By Kevin Martin

You might hear handicappers tell you not to bet the favorite in this Saturday’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. In the same breath they might also tell you the favorite is the best horse in the field and the most likely winner. Why this contradiction? Handicappers will call Nyquist – the favorite in this Saturday’s Kentucky Derby – a bad bet because he will offer little value at odds that could go as low as 2-1. Playing a 2-1 shot to win against a 20-horse field doesn’t make good economic sense. However, multi-horse wagers where gamblers pick the top two (exacta), three (trifecta), or four (superfecta) finishers will likely pay well even if Nyquist wins as he has done every time he has hit the track so far.

The $100 Bet

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With the exception of a small win bet, I’ll invest most of my $100 bankroll on multi-horse (aka exotic) wagers.

I’ll start with an exacta and trifecta that includes my top four selections. I will play a trifecta box with Nyquist, Exaggerator, Mor Spirit, and Mohaymen. The trifecta will have 24 possible combinations and I’ll play it for one dollar ($24). For the trifecta to cash, I will need my choices to finish first, second, and third in any combination.

I will play the same four horses in an exacta box. The exacta requires my picks to finish first and second. There are 12 potential combinations and I will play it for two dollars for a total of $24.

I’ll cast the widest net on a trifecta ticket with Nyquist in the win position and seven horses boxed in the second and third positions. Only in the Kentucky Derby does it make sense to box seven horses. The big field and huge amount of money being wagered on the race means a potentially lucrative payday if you are right. The seven horses underneath Nyquist will include three from the powerful California contingent: Exaggerator, Mor Spirit, and Danzing Candy. I will also include Mohaymen and Brody’s Cause who have both won multiple graded stakes races in Florida and Kentucky. Lastly, I’ll use two longshots: Mo Tom and Suddenbreakingnews. They have consistently shown effort in the stretch and will be passing tired horses late. With this bet, Nyquist must win and any of the seven included on the ticket must finish second and third. The bet includes 42 possible combinations, so for one dollar the bet costs $42.

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After the multi-horse bets, I have $10 remaining. I’ll take that and put it on Danzing Candy’s nose to win. He is likely to lead the field into the first turn and along the backstretch. It is possible he will be “loose on lead” which means he won’t face a challenge from another horse until late in the race. This scenario gives him a chance to lead them all the way around and win wire-to-wire. He is 15-1 on the morning line and could very well spit the bit before they hit the mile pole, but he has a puncher’s chance and looks worthy of a small win bet.

When betting the Derby you have to take a stand against colts that some very sharp handicappers will pick to win. Outwork, Destin, Gun Runner, and Creator are coming off impressive performances in their most recent starts, but they lack the depth of experience in high class races against quality competition like the colts I selected in my top four. None of these runners would surprise should they win but you can’t bet them all.

How to place the bet

 When it comes to placing the wagers proposed here, it requires some knowledge in the language of betting on horse races. When placing a bet with a live teller at a racetrack or at an off-track betting facility, you need to use the track name, race number, type and amount of the bet, and the program number(s) for the horse(s) you are playing.

Let’s start with the easy one, $10 to win on Danzing Candy, ask for it like this:

“Churchill Downs race 12, $10 to win on the 20.” (The Kentucky Derby is the 12th race at Churchill Downs on Saturday and Danzing Candy is horse #20 in the program)


To box Nyquist, Exaggerator, Mor Spirit, and Moyhaymen in a $2 exacta, ask for the following:

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“Churchill Downs race 12, $2 exacta box on the 13, 11, 14 and 17.”

That bet includes 12 (4×3) possible combinations. On a $2 bet the total cost will be $24 (12x$2).


To bet the same horses in a $1 trifecta box, ask for:

“Churchill Downs race 12, $1 trifecta box on the 13, 11, 14 and 17.”

There are 24 (4x3x2) possible combinations, so a $1 bet will cost $24.


And finally, the most complicated of the bets is the trifecta with Nyquist in the win position and seven horses in the second and third positions. Make sure you have all your numbers in front of you so you can ask for:

“Churchill Downs race 12, $1 trifecta, 13 with 2, 4, 11, 14, 17, 19, 20 with 2, 4, 11, 14, 17, 19, 20.”

That is 42 (7×6) combinations in the second and third position. On a $1 it will cost $42.

Good luck!


Of course, its more fun to make your own picks, you can learn do that at Hello Race Fans. You can also see a rundown of all the starters with their annual Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet.

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Kevin Martin is the founder of the thoroughbred racing history site Colin’s Ghost and a contributing editor at Hello Race Fans.