Horse racing isn’t as popular as it used to be. That’s obvious. However, the Kentucky Derby continues to set records for the amount of money wagered. And the handle on the big race is why bettors should consider placing some exotic bets on May 4.
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Parimutuel horse racing
Before big horse races like the Kentucky Derby, bettors can place a futures wager with most legal US sportsbooks. This will only pay if the horse wins the race. Betting on individual horse races is different from betting against a sportsbook or casino.
Wagering on an individual horse racing is by parimutuel betting. This type of betting is different than a traditional sportsbook bet.
The word parimutuel is French and means “to wager amongst ourselves.” Basically, all the money bet on the big race for the Kentucky Derby is put into one large betting pool comprised of all money wagered. Winning bets are paid by the racebook or racetrack from the entire pool of money wagered.
The track, Churchill Downs, will take a percentage of the money bet on the Kentucky Derby off the top of the betting pool. The rest of the pool is split among winning bettors. Let’s use some round numbers for an example:
- Money wagered: $1,000,000
- Track take: 20% or $200,000
- Betting pool paid to winners: 80% or $800,000
In the example above, there’s $800,000 to pay out to the winners. The pool of money for winners at the Kentucky Derby is so much larger than a normal horse race. The most popular horse race in the US has a lot of bets made all over the world. Every parimutuel bet goes into that pool no matter where it’s made.
The variety of wagers is large and can be complicated for new bettors. Thankfully for bettors, there’s so much money wagered that the money being split among winners is often more than a race on a random Tuesday afternoon.
The Kentucky Derby has a larger than normal pool of money from bettors. A lot of the money in the pool for bettors to win is made by casual bettors that have little chance to win. This leaves money available to bettors that even do a little research to cash in with
The best way to take advantage of the Run for the Roses might be to add some exotic bets to the mix. These wagers are a bit more complicated than the traditional Win (1st place), Place (2nd place), and show (3rd place) bets.
There are exotics available for single races and multiple races. Since most bettors are only watching for race #12 – The Kentucky Derby – we’ll focus on the single race exotic wagers:
- Exacta: Pick the first place and second place finishers in order
- Trifecta: Pick the first place, second place, and third place finishers in order
- Superfecta: Pick the first place, second place, third place, and fourth place finishers in order
These exotic are similar to parlays for horse racing. They involve more horses than a Win, Place, Show bet on a single horse. These bets pay more but may cost more to bet.
Some bettors play straight exotic bets where each horse must finish in the selected place. Bettors choose to “box” the horses so any horse can finish in any place. There isn’t a discount to boxing horses, this is just a way to simplify the process of placing multiple bets.
For example, a bettor can place an exacta for the 1 and 3 horses to finish first and second, respectively. Each horse must finish in the specific position for the bet to win. If unsure, the bettor can place a second exacta on the 3 and 1 to finish first and second, respectively.
An easier way to do this would be to box the exacta with the 1 and 3 horse. The two horse exacta bets cost the same regardless of how the example wager is placed. A $2 wager made twice will cost $4.
The process of boxing horses is simple with a two-horse example. However, it’s very helpful when more horses are included in an exacta, trifecta, or superfecta box. The more horses involved with each exotic boxed bet will make each wager more expensive to place.
Payouts for exotic bets can be huge for the Kentucky Derby. Each exotic betting pool pays out differently based on how much money was bet. The payouts are made by taking the total money wagered in the (exacta, trifecta, superfecta) pool and subtracting the track takeout, then dividing the remainder of the money by the number of winning tickets.
The exact winning price is almost impossible to predict. There’s one thing to know: more money is paid when there’s at least one horse with longer odds in the winning exacta, trifecta, or superfecta. The higher the longer odds horses finish the greater the payout tends to be.
This makes sense since fewer people are wagering on these horses. In this case, there will be fewer winners on any of the exotic bets and each winning exotic will pay more money to the winners.
Big race, big money
The Kentucky Derby sees more money wagered than any other US horse race. In 2018 there was a record $225.7 million wagered on the first triple crown race of the year. This year, Front Office Sports expects that record to be broken with $238 million wagered on the Kentucky Derby this year.
Not all bets on the Kentucky Derby are made in person at Churchill Downs. Last year the Kentucky Derby saw $32.9 million wagered online with TwinSpires platform. This is only one website and mobile app. The Kentucky Derby pool is a combination of wagers placed at the track, online, and via simulcast from other tracks and casino racebooks around the world.
Betting on the Kentucky Derby
We have a handy Kentucky Derby Betting Guide. This is a great place for new bettors to start understanding how to bet on the Kentucky Derby. The 20 horse field for the Kentucky Derby is almost set. Post positions will be drawn on Tuesday at 11 am eastern time.
Once odds are posted they will change based on the amount of money wagered on each horse. The odds will change right up until the gates open and the horses run for the roses.
Handicapping horse racing isn’t easy for anyone. A little research can go a long way. There’s so much dead money in the parimutuel betting pool for the Kentucky Derby that throwing a few bucks on the big race isn’t a bad idea.