One of the most iconic horse races in the world, the Kentucky Derby is run every year since 1875 on the first Saturday of May under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
The idea for the Kentucky Derby came from the Epsom Derby, which had been running in England since 1780. Based on the Epsom, the Kentucky Derby was designated as a race for three-year-old horses, originally run at the Epsom distance of 1 1/2 miles. After a few years this was shortened to 1 1/4 miles, as it remains today. The race happens on Saturday, May 6, 2023 and draws a field of up to 20 3-year-old Thoroughbreds.
Over the past 100 years, the Kentucky Derby has also gained prominence as the first leg in the US Triple Crown of racing, which also includes the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Since the first Triple Crown winner in 1919, only 12 other horses have accomplished the feat.
As of 2019, the Kentucky Derby will offer a total purse of $2 million, with $1.4 million going to the winner. The winning horse also recieves a blanket of roses, thus the race is often referred to as “The Run for the Roses.” It is often also called “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” since it takes the horses roughly two minutes to run the race. Between this race and the Kentucky Oaks for the fillies one day earlier, this is a great betting season at Churchill Downs.
Pour yourself a mint julep and keep reading to find out how to bet on the Kentucky Derby, and who your best options are for online betting for Kentucky Derby 2023!
Kentucky Derby Future Bets
While hundreds of horses are nominated every year to race in the Kentucky Derby, only 20 make the starting gate. As the horses progress through their two-year-old and into their three-year-old racing season, the best ones begin to stand out, and horseplayers can start to narrow in on future bet choices.
Long before the race is run, racebooks such as Bovada start to offer future bet choices, and locking in a potential Kentucky Derby winner early can lead to a huge payout if your choice hits the wire first on the first Saturday of May.
Where to Bet on the Kentucky Derby
Fortunately, we make it easy to find the best places for Kentucky Derby betting online. All of our recommended sportsbooks offer market-leading odds, trusted payouts, and great incentives like welcome bonuses, sign-up bonuses, and horse racing rebates.
Keep checking in with these top-rated online racebooks to find a future bet winner in the field.
The Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby
Starting in 2013, Churchill Downs implemented a qualifying-points system to determine the 20 horses that will make it into the Kentucky Derby field. Prior to this, qualifying for the Derby was based on money earned in graded-stakes races. Kentucky Derby qualifying races happen all over: Kentucky, New York, California, Florida, and even overseas!
Typically horses trying to qualify for the Derby will each run in three or four of the 35 races held in the US to try and gain enough points to qualify. There is no set schedule for when a particular horse will run in a particular race, as entering a horse is at the discretion of the trainer when he feels a horse is ready to run.
Kentucky Derby Prep Season
The US Kentucky Derby trail is divided into two segments. First is the "Prep Season" of 22 races at racetracks across the country, beginning with the Iroquois at Churchill Downs and ending with the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway. This includes major early targets like the Champagne and the American Pharoah. Juvenile and early-season three-year-old races in that series offer 10-4-3-2-1 points to the top five finishers, with the exception being the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which is a 30-12-9-6-3 points race.
Starting in mid-January, the stakes rise. Later races in the Prep Season offer 20-8-6-4-2 points: not enough to get the winner into the Derby, but enough to put them on good footing if they run well in one or two other prep races.
Kentucky Derby Championship Series
Just as the Prep series is wrapping up, the horses move to the Championship series, which itself is divided into two legs. The first leg begins with the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, and ends seven races later with the Sunland Derby.
For these races, points are awarded on a 50-20-15-10-5 scale. It is enough to get the winner into the Kentucky Derby, and enough for underneath finishers to stay on track if they do well in other races.
The second leg of the Championship series kicks off with the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and runs another eight races - including the UAE Derby at Meydan Race course in Dubai - and ends with the Arkansas Derby on April 13, just three weeks before the Run for the Roses.
For this leg, points are awarded on a 100-40-20-10 scale.
Wild Cards and Overseas Kentucky Derby Qualifying
The Lexington at Keeneland is a late-season "wild card" race offering 20-8-6-4-2 points to its top five finishers. This is not enough to punch a horse with no points a ticket to the Kentucky Derby, but it can be enough to get a horse just under the qualifying line into the main field!
