Kentucky Derby 2021 Betting Guide

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Horse racing’s Triple Crown is the highlight of every racing season and it begins with a bang and the Kentucky Derby. Everything is bigger at the Derby; the field, the crowd, and, of course, those ridiculous hats. However, and much more importantly, so are the payouts. Not only does all the tradition and pageantry of the Kentucky Derby bring in the casual fan, it invites only the best of the best of thoroughbreds to participate and will always intrigue the professional bet layers.

Playing the ponies is an art form, whether you’re dressed to the nines in the infield, hovering over a racing form at your nearest OTB, or just watching from the comfort of home. Putting together a winning afternoon come Derby time is no easy feat these days. However, with all those entries, there are plenty of opportunities and combinations to cash a winning Kentucky Derby ticket.

Horse racing is a gamblers paradise. If you can think of a wager, you can make that wager. Pick a longshot winner or some odd combination of horses to finish 1-2-3-4. An experienced gambler can tell you of all the value available at the track. And at the Kentucky Derby, that value is present tenfold.

When is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby returns to its typical date on the first Saturday in May this year. It has almost always taken place on the same weekend. However, it took place later in the year in 2020 due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The race is famous for being the first Triple Crown race of the season, but last season it was staged as the second leg. This marked the first time since 1931 that the Kentucky Derby did not kick off the Triple Crown campaign.

What time does the Kentucky Derby start?

The Kentucky Derby is scheduled to officially start at 6:57 pm ET this year. However, the traditions that lead up to the race are almost as famous as the race itself. Fans will be able to watch the contenders for the race in the parade ring at around 6:09 pm ET. The call for ‘Riders Up’ is then made at 6:37 pm ET, before fans can then join in and sing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ at 6:39 pm ET.

What channel is the Kentucky Derby on in 2021?

The whole of Derby Day will be broadcast on NBC. The action gets underway at 2:30 pm ET. Races before 2:30 will be aired on NBCSN.

Who won the 2019 and 2020 Kentucky Derby?

Authentic was the winner of the Kentucky Derby in 2020. He won at odds of 8/1, and beat the heavy favorite Tiz The Law to the post. The victory gave Bob Baffert a record-equaling sixth win in the race. The 2019 Kentucky Derby was a contentious one, as 65/1 shot Country House was awarded the win after Maximum Security was disqualified after being adjudged to have cost Long Range Toddy and War of Willi ground.

How long is the Kentucky Derby?

The famous Grade 1 is contested over 1 ¼ miles, which is roughly around 2 km. The race lasts for two minutes, which is why the Triple Crown race is dubbed ‘the most exciting two minutes in sports’.

How many horses are in the Kentucky Derby?

There will be 20 horses going to post for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. The draw for posts was made earlier in the week. Horses need to qualify for the race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The 20 horses with the most accumulated points are offered their spot in the famous race.

How old are horses that enter?

Horses that enter the Kentucky Derby are three years old. Entries can not be older or younger than that age.

Who will win the Kentucky Derby?

You can read our in-depth look at the 2021 Kentucky Derby to see how we expect the race to unfold. Essential Quality is the hot favorite in the betting, but we like the chances of Hot Rod Charlie.

Has the race ever been canceled?

Most famously, the race has never been canceled. It has run throughout its 145-year history. It was postponed in 1945, but took place at a later date in June. Last year’s race was also re-arranged as it took place in September rather than May.

About the Race

Grade II Churchill DownsSeven furlongs4yo and up$250,000
Grade III La TroienneSeven furlongs3yo fillies$150,000
Grade III Distaff Turf MileOne mileFillies and mares, 3yo and up$150,000
Grade I DistaffSeven furlongsFillies and mares, 4yo and up$300,000
Grade I Turf Classic1 1/8 mile3yo and up$1,000,000
Grade I Kentucky Derby1 1/4 mile3yo$3,000,000

2021 Kentucky Derby Odds

HorseOdds to Win
Essential Quality-130
Rock Your World+155
Known Agenda+250
Hot Rod Charlie+265
Highly Motivated+330
Medina Spirit+400
Midnight Bourbon+600
Dynamic One+600
King Fury+675
O Besos+700
Super Stock+800
Soup and Sandwich+800
Like the King+1600
Brooklyn Strong+1600
Hidden Stash+1600


The Kentucky Derby is not just one of the greatest races in the USA but around the world. How did this transformation happen? A Kentucky businessman, Meriwether Lewis Clark, was keen on bringing a prestigious event like the Epsom Derby, which he witnessed in a visit to England, to Kentucky, which was already a big name in the world of horse businesses.

