeds in a final prep in the last 25 years. Jockey Manny Franco rides in his third Kentucky Derby and is the youngest rider in the race at age 25.
  • Honor A. P.: The colt is fresh off a career-best 106 speed figure a month ago in a short field of four and a runner-up finish behind Thousand Words in the 1 1/16 mile Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar. Honor A. P. was a beaten 1/5 favorite that day but it was more of a get ready for the Derby race than a best effort. The race prior in June, Honor A. P. won the 1 1/8 mile Santa Anita Derby by tracking a swift pace and putting away the 1/2 favorite Authentic by nearly 3-lengths. Jockey Mike Smith, 55, rides in his 26th Kentucky Derby and last won aboard Justify – the Triple Crown winner in 2018.
  • Authentic: A 3-time graded stakes winner and 4-for-5 overall, Authentic’s only defeat was a runner-up finish to Honor A. P. in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. His 109 ESF in that race was his second best behind a 113 speed figure in a wire-to-wire win in the 1 1/16 mile San Felipe in March – well in front of Honor A. P., Storm the Court and Thousand Words. Authentic won his last race wire-to-wire by a nose over Ny Traffic in the 1 1/8 mile Haskell, but his closing three-eighths mile time was outside of 38 seconds. Mike Smith chose to ride Honor A. P. leaving John Velazquez available to ride Authentic.

The next wave of contenders includes:

  • Max Player: He’s finished in-the-money in all five starts with a pair of wins. Improved in recent two races despite finishing a well-beaten third behind Tiz the Law in both the Travers and Belmont Stakes while posting a 105 ESF in each race. Trainer change from Linda Rice to Steve Asmussen in preparing for the Kentucky Derby and training very well leading into the biggest race.
  • Thousand Words: He has yet to win racing longer than 1 1/16 miles but Thousand Words has won four times, including twice in his 3-year-old campaign with both victories sporting a 107 speed figure. His win in the Shared Belief Stakes was just in front of a hard-closing Honor A. P.
  • Money Moves: A wild card and late-developing colt who is a late entry to the Derby field thanks to some Derby qualifiers falling out. Money Moves sold for nearly $1 million last year – the second highest-priced horse in the field behind Thousand Oaks. The Derby will be the first stakes race for Money Moves, and he’s won 2-of-3 and was a close runner-up last race with a 109 speed figure against older horses going 1 1/8 miles off a four month layoff. A son of Candy Ride, Money Moves is a raw talent and can move forward even jumping up sharply in class. Trainer Todd Pletcher is a two-time Derby winner. Could Money Moves be like the great Arrogate, who broke on the racing scene by winning his stakes debut in the 2016 Travers in track record time?
  • Ny Traffic: Three straight runner-up finishes plus a third place showing this year with all four graded stakes races. His best EFS was 109 when running his best race and losing by a nose to Authentic in the Haskell. Ny Traffic will be one of many pace pressers and he’ll need to balance his energy to hold up down the long stretch.
  • Attachment Rate: Just one win in eight starts with some troubled trips, but improving and finished a distant runner-up to Art Collector last race and well in front of Necker Island in the Ellis Park Derby. His 99 ESF in that race was a career best.
  • Enforceable: A deep closer but would need a complete pace collapse and maybe even a few horses to stumble and slide to have an impact. He’s run in six straight graded stakes races with one win back in January that involved a career-best 97 speed figure.

Kentucky Derby recent history

Here are the last 20 Kentucky Derby winners with odds and payouts.

Update following 2020 race: Authentic wins Kentucky Derby wire-to-wire by 1 1/4 lenghts over 3/5 favorite Tiz the Law.

YearWinnerTimeOdds$2 WinTrack
2021Medina Spirit*2:01.3612-1$26.20Fast
2019Country House2:03.9365-1$132.40Sloppy
2018Justify2:04.203-1 $7.80Sloppy
2017Always Dreaming2:03.599-2$11.40Wet
2015American Pharoah2:03.023-1$7.80Fast
2014California Chrome2:03.665-2$7.00Fast
2012I’ll Have Another2:01.8315-1$32.60Fast
2011Animal Kingdom2:02.0421-1$43.80Fast
2010Super Saver2:04.458-1$18.00Sloppy
2009Mine That Bird2:02.6651-1$103.20Sloppy
2008Big Brown2:01.827-2$6.80Fast
2007Street Sense2:02.179-2$11.80Fast
2004Smarty Jones2:04.064-1$10.20Sloppy
2003Funny Cide2:01.1912-1$27.60Fast
2002War Emblem2:01.1320-1$43.00Fast
2000Fusaichi Pegasus2:01.122-1$6.60Fast

Kentucky Derby tips

In handicapping and preparing for the Kentucky Derby, you can be more informed and have a better chance to win if you follow some simple tips from experts like Mike Shutty; author of Super Screener and founder of Horse Racing Nation.

  1. Learn to project the pace of the race
  2. Form cycle analysis – look at contenders form cycle
  3. Workout analysis – last workouts before Derby

Be sure to understand the different dynamics for this year’s Kentucky Derby as well, with the rescheduled date allowing more maturation and improvement of some colts and late-developing runners like Money Moves. No spectators or 150,000 fans in the stands at Churchill Downs is clearly different, and some runners will have new riders with top jockey’s Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz, Jr., Joel Rosario and Flavien Prat skipping the race due to quarantine restrictions. Final workouts over the track, surface conditions on race day along with late scratches can impact the race and odds as well.

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FairwayJay is a leading national sports and gaming analyst and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful professionals. Jay has pursued his passions and maintained a pulse on the sports, gaming and poker industries while living in Las Vegas for nearly two decades. He's been a regular featured guest on sports and gaming radio shows, podcasts and produces sports betting and related industry articles and content for various sites and sources.

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