Swimming in the pools of Kentucky Derby betting enthusiasm

April 11th, 2023

Kentucky Derby betting handle

Measuring the enthusiasm for Kentucky Derby betting

  • Understanding handle
  • Record Kentucky Derby pools
  • Comparing to the Preakness S. and Belmont S.
  • The Kentucky Oaks
  • Enticing Payouts

Betting handle reveals the enthusiasm for the Kentucky Derby (G1). Contested annually on the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby serves as the standard-bearer for the North America Thoroughbred racing industry.

More than a quarter-billion dollars, a record $273.8 million, was wagered on the 14-race race card at Churchill Downs on 2022 Kentucky Derby Day. Known as “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby drew a crowd of 147,294 — it’s a bucket-item event with a wide range of wagering opportunities.

The 12-race Breeders’ Cup Saturday program, which produced $122.9 million, ranked second-best by total handle in 2022.

Handicapping at Kentucky Derby 148 (Photo by Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

Record Derby pools

Twenty horses went to the starting gate for the 2022 Kentucky Derby, the largest field in North America, and a record $ $179 million, including all multi-race bets that ended in the Kentucky Derby, was wagered on the race itself.

The Kentucky Derby’s popularity continues to expand worldwide, with multiple Japanese-based horses aiming for the 2023 running, and betting numbers continue to increase steadily.

Wagering in Kentucky Derby straight pools (win, place, and show) totaled a staggering $75.6 million in 2022, an increase of nearly 9 percent from the previous mark. By comparison, $62.3 million was wagered in straight pools on a 20-horse field in 2019.

Exacta ($27.7 million), trifecta ($32.8 million), and superfecta ($14.8 million) pools also established new records for the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

Preakness, Belmont Stakes betting

The Kentucky Derby opens the Triple Crown, a three-race series for three-year-olds over a five-week period, and the proximity of the racing dates benefits the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, the respective second and third legs in the series.

The Preakness and Belmont Days can each surpass $100 million in total handle.

A record $113.4 million was wagered on the 14-race Preakness program in 2021, including $68.7 million on the Preakness itself.

The three biggest handle days in New York history, Belmont Day in 2014, 2015, and 2018, have come when a Triple Crown is on the line. Those attract massive interest.

The 2014 edition leads the way with $151.1 million on the 13-race card, including $90.3 million wagered on the race itself. The following year, which featured American Pharoah snapping a 37-year Triple Crown drought, produced $135.7 million and $82.7 million figures.

The top Belmont Day handle when a Triple Crown wasn’t on the line came in 2021 — $112.7 million.

Studying racing on a mobile phone at the Kentucky Derby (Photo by Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

Kentucky Oaks

One day prior to the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks places three-year-old fillies in the spotlight at Churchill Downs.

A record $74.6 million was wagered on the 2022 Kentucky Oaks program, including $24.3 million on the Oaks itself.

It’s a two-day spectacle of fashion and fun under the Twin Spires that includes plenty of betting action. In 2022, bettors produced $337.8 million in total wagering on the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby programs combined.

Enticing payouts

With up to 20 wagering interests, the Kentucky Derby often yields lucrative payouts. And 2022 was no exception, as Rich Strike provided the second-biggest upset in 147 years by winning at 80-1 odds.

Epicenter finished second as the 4-1 favorite, completing a $2,050 exacta (all $1 bet denominations). The trifecta (top three finishers in order) totaled $14,870, and the superfecta (top four in order) paid a whopping $321,500.

Favorites tend to return decent payouts in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. American Pharoah kicked off his Triple Crown sweep in 2015 by winning the Kentucky Derby as the near 3-1 (2.90-1) favorite. Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown hero, was bet down to the same odds before winning the Kentucky Derby as the prohibitive favorite.

The betting product is always strong on Kentucky Derby Day.

A family handicaps next to the Churchill Downs paddock on Kentucky Derby day (Photo by Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)