The Kentucky Derby is the most popular betting race in the United States. It is the Super Bowl of horse racing and creates considerable media attention and interest from casual sports fans and bettors along with industry insiders and horsemen. Known as “The most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby generates huge betting action as America’s most wagered-on horse race. The Sport of Kings has clearly generated an interest from the casual fan when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, as wagering records, live attendance and Derby telecast viewership are at all-time highs. Here, we look at Kentucky Derby betting odds and much more.
NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage has averaged more than 14 million viewers each year since 2008. Fueled by a postrace inquiry and Country House’s controversial win, the 2019 race was the highest-rated Kentucky Derby since 2015 and the third-most watched Derby since 1989 with 16.34 million viewers.
The 2020 Kentucky Derby broadcast on NBC saw a peak audience of 9.8 million, which was down from the 2019 race peak of 18.5 million.
The rescheduled Kentucky Derby in September 2020 drew a total betting handle of $79.4 million, down 52% from the record $165.5 million bet on the controversial 2019 race. Still, the total amount bet on the 14-race Derby Day card was $128.3 million. That was better than any other race day in 2020, illustrating the Kentucky Derby’s unique position in sports.
An interesting note about the 2020 Kentucky Derby day card is that of the 14 races, just one post-time favorite won – sapping many bettors’ bankrolls.
How to bet on the Kentucky Derby
So, how do you bet on the Kentucky Derby and get involved in the exciting action? Fans can wager legally at racetracks, simulcast centers such as Off Track Betting (OTB) Centers, and on advanced deposit wagering platforms such as TVG, where bettors in 31 states can legally bet on the race from their mobile devices and web browsers. You can also wager on horse racing legally in the state of Nevada at the hundreds of casinos with race and sportsbooks.
Best online horse racing sites
2021 Kentucky Derby race information
- Date: Saturday, May 1, 2021
- Time: 7:01 p.m. ET
- TV: NBC Sports Network
- Tablet, Online, Mobile: NBC Sports App and streamed live on NBCsports.com/live
- Track & Location: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
- Distance: 1 ¼ miles (10 furlongs)
- Surface: Dirt
- Horses: 3-Year-Old Thoroughbreds
- Track Record: Secretariat – 1:59.40 in 1973
Kentucky Derby Odds 2021
|Horse||Odds (April 18) William Hill||Odds (April 1)||Odds (Feb. 22)||Trainer|
|Essential Quality||+300||+350||+700||Brad Cox|
|Known Agenda||+450||+700||N/A||Todd Pletcher|
|Rock Your World||+350||+3500||N/A||John Sadler|
|Hot Rod Charlie||+1000||+1200||+3000||Doug O'Neill|
|Medina Spirit||+1200||+1200||+1600||Bob Baffert|
|Highly Motivated||+1400||+2600||+3000||Chad Brown|
|Midnight Bourbon||+2500||+2400||N/A||Steve Asmussen|
|Soup and Sandwich||+3200||+5500||N/A||Mark Casse|
|Super Stock||+3200||N/A||N/A||Steve Asmussen|
|Dynamic One||+4500||+10000||N/A||Todd Pletcher|
|Caddo River||+7500||+6000||+1500||Doug O'Neill|
|Hidden Stash||+7500||+3000||N/A||Victoria Oliver|
|Get Her Number||+7500||+12500||N/A||Peter Miller|
|Like the King||+8000||+9000||N/A||Wesley Ward|
|Dream Shake||+8500||+4000||N/A||Peter Eurton|
|King Fury||+8500||N/A||N/A||Ken McPeek|
|O Besos||+10000||+12500||N/A||Greg Foley|
|Crowded Trade||+12500||+12500||N/A||Chad Brown|
Horses to watch in 2021
The Kentucky Derby points standings will change considerably throughout the month of April leading into the May 1 Kentucky Derby. The development of some of the leading thoroughbreds is fascinating to watch as they race into their 3-year-old campaign.
Prevailing in the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May requires some good fortune in a potential 20 horse field. More importantly, to be a major contender, a horse must have a strong blend of stamina and speed. An early maturing profile is part of the process and buildup as trainers prepare their prized runners for the biggest race of their 3-year-old campaign.
