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Here's the basics of betting on horses at the Kentucky Derby

Is the risk worth the reward? Feel comfortable placing your first bet at the Kentucky Derby with these basics.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — If you want to cash in on the Kentucky Derby, you'll have to know how to bet. 

For a "Derby Dummy", all those numbers and terms can be intimidating. Thankfully, our resident Derby expert Gary Roedemeier has some advice on how to get started. 

Let's start off with some good news: He says he thinks people do better when they know less about the sport.

"I always thought, too, the less you know the better you are. We've had a number of people, so-called horse experts, and I've always felt like the more they know about the horses and the more they've seen horses, the more likely they are to miss it completely," he said. 

RELATED: Kentucky Derby 2022: What you need to know before heading to Churchill Downs

According to Roedemeier, betting depends on two things: how brave you are and your bank account. So, if you've mustered up some courage (liquid or otherwise) and have some spare cash, here's what you need to know to place your first bet.

First of all, you don't pick first, second and third - use those terms and you're sure to sound like a newbie. When it comes to horse racing, you're picking Win, Place, and Show.

Credit: AP
A women places a bet before the 144th running of the Kentucky Oaks horse race at Churchill Downs Friday, May 4, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Types of bets

There are several ways to bet. If you want to keep it simple, stick with a "straight bet". That just means you're betting on a single horse. If you bet on a horse to Win, that horse has to come in first place. If you bet on a horse to Place, it can come in first OR second place. A Show bet means that the horse can come in first, second, or third place. While Place and Show bets are pretty low on the risk scale, they won't win you much cash.

Feeling more confident? Try your hand at an "exotic" bet. These are harder to win, especially for beginners, because you have to bet the horses in perfect order. But you'll get much more bang for your buck.

If you get the first two horses exactly right, that's called an Exacta. If you get the first three horses right, that's a Trifecta - and that one will have a bigger payout.

Credit: Getty Images


Let's say the horse you bet on won the race - how much money will you get? That's where odds come in. 

Odds are your return on investment - how much money you'll get back if your horse wins. For example, if you bet on a horse with 6-1 odds and it wins, you would get $6 back for every $1 you invested.

The horse with the shortest odds is usually called the "favorite". Betting on the favorite may be a better way to get a guaranteed win, but the horses that are less favored to win are where the real money is made. It's considered a riskier bet, but it comes with a better reward.

Once you get into betting on several horses at once with those exotic bets, calculating the payout gets a little more difficult. Check out TwinSpires.com for more information on figuring out your wager.

Credit: AP
Chris Stock of Chattanooga, Tenn., places bets before the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 5, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Bottom line

There's really no rule on how you choose which horses to bet on. 

Intense betters will look at things like track conditions, trainers, and who the horse's parents were. However, you can bet on the horse who you think has the coolest name or best personality - you might just get lucky!

It may sound like everyone in town in an expert on horse racing but, in reality, it's almost impossible to pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby - even for the most decorated veteran.

"Nobody is an expert on the Derby," Roedemeier said.

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