In an effort to broaden the international appeal of the Derby, race organizers decided to reserve two of the 20 starting spots for overseas qualifiers, one from Japan starting in 2017, and one from Europe starting in 2018. There are four races in Japan that award up to 30 points for the winner, and seven races in Europe.
If a horse from the series in Japan or Europe decides not to go, it frees up an extra spot for horses who earned points in the United States to make the Kentucky Derby.
2023 Kentucky Derby Betting Guide
Your Kentucky Derby betting options are as extensive as they are for other races all year. You can play single horses with win bets, place bets, or show bets. Or, you can go for a life-changing score with exotic wagers like exacta, trifecta, superfecta, or multi-race bets like a Pick 5 or Pick 6! Using a Kentucky Derby betting odds calculator can help make it easy for you to construct a winning ticket.
Whatever you like to bet, the 20-horse field ensures that Kentucky Derby betting payouts will be huge. This is an experience you do not want to miss!
Handicapping the Kentucky Derby
Following along during the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying series is a key to handicapping not only the Derby itself, but the entire Triple Crown series. It shows you which horses are trending better and improving with distance, which horses may need a turn back, and who may need a drop in class. This can help you ignore false favorites and make your Kentucky Derby bets on good long shots!
Kentucky Derby Futures
Some bettors wonder, how early can you bet on the Kentucky Derby? The answer is, the Kentucky Derby betting season starts as soon as the Iroquois in September, runs all the way through the Lexington (the final prep race) in April, and all the way until post time!
As the contenders start to emerge from the pack by gaining points for either winning or getting into the top four of each race, it obviously helps bettors narrow in on lucrative future bet choices for both the Derby and Triple Crown.
And when race day comes, having a clear idea how each of the horses managed to get into the race in the first place goes a long way to figuring out how they run, what kind of competition they have faced and if they are in top form to hit the Churchill Downs finish line in front. When betting on the Kentucky Derby, an educated bettor is a profitable bettor!
2023 Kentucky Derby Favorite
The likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby is Forte. The champion two-year-old of 2022, he has come back just as strong at age 3, winning two Kentucky Derby preps at Gulfstream including the Florida Derby (G1). He tops the leaderboard, is only getting better with age and distance, and he has the maturity and tenacity to be a strong Kentucky Derby prospect.
However, with a 20-horse field, it can pay off to look deeper at other Derby contenders. After all, Epicenter looked as much of a standout in the 2022 class as Forte does in 2023, and he was defeated by longshot Rich Strike.
2023 Kentucky Derby Best Bets
One horse to consider strongly at a square price is Derma Sotogake. Based in Japan, he has already proven he can ship, running third in the Saudi Derby and winning the UAE Derby emphatically. His early speed will be a strong asset, since the 2023 Kentucky Derby shapes up to have less speed than many other runnings of the race. He has a good chance to continue Japan's moment on the biggest international horse racing stages.
Tapit Trice and Practical Move also deserve a good look. Tapit Trice showed good maturity in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, where he overcame an inside post in a big field, steered out, and ran down a pace-advantaged foe in the lane. Practical Move has tactical speed and has been the consistent leader in the California spur of the Derby trail, and the fact that this Santa Anita Derby winner is not trained by Bob Baffert (and never was!) means he will be better value than your average leading California horse.
Angel of Empire is going to get a lot of betting interest after he backed up his Risen Star run with a win in the Arkansas Derby. He is improving for prominent trainer Brad Cox, but he may be better off if a few horses with speed draw into the race closer to Derby day.
2023 Kentucky Derby Longshot
Two Phil's comes into the Kentucky Derby with the best Beyer of any prep-race horse, but he'll fly under the radar. Yes, that fast race came over the Tapeta at Turfway, and not the dirt. However, he won the Street Sense last year, meaning he is a graded winner over the same surface as the Kentucky Derby is run. And, though his connections (trainer Larry Rivelli and jockey Jareth Loveberry) are not well-known nationwide yet, they have been winning a lot of races in the midwest for many years, and are starting to do more on the biggest stages.
Disarm would be an interesting candidate as well...if he draws in. He did not enter the Lexington Stakes, leaving him just outside the top of the list, though with a few weeks left until the Kentucky Derby he does not need many defections to join the field. If he gets in, he is an improving horse with good tactical speed.