Leading into the Championship Series races we see some horses that have already won some big races at age 2, and others starting to make their mark in other Road to the Kentucky Derby races.
Here are five horses to watch that have had some on the Derby trail. We’ll update additional horses to watch as the competition gets tougher and the biggest races unfold on the Derby trail.
You can follow the Road to the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard for the top-20 points earners to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
1. Essential Quality
Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality went 3-for-3 in 2020 with a pair of Grade 1 wins that included the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He then won the Grade III Southwest Stakes in February over a sloppy surface, running from mid-pack to take over in the stretch and win by more than 4-lengths with his best Equibase Speed Figure of 105. He’s 4-for-4 as he enters the April 3 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland as the 3/5 morning line favorite. The galloping gray son of Tapit, who won the 2004 Wood Memorial and ran in the Kentucky Derby, has pedigree stacked with classic influences. That makes the Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles a solid target for success. As of April 1, Essential Quality remains the clear leader in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Top 3-Year-Old Poll. Essential Quality closed as the 4/1 favorite in the final Kentucky Derby Future Wager, Pool 5 on March 28.
2. Known Agenda
Known Agenda secured his spot in the Run for the Roses with an impressive run turning for home and drawing clear to beat the dominant favorite Greatest Honour in the Florida Derby. Known Agenda was not even listed in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool, but the Todd Pletcher-trained son of Curlin showed top speed and the best Equibase Speed Figure to date when hitting 112 to win the Florida Derby. He’s bred to go the Classic 1 ¼ mile distance and farther, and Known Agenda moved up to No. 4 in the end of March NTRA Top Three-Year old Poll. In William Hill’s fixed odds for the Kentucky Derby, Known Agenda is +700 following the Florida Derby and is next race will be the Kentucky Derby.
3. Hot Rod Charlie
Hot Rod Charlie took four starts to break his maiden, and then he nearly stole the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) with a runner-up finish behind Essential Quality at 94/1 odds. After finishing a close third in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) in January, Hot Rod Charlie secured his spot in the Run for the Roses with a front-running win in the Louisiana Derby (G2). He posted a 99 speed figure in that race, and has shown versatility in his running style. The the son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow has the stamina to be a factor in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, where Oxbow finished second. Hot Rod Charlie is No. 3 in the latest NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll, and closed 12/1 in the final Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
4. Rock Your World
Rock Your World is 3-for-3 after winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 3. He did so impressively on the front end and pulled away to win by more than 4-lengths over race favorite Medina Spirit. Rock Your World was not on most people’s radar ahead of the Santa Anita Derby, as he had run just two races and both were on the turf. Rock Your World was not offered in either Pool 4 or 5 of the Twinspires Kentucky Derby Future Wager. William Hill did have him listed at +3500 on it’s Derby fixed odds April 1, and reduced him to +500 after winning the Santa Anita Derby. He is currently +350 to win the Kentucky Derby as of April 17. Trainer John Sadler has been high on this versatile colt, who showed his speed and improvement at Santa Anita. Horses with grass form that have won the Kentucky Derby this century include Barbaro impressively by 6 ½ lengths in 2006, and 20/1 longshot Animal Kingdom in 2011. Rock Your World has a deep and talented pedigree. His sire Candy Ride (ARG) was 6-for-6 in his short career, and won Grade 1 races on both dirt and grass. Candy Ride still holds the 1 ¼ mile track record at Del Mar, where he won the 2003 Pacific Classic on dirt. Candy Ride sired the great Gun Runner, who finished third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby and completed his 12-win career and nearly $16 million on-track earnings with give straight Grade 1 wins. Rock Your World has quickly become one to watch and a the second betting choice in the 2021 Kentucky Derby behind Essential Quality.
