Kentucky Derby Betting Tips – Ten Things You Need To Know!

The thrilling world of Kentucky Derby betting Tips!

Whether you’re a seasoned bettor or new to the racetrack, our comprehensive guide provides essential tips and strategies to enhance your betting experience.

From understanding the odds and evaluating the horses’ past performances to considering the impact of weather and track conditions, we’ll equip you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions.

Many people (including this reporter) believe the Kentucky Derby, which takes place on Saturday at Churchill Downs, is the most exciting two minutes in sports.

It’s not the richest race in the world (although $5 million ain’t hay, as they say). But it’s the most prestigious. 

And horses can’t just gallop in off the street and enter it. 

There are three roads to get to the Derby, or at least to qualify for the Derby by way of points. 

The main road passes through North America, where most of the action is (and the Dubai World Cup is added to this list). 

Another road is the European road, which consists of seven races. 

And there is also the Japanese road, which has only four races.

Fierceness is the morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby (5-2), and has won two legs of the “Road to the Derby,” having raced to a victory in the Breeders Cup Juvenile last year and the Florida Derby just recently. 

Sierra Leone, the second favorite (3-1), has won two legs in the Championship Season – the Risen Star Stakes and Blue Grass Stakes. 

In last December’s Remsen Stakes, he lost by a nose to Dornoch, which also won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and is a starter in the Derby (and a longshot, we might add). 

Road to the Kentucky Derby point standings

Here are the top ten point-getters among Derby entrants. We also list the point total in parentheses, with the horse’s career earnings next to it: 

  • Sierra Leone (155) $871,250
  • Fierceness (136) $1,646,100
  • Catching Freedom (125) $802,000
  • Stronghold (125) $742,800
  • Resilience (110) $416,000
  • Forever Young (JPN)  (100) $1,769,919
  • Endlessly (100) $658,000
  • Dornoch (75) $472,375
  • Just a Touch (75)  $247,500
  • Track Phantom (70) $300,000

* Timberlake,  with 81 points and $1,132,500 in earnings, would be 8th in these standings, but trainer Brad Cox, who has Catching Freedom and Just a Touch in this race, is bypassing the Derby with him. Timberlake, which won last year’s Champagne and the Rebel Stakes this year at Oaklawn, finished a disappointing fourth in the Arkansas Derby last time out. 

Kentucky Derby Betting Tips – Post positions and the morning line 

The post positions for the Derby were drawn on Saturday. This is where they will start from, along with the morning line odds: 

  • Dornoch (20-1)
  • Sierra Leone (3-1)
  • Mystik Dan (20-1)
  • Catching Freedom (8-1)
  • Catalytic (30-1)
  • Just Steel (20-1)
  • Honor Marie (20-1)
  • Just a Touch (10-1)
  • Encino (20-1)
  • T O Password (30-1)
  • Forever Young (10-1)
  • Track Phantom (20-1)
  • West Saratoga (50-1)
  • Endlessly (30-1)
  • Domestic Product (30-1)
  • Grand Mo the First (50-1)
  • Fierceness (5-2)
  • Stronghold (20-1)
  • Resilience (20-1)
  • Society Man (50-1)

If you’re even a casual horseplayer, the Kentucky Derby is much fun to handicap. Here are some of the things we would advise you to keep in mind: 

Look for horses that finished strong last time out

What you’re looking out for are contenders who came home with some authority in their last race. We recognize that it is unusual for a Kentucky Derby starter to have previously gone the mile-and-a-quarter distance. In the races on the Derby road, only the Louisiana Derby and the UAE Derby go as far as a mile and three-sixteenths. 

So theoretically, when a horse is strong over, say, the last three-eighths of a mile (three furlongs) in its last outing (considered to be 38 seconds or less), you should be able to be more confident that the horse will “stretch out” to the Derby distance better. Conversely, when the horse is slower down the stretch, it can be seen as a bad sign.

With a field of twenty contestants, you’ll have to throw some of those horses out during your handicapping. And this may not be the wrong place to start.

Look at the Florida Derby winner very seriously.

The Florida Derby, a major Derby prep race held at Gulfstream Park, has been fertile ground for those who have gone on to win at Churchill Downs. Out of the last 18 Kentucky Derby winners, six have come from this race. This is a strong percentage when you consider that many horses prep on the West Coast instead. 

