Derby Day has its traditions: cool mint juleps, yummy Derby pie, and trips to the betting window. Whether you wager at the Downs or at home on the TwinSpires app, you know that Derby Day will be a frenzy of stakes races with opportunities to cash in, including the Run for the Roses itself. The question is, who are you going to bet on? If you are a small-time bettor, your goal is simple: bet a few dollars on a few horses and maybe win enough to make this Derby Day a big money story you can tell over and over.

Whether you like to bet your horses to win, place, or show, or are looking for a couple of exactas to box, here is this casual bettor’s thoughts on finding that winning bet for your Derby Day fun.

Bettors Just Want to Have Fun

Casual gamblers aspire to big payouts, but also must balance a budget that may not allow for significant risks. The good news is that even with your limited funds you can find horses that are worth wagering your $2 on. The key is to look at trends and then decide accordingly.

As a casual bettor, I have noticed a particular trend that could reap rewards for smaller wagers. Since 2013, when the Kentucky Derby points system was instituted, the first four finishers tend to include a shorter-priced winner, like Justify at 3-1, and second- and third-place finishers at longer prices, like Good Magic at 10-1. At those prices, even small wagers like a $2 exacta can yield upwards of $70! If you want to wager on a horse like current favorite Essential Quality, then consider which longer priced horses you could include to complete your exacta, trifecta, and even superfecta wagers.

Let’s look at the 2015 Kentucky Derby as an example. Eventual winner American Pharoah went off as the favorite at 3-1 with second-place Firing Line at 10-1, third-place Dortmund at 4-1, and fourth-place Frosted at 10-1. Sure, those do not seem like odds that pay well, but the payouts say otherwise:

Horse

Win

Place

Show

18 American Pharoah (3-1)

$7.80

$5.80

$4.20

10 Firing Line (10-1)


$8.40

$5.40

8 Dortmund (4-1)



$4.20

15 Frosted (10-1)





$2 Exacta

$2 Trifecta

$1 Superfecta


18-10

18-10-8

18-10-8-15


$72.60

$202.00

$634.10

Look at those payouts! Currently, Essential Quality sits at pre-Derby odds of 3-1, so, if you were to include him with contenders like Wood Memorial victor Bourbonic, possibly 30-1, and Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie at 6-1, you would find yourself with even better payouts. Alternatively, what if the top three finishers have shorter odds than that? Can you still reap benefits from your $2? Absolutely!

In 2016, the top four finishers were Nyquist, Exaggerator, Gun Runner, and Mohaymen. Those first three went off at shorter odds, but the payouts still showed a good profit for $2 bettors.

Horse

Win

Place

Show

13 Nyquist (2-1)

$6.60

$4.80

$3.60

11 Exaggerator (5-1)


$5.40

$4.20

5 Gun Runner (10-1)



$6.00

14 Mohaymen (12-1)





$2 Exacta

$2 Trifecta

$1 Superfecta


13-11

13-11-5

13-11-5-14


$30.60

$173.40

$542.10

Given these trends, how do you know what to look for in your Derby picks?

Putting on the Bets

With the points system, each horse must have accrued enough points via a series of prep races to earn their spot in the gate. Whether they won a prep or finished second or third, these horses ran well enough to be in the gate on Derby Day. Does that mean that each of the 20 are ready to run a mile and a quarter and finish in the money in America’s most famous race? How do you know who to bet when none have been tested like this? The wisdom of TwinSpires’ own wagering pros is here to help.

TwinSpires handicapper James Scully reminds us that “past longshots like Golden Soul and Commanding Curve were exiting improved efforts in their final Derby preps while horses like Instilled Regard and Code of Honor were both respected contenders earlier in the season, but had disappointing performances in their final prep races.” For your $2 bets, look for horses that improved in their last race or might be bouncing back from a lackluster performance. For example, Mandaloun finished sixth in the Louisiana Derby (G2) in late March. Could Mandaloun be on the verge of a big performance in the Derby?

TwinSpires’s Ed DeRosa recommends looking at horses who won their last race for your wagers: “The eventual Derby winner has won his final prep 9 of the past 10 years. It hasn’t been as important among the also-rans to win the final prep, but it stands to reason that if in-form horses are winning, then it’s probably a benefit underneath as well.” With that in mind, DeRosa advises looking to horses like Bourbonic or Super Stock. On Derby Day, those horses tend to be long enough prices that including them in your exactas and other exotic wagers could make for a nice-sized payout.

Whether you focus on horses that won their last race or are bouncing back from disappointment, TwinSpires will have the information you need to decide who to put your $2 on for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Pour yourself a mint julep and grab a slice of pie because this Derby Day has plenty of chances for you to grow your bankroll from casual bettor to expert handicapper in no time.