5. Dynamic One
Dynamic One could be a longshot to blow up the tote board in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. He’s one to watch as one of four Derby runners for top trainer Todd Pletcher, and leading jockey Jose Ortiz riding. Dynamic One earned his spot in the Derby field with a runner-up finish in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. He posted a solid 100 Equibase Speed Figure in that race, and came from off the pace running wide to get the lead in the stretch before getting caught in the shadow of the wire. Pletcher noted this horse has trained the best of all, even back to late last year. His results have not lived up to the talent he’s shown on the track, or his price tag, which was $725,000 as a yearling. But Dynamic One has lots of speed and showed it when breaking his maiden in March, and also in two races at Gulfstream when he drew outside posts and ran wide with the short run to the first turn. Still, Dynamic One ran his fastest race after a slow start when getting the lead in the stretch at Gulfstream only to get caught by Derby contender Greatest Honour, who has since suffered a setback and is out of the Kentucky Derby. But Dynamic One is in, and this son of 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags may be gearing up just in time for a big payoff.
Other Derby Horses and news
- Kentucky Derby favorite Life is Good is off the Derby trail with a hind-end injury suffered in late March. The Bob Baffert-trained son of Into Mischief is the stablemate of Concert Tour. Life is Good was 3-for-3 and had posted the fastest ESF of 110 in a pair of Derby prep races. Also, on April 17, Bob Baffert removed his other leading contender Concert Tour from the Kentucky Derby. Baffert indicated they will wait an run Concert Tour in the May 15 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
- Mandaloun won the Risen Star in February, but has dropped down the odds board after finishing sixth in the Louisiana Derby as the favorite. Arkansas Derby runners to watch include Concert Tour and Kentucky Derby hopefuls Hozier, Caddo River, Super Stock and Get Her Number.
- Santa Anita Derby runners to watch looking to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby include the favorite Medina Spirit, Dream Shake, Roman Centurian, Rock Your World, The Great One and Parnelli.
- Wood Memorial runners to watch also looking for a top-2 finish to make the Kentucky Derby include the favorite Risk Taking, Prevalence, Weyburn, Crowded Trade, Brooklyn Strong and Candy Man Rocket.
- Along with heavy favorite Essential Quality in the Blue Grass Stakes, two other runners that are single digit odds who could earn a Kentucky Derby spot with a win, runner-up finish or potentially a third place finish are Highly Motivated and Keepmeinmind.
Lead-up prep races to the Kentucky Derby 2021
The 14 Championship Series races leading up to the Kentucky Derby will define the bulk of the 2021 Kentucky Derby field. Those races reward more recent form and run from mid-February to mid-April.
There are eight Championship Series races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby that award 100 qualifying points to the winner, 40 points to second place, 20 points to third and 10 points to fourth. The top two finishers will earn a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby if they have not already earned enough points. The 2021 Sunland Derby scheduled for March 30 was canceled, leaving six Championship Series races that award 50 points to the winner and the top four finishers receive qualifying points (50-20-10-5).
- Feb. 13: Risen Star * – Fair Grounds (Winner: Mandaloun)
- Feb. 27: Fountain of Youth * – Gulfstream Park (Greatest Honour)
- March 6: Gotham Stakes * – Aqueduct (Weyburn)
- March 6: Tampa Bay Derby * – Tampa Bay Downs (Helium)
- March 6: San Felipe * – Santa Anita Park (Life is Good)
- March 13: Rebel Stakes * – Oaklawn Park (Concert Tour)
- March 20: Louisiana Derby ** – Fair Grounds (Hot Rod Charlie)
- March 27: Jeff Ruby Stakes ** – Turfway Park (Like the King)
- March 27: Florida Derby ** – Gulfstream Park (Known Agenda)
- March 27: UAE Derby ** – Meydan Race Course (Rebel’s Romance)
- April 3: Blue Grass ** – Keeneland (Essential Quality)
- April 3: Santa Anita Derby ** – Santa Anita Park (Rock Your World)
- April 3: Wood Memorial ** – Aqueduct (Bourbonic)
- April 10: Arkansas Derby ** – Oaklawn Park (Super Stock)
*85 points race and 50 points to the winner
**170 points race and 100 points to the winner
The last Louisiana Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby was Grindstone (1996).
Since 1995, seven Florida Derby winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby – the most of any Derby prep race over that time. They include include Always Dreaming (2017), Nyquist (2016), Orb (2013), Big Brown (2008), Barbaro (2006), Monarchos (2001), Thunder Gulch (1995).
No recent winners of the UAE Derby have also won the Kentucky Derby.
Recent Wood Memorial winners that also won the Kentucky Derby include Fusaichi Pegasus (2000).