This year, it provides a talking point for Fierceness, which made a shambles of the race back on March 30, winning by 13-1/2 lengths. John Velasquez took his charge to the front relatively early and never encountered a challenge, waltzing home in a hand ride.

Put the red flag on the Blue Grass Stakes and the Wood

The Blue Grass Stakes, which takes place at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, KY, is a major prep race for those aspiring to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. But its alumni have hardly experienced stellar results in the Run for the Roses. 

No horse from the Blue Grass has won the Derby since 2007. That would be bad news for Sierra Leone, Dornoch, Epic Ride, and Just a Touch this year. In addition, no horse has won the Blue Grass Stakes and the Kentucky Derby since 1991, when Strike the Gold executed that double. That’s 32 years without a double-winner. So you might say that’s “double trouble” for Sierra Leone.

And while we’re at it, please acknowledge a Wood Memorial “curse,” if you will. The Wood Memorial contested over a mile and an eighth at Aqueduct, had not produced a winner who also went on to win the Kentucky Derby since 2000 when the fabulous Fusaichi Pegasus did it. So this would be a rather unpleasant sign for this year’s Wood winner, Resilience, starting at the #19 gate on Saturday.

And by the way, post positions DO matter.

The Kentucky Derby has been using a physical starting gate (as opposed to a standing start) since 1930, so our analysis of post positions will start there.

Because the race allows up to 20 contestants, Churchill Downs had two separate gates—one for the first 14 horses and then an auxiliary gate for the rest—until 2020, when they began using one gate with 20 spots. This closed up the gap between the 14 and 15 spots, which affected horses breaking from the outside gates to get further inside. 

And that’s important; after all, no jockey wants to ride that far outside for too long since that would result in a much longer trip. This is indeed one of the toughest thoroughbred races to navigate.

Please note that it has not been profitable to be TOO far inside. Horses breaking from the #1 post in the gate have won this race eight times, but there have been no winners since Ferdinand in 1986. And if you move one spot to the outside (#2), things haven’t been any more fruitful, with seven winners and none who have crossed the finish line first since Affirmed captured the initial leg of the Triple Crown way back in 1978. 

Let’s go a step further than that – no Kentucky Derby winners have come out of the first three spots in the gate (1,2,3) since 1998, when Real Quiet, a monster horse who went on to win the Preakness and lost the Belmont by a nose (to Victory Gallop) got it done.

Collectively, that means one winner in the last 108 attempts.

Regarding some of the other posts, horses positioned from 13 through 20 have won this race and nine of the last 16 and 12 of the last 24 times it’s been run. Two starters from the extreme outside (#20) have come home a winner. But their expectations were distinctly different. Big Brown went off the 2-1 favorite in the 2008 Derby, but Rich Strike went into the 2022 race an 80-1 longshot, having drawn into the field literally at the last minute after Ethereal Road scratched. He made the most of it, launching a massive push down the stretch top-notch, the first graded stakes win ever for jockey Sonny Leon.

The most successful post position in the Derby has been #5, with ten victories. Gates 8 and 10 have been pretty good, too, with nine wins apiece. And for those of you who like to think in “exotic” terms, contestants breaking out of the #10 spot have been in the money 28.7% of the time.

Now, let’s go back to barren territory. Post positions 6, 11, and 14 have only two wins apiece, and the last wins for each took place in 1993, 1988, and—ouch—1961, respectively.

And in 44 starts, post-position 17 has NEVER won this race. This would appear bad news for Fierceness, the favorite, although Todd Pletcher’s colt can move inward if a horse inside him scratches.

If you’re looking for Bob Baffert, don’t bother. He’s not allowed.

Bob Baffert is one of the most successful trainers in the sport’s history. He’s won the Kentucky Derby six times, most recently with Authentic in 2020. He would have had a seventh in 2021, except that Medina Spirit was disqualified for having illegal drugs in his system. 

That incident (combined with a sordid background when it comes to drugs and horses) led to Baffert catching a two-year suspension from Churchill Downs. That was extended through 2024, which took him and his three-year-old contender, Muth, out of the race. Baffert appealed to a Kentucky Court of Appeals judge to no avail.

Baffert, who has won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah and Justify, will not hand his horses over to another trainer, as he has done in the past. So Muth is out.

That presents another exciting angle. Muth, who won the Arkansas Derby, maybe the best three-year-old in America and may well have been the favorite in the Derby. As it stands, Baffert will wait for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in a couple of weeks, where Muth is a favorite in the future wager odds, ahead of Fierceness and Sierra Leone. 

