Betting 101

How to Pick a Winner

Read the Program

The daily racing program is packed with information that can help you choose your favorite horse and can help you to make smarter bets. For each race, the program outlines each horse contender, and provides very detailed information about that horse, including its odds of winning the race, its race history, its work-outs, its jockey and other connections and their statistical records, its saddle towel color, and even its birthdate. At first glance, the numbers and language can be intimidating, but with a little guidance and a little practice, you'll find your own rhythm for reading through the program and selecting a winner. Explore our "How to Read a Program" guide for detailed explanations of each program statistic. You can start at a beginner level, and move up to intermediate and advanced readings.

Listen to What the Experts are Saying

Kentucky Derby Expert Picks

Watch the Horses

As with any athlete, physical appearances are an important factor in sizing up competition. Horse racing is no different, and what your eyes tell you about the horse can be a helpful tool in betting. Here's just a few tips on what to look for as the horses come into the Paddock, but remember that, like your mom always said, "Don't judge a book by its cover." It's difficult to make judgments based solely on appearance.

  1. Ears – If the horse's ears are pricked, meaning they are large and pointed up, and its head is high and confident, you can assume that the horse is alert, aware of their surroundings, and ready to race. You don't want to bet on a horse that’s ears are flattened back, or hanging its head low and inattentive.
  2. Hair – Like humans, a good hair day goes a long way! While the horses are in the Paddock, take a good look at their hair. A nice shiny coat is an indication that the horse is in good condition; it's a general sign of the horse’s health and well-being.
  3. Muscle Definition – Most super-star athlete have prominent muscles and horses are no different. Be sure to look for nice, toned muscles around the horse’s chest and rib cage area. You want to bet on a horse that has defined muscles near their rib cage, and isn’t overweight or carrying too much fat.
  4. Nerves – It's natural to have some nerves before competition, but over anxious horses aren't necessarily a good bet. Look at the horse's behavior in the paddock, and look closely at the sweat on his/her coat. If the horse is too fidgety or sweating too much, then the horse may be wasting too much energy before it has even hit the racetrack.
Have Fun

Not every wager has to be a brain teaser! Plenty of Kentucky Derby fans win big by randomly picking a horse. Some people choose their lucky number, others draw a number out of a hat, and some select their favorite color jockey silk or favorite horse name. There are lots of fun ways to handicap a horse race, so choose the best method that works for you! If you would like learn more about handicapping, check out the TwinSpires betting guides library.

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