Blue Grass Stakes
Blue Grass Stakes winners that also won the Kentucky Derby include Spectacular Bid (1979).
Santa Anita Derby
Recent Santa Anita Derby winners that also won the Kentucky Derby include Justify (2018), California Chrome (2014), I’ll Have Another (2012).
Recent Arkansas Derby winners that also won the Kentucky Derby include American Pharoah (2015) and Smarty Jones (2004). Country House finished a distant third in the 2019 Arkansas Derby, and then went on to the controversial Kentucky Derby upset win as a huge 65/1 long shot.
Watch how those horses perform and pay attention to their training, times, form and comments by the trainers in the biggest races leading into the Run for the Roses.
Types of wagers and bets
In addition to the traditional “straight” wagers (Win, Place, Show), fans can also attempt to cash big in the various “exotic” pools. Exacta (first two), Trifecta (first three), Superfecta (first four), and Super High Five (first five) wagering are all offered, and cashing a ticket in any of these pools can produce a bigger payday.
- Win: Bet on the horse you think you will win the Kentucky Derby.
- Place: Get paid the place price if your horse finishes first or second.
- Show: A show bet pays the least, but you win and get paid the show price if your horse finishes first, second or third.
- Exacta: Predict the first two horses in the correct order.
- Trifecta: Predict the first three horses in the correct order.
- Superfecta: Predict the first four horses in the correct order.
- Super High Five: Predict the first five horses in the correct order.
In 2018, Justify became the sixth consecutive favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. But the 2019 winner was 65-1 long shot Country House, who paid $132.40 to win on a $2 bet – the second-highest payout in Derby history. The race had a controversial finish when Maximum Security was disqualified for interference after crossing the finish line first. Code of Honor (14-1) was awarded second place in the 2019 Derby to trigger a $2 exacta payout of $3,009.60.
Many racetracks, online sites and sportsbooks accept less than $2 bets on the exotic pools, so you can risk less. For example, you can place $1 exacta bets or 50-cent trifecta or even 10-cent superfecta bets at some locations. This allows you more betting options while including more horses at a lesser cost or risk.
An additional bet of interest is the Kentucky Oaks – Derby double in which you pick the winner of Friday’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks (for 3-year-old fillies) and Saturday’s $3 million Kentucky Derby. Those are the guaranteed purses for each race and in 2019 the prizes for the Kentucky Derby were:
- 1st place: $1,860,000
- 2nd place: $600,000
- 3rd place: $300,000
- 4th place: $150,000
- 5th place: $90,000
Picking a Kentucky Derby winner
Betting on horse racing has never been easier, but selecting a winner and predicting the puzzle in the exotic pools in search of a big payoff takes a little more time, skill and some racing luck. The 20 horses running in the Kentucky Derby is the largest field of any American race, and while the payouts are larger, it can be more difficult to handicap and determine the winner with so many factors to consider including each horse running 1 ¼ miles for the first time in their racing careers.
The Kentucky Derby has up to a maximum of 20 horses in the field, and those horses have qualified through 36 Kentucky Derby prep races in the United States and another seven races in Europe and four races in Japan.
There are many ways to handicap a horse race, and there is no shortage of opinions or angles when it comes to the handicapping the Kentucky Derby and the numerous prep races leading up to the Run for the Roses. From a beginners betting guide to the most sophisticated tools for informed handicappers, there are many pieces of information and betting guides to assist you in identifying a potential Kentucky Derby winner and narrowing the list of top contenders.
- Handicapping horses and the races takes much time, research and intuition. Beyond studying past performance charts and horse stats, speed figures, class ratings, tracks and bias, jockey and trainer stats, horse pedigree and even post position (Kentucky Derby Draw is Tuesday, April 27), a handicapper has to have insight and ability to find various ways to identify horses that are ready to win. You may not have time to study race videos, tracks, surfaces or find horses that had troubled trips in recent races. But it’s important to distill information that can help you identify horses that may offer some value next time out or others in good form or improving that can provide value wagering opportunities.
- Races and horses should be backed based on positive attributes and not as a result of who’s the best of the worst. As you study some of the betting guides and training tools, you’ll become better prepared and equipped to analyze races in a more meaningful way. That includes the Kentucky Derby and the prep races leading up to the Derby. Understanding ‘how’ a horse has run leading up to a race versus the far less important ‘where’ the horse finishes and ‘what’ time he/she completed their recent races will help you become more proficient.