Beware of horses that have been overworked.

There is a certain “freshness” component that can’t be overlooked. Out of the last 19 Kentucky Derbies that have been contested, 17 of them have been won by horses that raced either two or three times as three-year-olds. 

In this race, Just Steel, Common Defense, and Epic Ride have raced four times. 

Beware of horses that have been too lightly raced.

In the history of the Kentucky Derby, there has not been a winner with less than three career starts since Leonatus in 1883. 

That’s a long time, and that would appear to be unwelcome news for the Japanese shipper T.O. Password, who has had only two races. 

Be careful about horses that did not race as a two-year-old

This has generally been a handicap, although the form has been broken a couple of times recently. Justify, who went on to win the Triple Crown, made his career debut as a three-year-old in 2018. And last year, Mage, who also did not race as a two-year-old, registered an upset win.

But between 1883 and 2017, there were NO Derby winners who were unraced as a two-year-old.

So, who fits that category this year? Well, two of the entrants. T O Password debuted on January 6 in Japan, and Just a Touch did not race until January 24.

Beware of the long layoff.

Since 1956, only Animal Kingdom and Authentic have won the Kentucky Derby after a six-week layoff.

In this year’s race, the most extended layoff belongs to Domestic Product, who hasn’t competed since winning the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9.

For the following Derby horses, it will have been exactly six weeks since they last raced:

  • Catching Freedom
  • Endlessly
  • Track Phantom
  • West Saratoga
  • Honor Marie
  • T O Password
  • Common Defense 

Be aware of the following facts and figures

As they regard horses in this Derby field:

Highest Career Earnings – Forever Young ($2,049,451)

Lowest Career Earnings – T O Password ($163,339)

Most Career Starts – Just Steel, 11 (2 win, four place, one show) 

Fewest Career Starts – T O Password (2) 

Had race of at least 1-1/4 miles – None 

Had race of at least 1-3/16 miles – Forever Young, who won the UAE Derby. Also, Common Defense, Catching Freedom, Track Phantom and Honor Marie, who all ran in the Louisiana Derby. 

Undefeated – Forever Young (5 starts), T O Password (2 stars) 

Out of Money in Last Start – Dornoch (4th, Blue Grass Stakes), Track Phantom (4th, Louisiana Derby), Common Defense (5th, Louisiana Derby). A quick note: not since Iron Liege in 1957 has a Derby winner who finished fifth or lower in its last start. 

Never Out of the Money (1st-2nd-3rd) – Grand Mo the First (2-0-4), Sierra Leone (3-1-0), T O Password (2-0-0), Epic Ride (2-2-1), Stronghold (3-3-0), Forever Young (5-0-0), Just a Touch (1-2-0), Catalytic (1-2-0), Encino (3-1-0)

Grade I Stakes Winners – Sierra Leone, Fierceness, Stronghold

No Graded Stakes Wins – Just a Touch, Just Steel, Catalytic, Society Man, Grand Mo the First, Common Defense. T O Password gets an asterisk (*) for not having run in a graded stakes race per se, but he won the Fukuryu Stakes, part of the Japanese Road to the Derby.

Sired by a Kentucky Derby Winner – Two horses – Just a Touch and Just Steel – were sired by Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner. And Encino’s sire is Nyquist, who won the 2016 Derby. 

Turf to Dirt – No horses in this field go directly from a turf race to this one on dirt. Grand Mo the First has raced once on the turf. Endlessly has had four turf races in six career starts. And he’s also raced twice on an all-weather (synthetic) surface. That means he has never run a race on a standard dirt track.* Has at Least One Win at Churchill Downs — Catching Freedom, Stronghold, Track Phantom, West Saratoga, Just Steel, Honor Marie, Mystik Dan

Jockey Changes

The following horses will be ridden by a different jockey than the one who rode him last time out:

  • Resilience – John Velasquez to Junior Alvarado
  • Domestic Product – Tyler Gaffalione to Irad Ortiz Jr.
  • Encino – Floretn Geroux to Axel Concepcion
  • Society Man – Luis Rivera to Frankie Dettori 
  • T O Password – Katsuya Sameshima to Kazushi Kimura 
  • Common Defense – Brian Hernandez to Cristian Torres 
  • Catalytic – Julian Leparoux to Jose Ortiz 
About the Author
Charles Jay
Click to Contact