Future Wager Tips

The Future is NOW

With another very deep list of Kentucky Derby hopefuls this year, year 16 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (“KDFW”) promises to be the most exciting and possibly most lucrative Future Wager to date. For horseplayers, the question is how to make money, have fun and win some bragging rights via some nice payouts on the Future Wager. With 16 years of history, we can take a look at some trends and the keys to profiting on this wager.

The Winners

The first 16 years of the Future Wager are split between nice payouts on contenders and mutuel field horses that caught everyone by surprise. Although a small sample, this shows that there are two ways to make money, and it pays to consider both. In 2001 and 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus and Monarchos were available at generous prices in Pool 1 compared to their starting prices on Derby Day. In 1999 and 2002, Charismatic and War Emblem came out of nowhere to give the field players the money. In 2003, Funny Cide was a tremendous price as a single wagering interest in all three pools, paying considerably more to his Future Wager backers than his Derby Day mutuel of $27.60.  2010’s Kentucky Derby result strongly reflected the wagering value of the Future Wager as WinStar Farm’s victorious Super Saver returned a Derby Day win mutuel of $18 for a $2 wager.  That return was well below the return on a $2 bet in KDFW pools 1 ($43.20), 2 ($51.20) and 3 ($73). The best of both worlds is to take two or three shots at some KDFW contenders with nice prices, and then use a sizeable field bet to hedge your bet. Come Derby day, chances are you will have more than 50 percent of the horses, and a variety of ways to collect.

The Goal

Since it is difficult enough to select the Derby winner on the first Saturday in May, the Future Wager can seem daunting at first. But with this wager, the goal is somewhat different. Rather than a quest to single out the one horse that will wear roses at Churchill Downs, the goal is to wager on horses that will start in the Kentucky Derby at odds that are considerably lower than what was offered through the Future Wager. As they load in the gate on Derby Day, if you are holding a ticket at 35-1 on a horse that is racing at 8-1 odds, then you have played the wager well, win or lose.  

In order to focus on horses with the best opportunity to start in the Derby, stay away from horses with reasons not to run in the Derby, such as foreign horses and sprinter-types. With the overseas runners, one must question their commitment to running. If they are only 50-50 to run, then you need to make sure you are getting a fair price. In the same way, if a classy 2-year-old with possible distance limitations is only 50-50 to stretch out to a mile-and-a-quarter, then you have to factor that into the future wager price you are looking for. Not to mention, if the sprinter fails to stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in one of the Derby preps, you might be holding a worthless ticket long before Derby Day.

One of the more attractive KDFW selections is a North American-based 3-year-old with the pedigree and potential to stretch out to the Derby distance and connections that have displayed a strong commitment or desire to run in the Derby. The only variable this leaves out is ultimate performance on Derby Day, but the potential is there for an intelligent wager and a solid return on investment.

The Mutuel Field, Pool 1

Any discussion of the Future Wager must involve the mutuel field, especially in first two pools of any Kentucky Derby campaign.. The importance of “all others” in Pool 1 should not be underestimated. Although many players dismiss the field because of generally low odds of 5-2 or 2-1, the field in Pool 1 has actually produced 59 out of the last 109 Derby starters (54.2 percent). This is significant because it means you are virtually guaranteed to get a good run for your money on Derby Day.

Many Kentucky Derby Future players use the mutuel field as a “saver’ bet while searching for bargain prices on the 23 individual in any respective pool.  The 2002 Derby won by the late developing War Emblem is good illustration of how that philosophy might work.  War Emblem returned $43 on a $2 Derby win bet, but only $7.60 as a member of the Pool 1 mutuel field.  But the “all others 3-year-olds” betting interest in that pool also included Proud Citizen (at post time odds of 23-1), Perfect Drift (7-1), Medaglia d'Oro (6-1), Essence of Dubai (10-1), Castle Gandolfo (14-1) and seven.  The top three finishers in that Derby – War Emblem, Proud Citizen and Perfect Drift – were members of the mutuel field.

Getting a good position on the field is important, as this can also provide the confidence to attack your personal favorites on Derby Day. In other words, the field doesn't have to win in order for you to make money Derby Day. For instance, with Pool 1 providing 13 of 18 runners in 2002, it left players the option of wagering on the likes Saarland, Johannesburg, Came Home, Harlan's Holiday and Request for Parole with solid confidence that a win by a member of the mutuel field could cover any losses on those respective horses.


It's true that the best time to bet the Future Wager is just before closing time at 6 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, the final day of each wagering period. Odds in the wagering pools tend to drift over three days of betting, but the odds in place near the conclusion of any wagering pool are very similar to the odds that will be in place when the pool closes.  And it is important to note that if you bet at five minutes to pool close, and there is enough money in the pool (usually $500,000 or more) the odds are likely to change little, if at all. What this means is that your odds are basically set' as they would be at Las Vegas race book.. If you need to bet early, it's best to wait to see the results of Saturday Derby prep races, which often result in significant swings in odds on Future Wager betting interests based on the strength of their performances in those races. 


Remember that the Kentucky Derby Future Wager has 24 betting interests, but a takeout of only16 percent. This means that unless the public correctly assesses the chances of all 24 betting interests, overlays – and several of them – will exist in each pool.. In 2003, Funny Cide was a glaring example of this. While he had not won a race as a 3-year-old, he really had never run a bad race in his life. And his odds in each of his 2003 races indicated that the bettors believed he had talent. In the Holy Bull in January, he was 5-1, yet in the subsequent Pool 1 he was a whopping 93-1. In his next start, the Louisiana Derby in March he went off at 6-1; Pool 2 closed a week later with his final odds at more than 59-1. Finally, Pool 3 closed with his odds at nearly 53-1, yet a week later he runs second to the prohibitive Derby favorite, Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial, and at 5-1! Therefore, no matter how difficult it may seem to assess the chances of young 3-year-olds, the existence of overlays is almost assured. The trick is finding them.

Putting It All Together

The field is a good bet as long as it is 5-2 or higher. If you ask what is the best way to play the wager? Briefly, with $200 to spend, you might bet $100 to win on the field, and use the other $100 to split between your top two or three choices. Good luck!