A Complete Guide to Group/Party Betting on Kentucky Derby

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A Complete Guide to Group/Party Betting on Kentucky Derby

Author: American Gambler Staff | Last Updated: August 7, 2023

Betting on the Kentucky Derby is a tradition as old as the race itself – which was first run in 1875. It’s one of the longest-running annual horse races in the United States, and it’s come to be associated with many traditions, but none of them are as deeply rooted as gambling on the event.

Since the race’s inception, betting on the Kentucky Derby has evolved into something that casual fans and betting enthusiasts combine to wager millions of dollars on every year, legally, from across the country. The race lends itself to many types of bets and betting, whether on-site at Churchill Downs, through their mobile platform, or in smaller pools between friends at watch parties.

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Understanding the Kentucky Derby

For as much fanfare as the Kentucky Derby draws, the event itself is very, very short.

The race is held every year on the first Saturday of May, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and features a field of up to 20 three-year-old thoroughbred horses chosen by the results of qualifying races. After the playing of My Old Kentucky Home – a staple of the pre-race proceedings since 1921 – the horses race 1.25 miles, only slightly over a single lap around the mile-long track.

In 1973, Secretariat set the fastest record time in Kentucky Derby history at 1:59.40 – becoming the first horse to win the race in under two minutes. Monarchos became the second and only other horse to do so in 2001 (clocking in at 1:59.97), but a horse hasn’t taken more than two minutes and six seconds (2:06.00) to win the race since 1947.

While parties scheduled around watching the Kentucky Derby are common, actually seeing the event unfold requires vigilance in the minutes leading up to it. One ill-timed lapse in attention is all it takes to miss the entire race.

Types of Bets in the Kentucky Derby

Several types of bets can be made on the Kentucky Derby, ranging from straightforward bets on the winner of the race to complex bets that cover a short range of outcomes at the top of the standings. Some of the most common types of bets that can be made include:

  • Win – A bet on a specific horse to win the race.
  • Place – A bet on a specific horse to finish first or second in the race.
  • Show – A bet on a specific horse to finish first, second, or third in the race.
  • Exacta – A bet on the two horses to finish first and second in a particular order.
  • Trifecta – A bet on the three horses to finish first, second, and third, in a particular order.
  • Superfecta – A bet on the four horses to finish first, second, third, and fourth, in a particular order.
  • Box – A variation of exacta, trifecta, or superfecta betting; the minimum wager increases, but the bet wins regardless of the order in which the horses finish the race.

This isn’t an exhaustive list – different sportsbooks may offer additional types of, or different variations of, these bets – but these are the bets that Kentucky Derby regulars will recognize.

Kentucky Derby Odds and Payouts

For the Kentucky Derby, odds and payouts are based on the parimutuel betting system. Parimutuel betting was legalized in Kentucky in 1908 and quickly became the preferred method of betting on the race.

It’s relatively straightforward – each horse is assigned line odds on the morning of the race by an expert handicapper, which are used as a reference point when wagering begins. After betting begins, the odds for each horse fluctuate based on the amount of money wagered on them. Horses that are popular with bettors will see their odds go down, while horses that see little money wagered on them will find that their odds go up. The odds are available to the public throughout the process, and only become fixed when betting closes minutes before the race.

Payouts for winning bets are calculated based on the final odds (not the odds when the bet was placed). The payout for a win is calculated by multiplying the amount of the bet by the odds on the horse. If a $10 bet on a horse with 5-1 odds wins, the bettor receives a $60 ($10 * 5 for winnings, plus the $10 stake) payout.

Bets like exactastrifectas, and superfectas come with a few more steps in terms of payout. In these cases, the money wagered via each bet type is kept in a separate pool. The value bet on each combination is divided by the amount of money in the respective pool, and the resulting percentage yields the payout. The more combinations are entered in each pool, the higher the potential payouts rise.

The parimutuel betting system allows for odds and payout to reflect where the betting populace places their money, rather than the opinions of oddsmakers. It’s an easy-to-grasp system for both bettors and operators, but it produces highly variable odds.

How to Calculate Winnings and Split the Winnings with a Group

Betting on the Kentucky Derby isn’t uncommon as a group activity, and splitting potential winnings among group members isn’t a difficult process. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Determine the total value of the bet – The first step of the process is calculating the total value of the bet, with fees and/or taxes added onto wagers taken into account.
  • Calculate the payout – Take the total value of the bet and the final odds on it, then multiply them to calculate the value of the payout. A $10 wager on 5-1 odds yields $50 in winnings if it hits, making the payout $60 after returning the stake.
  • Determine shares for each participant – With the payout calculated, divide it into shares based on the amount contributed to the bet by each participant. Calculation is simple so long as how much each participant contributes is tracked, and especially so if everyone contributes the same amount.
  • Collect and distribute winnings – This step can be done immediately if betting on-site at the Kentucky Derby, but can take up to several days if the bet is made through a mobile betting platform.

Tips for Successful Group/Party Betting on Kentucky Derby

Party betting on the Kentucky Derby is a viable way to enjoy the event for both seasoned sports bettors and casual fans, but newcomers might find the betting process intimidating or difficult to navigate. Here are some pointers to help everyone involved in group betting enjoy the experience, whether or not they win:

  • Set a budget – It’s critically important, before any bets are placed, that everyone involved in placing a party bet is gambling responsibly and comfortable with the value of the bet being placed.
  • Research the participants – Each horse in the race will have publicly available information about their recent track performances, injuries, trainer, and jockey. Taking time to look up the backgrounds of the horses involved can help with making informed party bets.
  • Understand the different bet types – There’s many different ways to bet on the Kentucky Derby and win. For a group betting on the race, it’s important that the types of bets are discussed and the party agrees on the bet being made.
  • Watch the odds – The nature of parimutuel betting means that the odds will change significantly as bets are placed. Keeping an eye on the odds is the only way to identify changes in the favorites or odds becoming more favorable on a horse the group prefers before betting closes.

American Gambler Staff