Five biggest Kentucky Derby long shot winners ever
As we witnessed again in the 2019 Kentucky Derby when Country House won at 65-1 odds, there is no sure thing and nothing is certain in horse racing. The winning horse is not always the best horse, and in a field of 20 at the Kentucky Derby, a little bit of racing luck and a good trip makes for a better chance to win. Some of the biggest upsets in the history of the Kentucky Derby have made for some sensational stories.
1. Country House (2019)
In a historical reversal, Country House was declared the winner of the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby after an objection was filed, claiming that Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first, had interfered with the path of multiple horses at the top of the stretch. Maximum Security was disqualified to 17th place, allowing Country House to be declared the Kentucky Derby winner. At 65-1 odds, Country House became the second-longest shot to win the Kentucky Derby behind Donerail (91-1), who beat a field of eight in 1913. Jockey Flavien Prat and trainer Bill Mott both won their first Kentucky Derby with Country House, who paid $132.40 on a $2 win bet.
2. Go For Gin (1994)
At 9-1 odds, Go For Gin was not one of the biggest longshots to win the Kentucky Derby. But his victory was shocking as the 2-1 favorite Holy Bull looked too good to lose having won eight of nine races entering the Run for the Roses including more than six lengths better than Go For Gin in the Florida Derby. But Go For Gin took to a sloppy Churchill Downs surface following a torrential rain and stole the race on the front with Chris McCarron aboard replacing Jerry Bailey and splashing home to win by two lengths with the heavy favorite Holy Bull finishing twelfth.
3. Giacomo (2005)
Giacomo was able to succeed in the 2005 Kentucky Derby where his sire, Holy Bull, had failed in 1994. The gray colt came from 18th at the three-quarter pole and rallied desperately with jockey Mike Smith aboard at odds of 50-1 to win a thrilling finish in the final strides by a half-length over fellow long shot Closing Argument (71-1). Giacomo actually denied a Triple Crown bid with his late charge as Afleet Alex won the Preakness and Belmont after finishing a close 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. Giacamo won the Derby with only a maiden win to his credit and a fourth place finish in his final Derby prep.
4. Mine That Bird (2009)
Mine That Bird was one of five horses at 50-1 odds and sat dead last in the Derby field of 19 through three quarter miles. Then jockey Calvin Borel got the son of Birdstone to rush up along the rail and the Canadian colt blew by the field on a sloppy track to win by nearly seven lengths over Pioneer of the Nile in an epic upset. Mine That Bird went on to finish 2nd in the Preakness and 3rd in the Belmont, but did not win a race in his final nine starts following the shocking Kentucky Derby win, which paid $103.40 on a $2 win bet.
5. Thunder Gulch (1995)
Thunder Gulch entered the Kentucky Derby as an accomplished 3-year old having won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby. But a 4th place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes as the favorite three weeks before the Derby had handicappers questioning trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ fine colt. Bettors would regret severely overlooking this live longshot at 24-1. When jockey Pat Day decided to ride the Derby favorite Timber Country (3rd), Lukas turned to jockey Gary Stevens. The rest is history, and at 24-1 odds, it’s shocking a Florida Derby winner could go off at those long odds. Thunder Gulch remained within striking distance at the top of the stretch and put away the field by 2 ½ lengths over closers Tejano Run and Timber Country with the front-running filly and favorite Serena’s Song fading to finish sixteenth. Thunder Gulch finished 2nd in the Preakness before winning the Belmont and Travers Stakes.
Honorable mention: Gallahadian (35-1) in 1940 over 2-5 favorite Bimelech, who went on to win the Preakness and Belmont. Gato Del Sol (21-1) in 1982, Charismatic (31-1) in 1999 and Animal Kingdom (21-1) in 2011 after the favorite Uncle Mo scratched out of the race.
Kentucky Derby history: betting odds and winners
|2012||I’ll Have Another||2:01.83||15-1||$32.60||Fast|
|2009||Mine That Bird||2:02.66||51-1||$103.20||Sloppy|