It's the first Saturday in May and, as a newcomer to the Sport of Kings, you're ready to bet the first horse race of your life – the Kentucky Derby. It's by far the most popular race in the country, attracting nearly $140 million in wagers in 2015, and this time you want to be in on the action.
The selection process, whether you're picking by name, number, color, jockey, trainer, or, if you analyze all of the available statistics in a process called handicapping, is often the easy part. Deciding how to bet the race, to get the most bang for your buck, can be more daunting.
Here are five suggestions on the best ways for a newcomer to bet the Kentucky Derby:
1. $2 Win-Place-Show: Known in racetrack parlance as an "across the board" bet, you'll cash if your selection finishes third or better. This can be a good play if you're fairly confident that your horse will win, or a longshot you like can finish in the top three. Now, if your horse finishes third and is one of the favorites, chances are you won't completely recover your $6 investment. However, you'll get most of it back and it was all for fun anyway, right?
2. A big Show bet: For those who like more conservative wagers but still feel comfortable spending a little dough, why not a big Show bet? The last three editions of the Kentucky Derby have been won by favorites. If you had put $20 to Show on all three, your $60 investment would now be worth $142. If you're going to put a big Show bet on the favorite, chances are you'll double your money if he hits the board. If you bet a longer shot, the payoff will be even higher. For added fun, pool your money with friends and place a $100 or $200 Show bet and split any proceeds.
3. Variations of the above two: Feeling more confident about your Derby selection and willing to take more of a risk? Ditch the Show wagers and just concentrate on the Win and Place pools. For example, a winning $3 Win-Place bet (same total investment of $6) will help your bottom line much more than $2 across the board bet. Likewise, a winning big Place bet will always result in a higher return than a big Show bet. It all depends on your comfort level.
4. $1 Exacta Box: The Exacta wager is where you must select the top two finishers in order. That sounds difficult, especially in a 20-horse field, but you have the option of "boxing" – picking two or more horses to finish in any order. A $1 two-horse box costs $2, a three-horse box costs $6, and a four-horse box costs $12. Why can the exacta be a good bet? The average $1 exacta payout in the Kentucky Derby since 2010 has been more than $181. In five of those six years, the favorite or second favorite finished first or second.
5. Derby Doubles: If you're feeling adventurous watching from home or
at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend, the Kentucky Derby is the second leg of two
Double wagers. Doubles, like Exactas, can pay very well. There is a Double that
links the Derby and Kentucky Oaks, the big filly race on Friday, and the
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, a major grass race that immediately precedes the
Derby. Can't decide between four horses in the Oaks or Turf Classic and four in
the Derby? Using all of them in the respective Doubles would only cost $16. Just
multiply the number of horses used in each leg to determine your total
These suggestions are great ways for beginners to get their feet wet trying pari-mutuel wagering for the first time. No matter how you choose to invest on the outcome of the Kentucky Derby, it's easy to find the right level of comfort while having fun at the same time.
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