So you want to place a wager on the Kentucky Derby and would like to know what is going on with all those ponies and the roses? Great, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll do this in question-and-answer form, so fire away.
What do the horses' numbers mean? Is it like a jersey number?
No, not a jersey number. Well, sort of. But it just refers to the horse’s “post position,” or the gate where the horse will begin the race.
Getty ImagesMatthew Stockman
Does it matter where they start?
Good question. It does. Generally the first post is undesirable because the horse opens up against the “dreaded rail,” and it’s easy to get trapped there. But in the 143 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, 12 horses have won from the first post, which is actually more than all posts but the fifth, which has produced 13 winners.
I’ve seen pictures of Tom Brady and other Patriots players at the Derby before. Is Tom going to be there and can I meet him?
I don’t know, maybe? Let’s stay on topic, you want to make a wager, right?
Yeah, how’s that work?
Well, there’s a variety of wagers you can place at the track or at OTB if you won’t be there. But let’s stick to “Win, Place, Show.” If you just want to bet on the winner, you go to the ticket window and say the number of the horse and “to win.” So you’d like the 5 horse to win in Race 12.
Getty ImagesRob Carr
What’s Race 12?
That’s the Kentucky Derby. There’s a lot of other races that will take place at Churchill Downs before the main event. When Conor McGregor fights it’s at the end of the night, you know?
So how much money will I make if my horse wins?
The numbers get a little bit complicated and they fluctuate based on betting volume, but generally if you’re taking a favorite you’ll make a bit less and if it’s a longshot like Sonnetteer, who’s currently at 50-1 odds, you’ll make a lot.
You can also wager on a horse to “place” -- which means second place -- and “show,” which is third. If you bet a horse to place and it finishes first or second, you’ll win. And if you bet it to show and it finishes first, second or third, you also win, just a bit less than.
Okay, what these other things like trifectas?
Well that’s much harder to win but also pays a heck of a lot more. With a trifecta you need to get the exact order of finish correct, so like the 7-9-12 horses for example. You can also do something called a “trifecta” box, which means you pick your three horses and they can finish in the top three in any order, but you have to pay more for that bet, because it’s basically six separate wagers.
Is that like an exacta?
You’re damn right. With an exacta, which is another of these “exotic” wagers, you’re picking the top two. Again you can “box” two horses or more, but it costs more.
What about a superduperfecta?
There is no such thing. It’s a “superfecta,” and you need to get the top four finishing horses in the correct order. With a field of 20 horses in this race, if you get that right and it includes some longshots, you’ll make a ton, just be aware that you’re probably going to lose. But there’s major upside, so have at it!
Now how about this program, what do all these numbers mean?
That gives you information about the owner trainer, how the horse has performed in the past, how fast it has run at certain distances. There’s a guide to interpret it in the program but don’t get too bogged down in it.
Anything else I should know?
Yeah, the track is a mile in circumference and the race is a mile-and-a-quarter in total. Also the favorites have won four years in a row, which hasn’t happened since the 1800s.
This year’s favorite is Classic Empire, breaking from the 14 post. It’s unlikely to win, because there’s a lot of good horses and he feels way shakier than the overs who have wore the roses. So there’s some value in picking other horses to win and in those exotics if you’re interested in that. You can read more about the horses and their backgrounds here.
Will do. So what’s the deal with the roses?
Well it’s called the Run for the Roses because the winner gets to wear a huge custom-made garland of red roses. And the race is “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” so have fun, good luck and pick a winner.