How to Wager and Bet at the Kentucky Derby® (Guide)

Posted by Kristen Doolan on May 01, 2024

Just like extravagant hats, bright colors and Mint Juleps, betting and wagering are a staple you will find within the gates of Churchill Downs® at the Kentucky Derby®. As you prepare for your trip to the Kentucky Derby, let us teach you the best way to place your bets at the "Run for the Roses".

Wagering 101 - How to Bet at the Kentucky Derby

Placing a bet is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Winning, on the other hand... that's another story. 

For betting newbies or those who haven't put money down at the track before, we have listed the key steps to make your wagering experience as painless as possible.

  1. The race’s number (i.e., the first race of the day would be “Race Number One”).

  2. The type of bet you would like to make. Here you’ll use betting terminology like Win, Place, (as listed below), etc.

  3. The dollar amount of your wager.

  4. The number of the horse as it is referred to in your racing program. While it’s tempting to use a horse’s name, simply refer to it by its number.

For Example: “Race 3, $2 to win on #4”

If you’re looking for inspiration on picking a winning horse, that, fortunately, is to your own discretion. Whether it’s a lucky number, you like the look of a horse or its name, make sure you do it while having fun!

Types of Bets

Whether this is your first or tenth time to the Kentucky Derby, the heart of the action will be based around the placing of bets for the forthcoming race.

“Will he like the ground? Is the horse too far off the pace coming into the home straight? I don’t know how to place a bet!”

These are just some of the questions that will be raised from every type of race-goer at Churchill Downs. If you’re one of the latter ones who’s going in blindly, fear not; we have you covered!

The most common bet placed is a Win. It’s quite simple; you collect if your chosen horse wins the race. A Place is a punter hedging their bets: the horse they’ve selected must finish in 1st or 2nd place in order for them to collect. Similarly with a Show bet, though this bet covers 1st, 2nd and 3rd places respectively. Thereafter, the type of bet you can place can become more intricate, as listed below.

WIN – You collect if your horse wins.

PLACE – You collect if your horse wins or is 2nd.

SHOW – You collect if your horse wins or is 2nd or 3rd.

EXACTA – You collect if you select two horses in one race to finish 1st and 2nd in the exact order.

DAILY DOUBLE – You collect if you pick the horses to win each of two designated races.

TRIFECTA – You collect if you select three horses in one race to finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd in exact order.

SUPERFECTA – You collect if you select four horses in one race to finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in exact order.

PICK 3 – You collect if you pick the horses to win each of three designated races.

PICK 6 – You collect if you pick the horses to finish 1st in each of six designated races.

BOX – Term to indicate covering your selections in all possible finish orders. Example: $2 Exacta Box numbers 3 & 8 horses.

Where to Bet

Mobile wagering is available through Churchill Downs official platform sign up and receive a $200 new player bonus! 

There are multiple ways to place your bet when on location at Churchill Downs. To see this years contenders, click here.

The first is by going to the live betting windows all around the track and place your bets with a Mutuel teller. When interacting with a live teller, this is when you use the terms that you learned above.

Wagering windows is the most common way to place your bet, but also the most crowded. All throughout race day, crowds will pack the wagering windows in an attempt to get their bets in before the gates open for certain races. 

One of the easiest ways to place a bet is through a Self Service Wagering Station. By forgoing the teller, you can jump right into the action and place your bets easily while also avoiding the crowds. These stations can be found with select hospitality spaces offered by Derby Experiences.

You can get access to these hospitality spaces with select Official Ticket Packages from Derby Experiences. Click below to see the fill Official Ticket Package offering for the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby Official Ticket Packages