Churchill Downs opened in 1875 and it paved for the first Kentucky Derby, which was held on the opening day. This race, which began with entry only for three-year-old horses, has now grown into of the biggest events. Today, it features some of the best three-year-old horses in the world and a maximum of 20 horses take part in the race. It is run over 1.5 miles making it quite a tough event.

The real jump in popularity happened when it became part of the Triple Crown events for thoroughbred horses. The Kentucky Derby became the first leg of this Triple Crown and it is followed by the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. A horse that manages to win all three events is considered as truly special and such an occurrence has happened only 13 times throughout history.

Location and Course

Churchill Downs in the state of Kentucky is the location for this prestigious event, which is run over 1-1⁄4 miles. The oval course has been specifically built for this race, which was earlier used to showcase the Kentucky thoroughbred breeding. As a result of being conducted without a break since 1875, Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are the longest-running sporting events in the United States.

Even though Churchill Downs is an oval circuit, racing does not take place in a staggered manner. As a result, horses that are in the outside position have a disadvantage since they run only for a quarter-of-a-mile before they have to turn at the clubhouse. Horses that start on the inside have to make a tight turn to prevent running into the fence. Hence, the extreme outside and inside of the track is not favored at this event.

Since Kentucky is known for rains in spring, track officials have a huge task to keep the fast dirt surface in good condition. It is no surprise that a vast majority of the Kentucky Derby races have taken place in fast conditions with only 28 races being labelled as slow, heavy, sloppy, or muddy.

Past Winners

There are no repeat winners at the Kentucky Derby since the event is only meant for three-year-old thoroughbreds. However, this marquee event is widely seen as a stepping stone to an incredible racing career, as many horses have gone on to enjoy such careers after being successful at this event.

Secretariat is undoubtedly one of the iconic horses to have one at this event. He managed to set an incredible 1:59.40 record in 1973 and the record stands even now. Secretariat went on to complete the Triple Crown and become one of the best thoroughbreds in history.

Seattle Slew is considered as quite a champion when it comes to the Kentucky Derby. Even though the time of 2:04 is quite mediocre compared to Secretariat’s standards, Seattle Slew was able to win by almost 2 full lengths. The completion time would have been even better if not for poor weather and track conditions. Seattle Slew’s greatness was evident as he went on to complete the Triple Crown. Even now, Seattle Slew remains as the only thoroughbred to pick up a Triple Crown without ever suffering a loss.

American Pharoah is one of the names which came incredibly close to beating Secretariat’s record. The 2015 winner went on to pick up the Triple Crown – ending almost a four-decade wait for the same.

Fillies have not done well at the Kentucky Derby with only three races going in their way. The last filly to win the event was in 1988.

Competing at the Kentucky Derby

It takes a long series of races that will ultimately decide the 20 horses which will line up at the Kentucky Derby in May. The Kentucky Derby prep series is a list of 19 events in which horses get points for finishing in various positions. The first four positions will yield 10, 4, 2, and 1 point respectively.

This will be followed by a Championship series where action ramps up to 16 races. The first leg of the series will comprise of seven races with the winner getting 50 points. The next three positions will get 20, 10, and 5 points. The Rebel Stakes is one of the most important events in the first leg. This Grade II event is open only for three-year-old horses and it has a pursue of $1 million.

The second leg comprises of another seven races, but the importance of these events change dramatically. Now, winners get 100 points as opposed to the 50 points in the first leg. The next four positions will yield 40, 20, and 10 points. The UAE Derby is the high-profile event in the second leg with a pursue of $2 million. The event is usually held in Dubai.

The last leg of the series will hold the two races, which are also regarded as wildcard events. These events will hand out 20 points to winners. The next three positions will give eight, four, and two points.

