04/29/2015 4:44PM

Betting the superfecta in the Kentucky Derby


This article will not tell you which horses to bet in the Kentucky Derby. If that’s the type of article you want, DRF.com will have many of those in the days leading up to the first Saturday in May. Instead, this article focuses on HOW to bet the Derby, particularly betting the superfecta in that race. On Kentucky Derby day, Churchill Downs limits the minimum superfecta bet to $1 – it’s a 10-cent minimum on most other days – so all payouts and wagering strategies discussed here will assume a $1 bet.

Why play the superfecta

Horseplayers looking for a big payday often gravitate to multi-race wagers such as the pick four or pick six. The payoffs for those bets, though, are highly dependent on results of the races leading up to the Derby, and the payouts have fluctuated greatly in recent years, from less than $100 for a 50-cent pick four in 2013 to more than $15,000 in 2010. Plus, it’s nearly a given that you’ll have multiple strong opinions regarding horses in the Derby, but you may not have similar opinions in the races leading up to the Derby. The superfecta allows you to convert those opinions into a series of bets, and if you are right in the Derby, you can win big.

In recent years, the Derby also has become a betting race like none other. The first year Churchill Downs offered exacta wagering was 1985, with the trifecta added in 1994 and superfecta in 1996. However, the 1996 Derby offered only 12 betting interests from the 19 starters, since there were four different two-horse entries (due to a common owner or trainer) plus a mutuel field (which coupled the longest shots in the race as one wagering interest) consisting of four other horses.

Therefore, the true modern era of Kentucky Derby superfecta wagering started in 2001 as that was the first Derby without coupled entries or a mutuel field, and since then, no race has had fewer than 16 betting interests, and the last 10 have had at least 19. In the 14 Derbies since then, the $1 superfecta payout has exceeded $10,000 12 times, even with favorites such as Big Brown, Orb, Street Sense, and Smarty Jones winning, and the payout exceeded $100,000 in 2010 with Super Saver as the 8-1 second choice on top. With such large fields, even somewhat logical results can lead to big scores.

How to play the superfecta

There are many different approaches to betting the superfecta in the Derby, and since the field is so large, there are many different ways to craft your wagers. The trouble is the cost of your ticket can skyrocket quickly, especially since the minimum wager is $1. Still, there are ways to approach the bet that can turn a small stack of bills into a very large one. Here are a few different approaches, which can be scaled based upon your budget.

The superfecta box: This is the cavemen version of the superfecta play. In most other races, it’s generally unwise to box a superfecta. After all, many times your box would cover a large portion of the field, and in some cases, the superfecta can pay less than the $24 cost of a four-horse box. However, the Kentucky Derby is one of the rare races that a superfecta box makes some sense, and a four-horse box can work well as a saver bet in combination with other plays. Boxing five horses will cost $120, six horses would bring the cost to $360, and $840 is the cost of seven.

The alternate win bet: Take a portion of your budget for the race and play superfectas keying a single horse in the top spot. For instance, a $1 super with one horse on top over three in second, five in third and seven in fourth (1x3x5x7) will cost $60. Every horse added to the fourth position adds $12 to the ticket. You can also key your horse on top, and then box four, five, or six horses in the underneath spots.

Alternate exacta box: If there are two horses you love so much that you are considering a large exacta box, you might consider this play, especially if there are others in the field you feel have no shot of finishing in the top four. This play can cost as little as $4 (1, 2 with 1, 2 with 3, 4 with 3, 4, for example) and can go up from there. For instance, boxing three horses in the third and fourth slots under your exacta box would cost $12, four horses cost $24, five cost $40, six cost $60, seven cost $84, and eight cost $112.

The triangle bet: Let’s say there are two or three horses you consider the most likely winners, and your budget for a super is less than $100. There are a lot of ways to play this one, but a couple good options are a 2x4x6x7 ticket for $96 or a 3x4x5x6 play for $81.

The underneath key: Let’s say there’s a longshot you like to finish in the super, but you can’t see him being good enough to win. Sure, you could put $100 to show on him and maybe take in $1000, or you could key him in the third and fourth spots with some logical contenders elsewhere. These tickets could be something like 1, 2, 3, 4 with 1, 2, 3, 4 with 10 with 1, 2, 3, 4 and 1, 2, 3, 4 with 1, 2, 3, 4 with 1, 2, 3, 4 with 10 for $24 each or 1, 2 with 1, 2, 3, 4 with 10 with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 1, 2 with 1, 2, 3, 4 with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 with 10 also for $24 each.

Depending upon your opinions and your budget, you might want to consider putting in multiple tickets that combine these strategies. If you’re looking to save some money, you might consider enlisting a few like-minded horseplayers and pooling your money in order to increase your coverage. A race like the Kentucky Derby comes around only once a year, so it pays to take some time to plan your wagers. However you play it, have fun.