Awful Advice: How To Bet At The Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 02: El Padrino bites the shank while getting a bath following a morning workout in preparation for the 138th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The 4000th annual Kentucky Derby probably kicks off sometime this weekend. Looking for some winning betting strategies? Want to know how to read a race program? Louisville native Jon Bois is here not to help at all.

This time of year, the world's eyes drift to Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby. As a longtime Louisville resident, I know more about horse racing than basically any of you.

But wouldn't it be selfish of me to keep all this knowledge to myself? That's why I took the time to write up this tutorial. If you'd like to learn how to bet, get clued in on some winning strategies, or just find out what the Kentucky Derby is all about, read on!

10 'fast facts' about the Kentucky Derby

1. The Kentucky Derby was inspired by frontier explorer Jim Derby, who in 1803 got lost a half-mile into a horseback expedition. He got himself turned around, ended up where he started, and was an awful explorer.

2. Since 1934, the motto of the Kentucky Derby has been, "don't kill all of the horses but kill one every once in a while though." In 1973, a state congressman suggested copy-editing the slogan and perhaps adding a comma. He was then thrown into a well.

3. For many racegoers, the Kentucky Derby means "Big Buck$!" Place a $500 bet and you could win as much as $1,000! Holy moley!

4. eh, let's just stop at three, three is good

The track at Churchill Downs


a - The track. It is exactly one mile long, and come Derby time, it is decorated with furlongs.

b - The grandstand. Celebrities and other well-to-do folks sit in one of Churchill Downs' famed luxury boxes, such as the "Exacta Box" and "Trifecta Box."

ACTUAL Kentucky Derby handicapping advice.

c - The infield. This is where Rey Ordonez and Shawon Dunston get totally shithammered.

d - The Hidden Passage. This provides jockeys with a perfectly legal shortcut, but it is seldom used.

e - A reconstruction-era carpetbagger, wearing a top hat and brandishing a cane, exhorts the jockeys to take the Hidden Passage. "Don't be no dime-store sucker!" he yells. "Take the Hidden Passage! We's got hardtack an' mead! Come an' git!"


How to read a race program

Don't just walk up to the gamble people (can't remember the correct term) and place your bet like some kind of rube. School up first! Throughout the grandstand area, vendors will be selling race programs for around $3. Or you could just grab one and run away. It's not like they're going to run after you.

For every race, the program will list information about each horse. Here's a sample table.


a - The horse's name, and more often than not, valuable life advice.

b - The horse's jockey and trainer. In parentheses are the number of movies they have watched about horses.

c - The jockey's hat and jersey colors, so that they can be easily identifiable. Ha ha ha! Just kidding, you will not be able to pick your horse out of a pack, and your idiotic horse is going to lose anyway, so stop trying to watch the race like you have any idea of what you're doing.

d - Information on the horse's previous races, sorted by date.

e - The horse's order of finish, or, if the horse was exacta-boxing, the fight decision.

f - The track condition.

g - Aggregate Velocity Index. Just square this this with the Binomial Probability Matrix. Wait, what? You don't get it? What are you, stupid? People have been reading these for like a hundred years! Just crunch the numbers! Hurry! It's time to make a bet and everyone's staring at you and you're still staring at the program like some kind of idiot! BET ON A HORSE DO IT DO IT DO IT YOU WORTHLESS F***.

h - Should be self-explanatory. I didn't intentionally plan to use the letter "h" for this but I'm glad I did, because "horse" begins with "h".

i - A diamond. These are all over the program and they signify absolutely nothing.

Types of bets

Sure, you can just place a simple bet to win if you want, but why not make things a little more interesting? Here are some different structures of betting you might choose to run (horse racing term) with:

Win - You bet on a horse to win. Ironically, if you place a "win" bet on a horse and it wins, you will also win!

Place - Bet on whether you will place a bet. In case you choose this bet, Churchill Downs provides benches nearby so that you can sit and think about that for a while.

Show - A bet on which horse will finish third. Ugh, that just seems stupid and boring. Don't do that.

Exacta - Nobody knows.

Trifecta - Nobody knows.

You place a bet that is officially registered as a "no bet." It is impossible to win. This bet is not advised.

Giveaway squared
Similar to the Giveaway. If you return to the booth with the losing ticket, a bucket of worms will be dumped on your person. This bet is not advised.

Blockheaded Giveaway Kablooie!
Similar to the Giveaway, only upon losing the bet, you are made to stand on a podium. You are roundly mocked and insulted, and rotten fruit is thrown at you. This bet is not advised.

Betting strategies

- Stand in line. Occasionally, the person in front of the line will place a bet and exit. When this occurs, the line will become shorter. Take one to two steps forward.

- At some point, the line may become so short that you are, in fact, at the very front of it and facing the betting window. If this happens, shriek "HORSEBET" and throw a handful of wadded-up bills at the cashier.

- Run away. It does not matter whether you receive a bet slip because you are going to lose.

- A new school of betting theory argues that you shouldn't simply bet on the existence of horses, and should bet on one horse in particular. Odds can be fun sometimes, but I mean, all horses are basically the same. Look at them. They all got tails and feet and shit. Just go with your gut and bet on a horse whose name you like.

Examples of cool names include:

  • Captain Radical
  • Lieutenant Radical
  • Korporal Kool
  • Mr. And Ms. Talking Horse!
  • Petty Officer Radical

Example of crappy names of horses that will probably lose include:

  • A Huge Dog
  • Microwave With Door Ripped Off That Still Works
  • B.M.-Compatible
  • A Dog
  • Meet The Deedles: Horse Edition

And there you have it! Now you know the ins and outs of horse racing, just in time for the Kentucky Derby. It ought to be tons of fun. As Hunter S. Thompson famously put it, "The Kentucky Derby is tons of fun!"

ED. NOTE: We apologize for wasting your time if you read this expecting useful information instead of a bunch of jokes. Head to And Down The Stretch They Come for actual news and advice.

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