Betting on the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is immensely popular within the horse racing fraternity and more than $130 million is bet on this race every year. A bettor will be able to place a wager on almost every outcome. Such is the popularity of the race amongst bookmakers.

Types of Bets and Wagers

Before heading out to place a wager on the Kentucky Derby, a bettor should be aware of the basics. There are traditional options, which are ideal for newcomers with their low risk and moderate return, and exotic wagers, which provide huge returns at huge risk.

The traditional and straight betting types are:

  • Win – Betting on a horse that will come on successful in the Kentucky Derby.
  • Place – Betting on a horse to come first or second
  • Show – Placing a wager on a horse to finish in any one of the first three positions

The popular exotic options are:

  • Exacta – Placing a wager on the first two horses to finish in the same order
  • Trifecta – Betting on the exact order of three horses finishing in the top three
  • Superfecta – Picking the exact order of the first four horses
  • Super High Five – Choosing the first five horses in the exact order

Most of the sportsbooks tend to accept a very small wager on the exotic options. If a $2 exotic wager sounds like a risky proposition, you can even go with much less wager. For example, there are options to even place a $0.20 superfecta. The minimum Superfecta is $0.10 but some bookmakers require a minimum of $1.

Top Tips When Betting

Knowing the Horses

It is very important to understand the horses before placing a bet on this event. Just like an athlete, you can size up the horse against its competition by understanding its physical features. The muscle definition can be crucial in identifying if a horse is carrying too much fat. If there are toned and well-defined muscles near the rib cage and chest, it indicates perfect shape. A shiny coat is also a great indication of good condition.

One can also identify a horse’s mental state with some obvious signs. An alert horse has a greater chance of success. If the ears are pointed up and large, it means that the horse is alert to the surroundings. If the head is held high, it indicates a confident horse that is likely to show dominant behavior. Anxious horses are not a good bet and you should look for signs of sweat on the coat. If the horse is sweating excessively, it indicates too much exertion of energy through anxiousness.

Plenty of Research

Bettors can easily get access to a large amount of information regarding wagers and handicap. There is also plenty of scope to study different facets of the horses through videos available on workout analysis, Derby preps, past performances, and pedigree information. Since these numbers tend to play a major role in horse races, bettors need to be alert. Derby Week also sees a large number of expert opinions on almost all mediums.

Using a Wagering Strategy

The bankroll is crucial for a bettor, who can succeed only by managing funds in a smart way. It is very easy to exhaust the bankroll on Derby Day with 13 races being held. The large fields and multiple betting opportunities can be very tempting, but bettors need to be prudent. A bet should be made only when there is a strong opinion on the race or horse. If not, the funds should be preserved for future races.

Identifying Value

Any bettor has to find value so that they can compensate for the losses and still end up with a profit. It is essential to plan bets and search for odds that provide the best return. Rather than relying on the numbers given out by bookmakers, you should take a stance on the fair odds for a horse. This can help find better value and get more returns from the bet.

Choosing between Favorite and Underdog

The common path taken by many bettors is to pick the favorite horse. This is not a surprise since horse racing is one of the sports where sabermetrics plays a crucial role. The numbers end up having a greater role to play than hunches. However, the Kentucky Derby has witnessed both hunches and sabermetrics come into play in equal measure.

Just 50 out of the 144 Kentucky Derbies have witnessed a favorite coming out successful. More often than not, the favorite at the Kentucky Derby has struggled to come out on top. There was a two decade-long wait for the favorite to emerge successful and this wait ended in 2013 when Orb picked up the title. The event went on to witness six successive wins by favorites. The success of Country House, who started with odds of 30-1, in 2019 brought an end to this remarkable streak.

Deciding Between Running Styles

The running style has a major impact on the Kentucky Derby. There are three styles – closers, stalkers, and frontrunners. Since the Kentucky Derby is a long race, frontrunners may not perform well. They tend to tire out in the final sections. Stalkers are the type of horses that stay within touching distance – usually 1-4 lengths – of the frontrunners. From here, they are able to mount a challenge towards the end of the race. Chasers are more difficult to predict, as they prefer making a tilt for the top spot from the back.

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