North American horse racing fans are fortunate enough to have some of the best Thoroughbred racing action in the world right in their own backyards. Churchill Downs is one of the oldest sports venues in the United States and is arguably the most famous racetrack in North America. Read on to find out more about betting at Churchill Downs, its rich history, and the country’s most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby.
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How to Bet Churchill Downs
Churchill Downs was built in Louisville, Kentucky, back before it was a major city. Its best feature was being nearby railroad tracks, allowing for the quick and easy transportation of horses into the area. The famous Twin Spires atop the grandstand were built in 1895, and although the grandstand has undergone several major renovations since then, the Twin Spires still stand sentry over the grounds.
The one-mile dirt racetrack is outside a seven-furlong turf course. Churchill Downs offers three meetings per year, from April through June in the spring, then a fall meet in September and a meet in November. Travis Stone is the current track announcer and has been full time at the Louisville track since 2015.
Churchill Downs Minimum Bets
Churchill Downs offers the major wagers allowed at most tracks. Beginners can play win, place, show, and across the board (all three) wagers with a minimum of $2 per bet. Betting across the board costs $6 for a minimum $2 wager, because it is $2 for each position win, place, and show.
Intermediate wagers at Churchill Downs include exacta (top two horses in order, $2 minimum), trifecta (top three horses in order, fifty-cent minimum), and superfecta (top four horses in order, $1 minimum), as well as Daily Double wagering (the winner of two consecutive races, $1 minimum).
Even trickier wagers include the Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5 (picking the winners in consecutive races), the Single 6 Jackpot (Twenty cent minimum for picking six straight winners), and the Super Hi-Five, where for $1 you select the first five horses in order.
All the multi-race wagers, such as the Pick 3 and Pick 4, have their own separate pari-mutuel pools. The payoff comes from deducting the take out and consolation payouts and dividing the rest among the winners. In the case of scratches, after the ticket is placed, the bettor gets the post-time favorite. If there is a dead heat winner, both combinations payout.
Churchill Downs Betting Tips
Churchill Downs offers Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Future Wagers. There are pools at the end of November, the beginning of February, and the middle of March. The 2020 future wagers will also include ones in June, July, and August due to the postponement of the 2020 Kentucky Derby to September 5.
In the Future Wager, 22 three-year-olds are available to wager on, as well as All Other
Three-Year-Olds and All Other Three Year Old Fillies. The prices are generally considerably higher than what is available on race day after the horses have had all their prep races. Around $500,000 is wagered into each Future Wager pool.
Churchill Downs Best Bets
There are seven Grade 1 races run at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are the most famous, but there is also the Humana Distaff and La Troienne for fillies, the Churchill Downs Stakes for sprinters, the Turf Classic for older grass horses, and the Clark Handicap for older horses in the fall.
The Clark Handicap has been won by horses like Tom’s d’Etat, Gun Runner, Shackleford, Wise Dan, and Blame just since 2009. Going further back, the three-year-old filly Surfside defeated older males when she won it just two years after Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm scored.
Trainer Bob Baffert is tied for most wins in the Clark, which has been run anywhere from two miles to 1 1/16 miles. It is currently run at 1 1/8 miles.
The Churchill Downs Stakes is a seven-furlong contest for sprinters. It was won in 2019 by eventual Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Mitole and has been won by Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford. Other winners include top stallions Speightstown and Distorted Humor.
The Turf Classic is a rich Grade 1 over nine furlongs on the turf. Jockeys Pat Day and Jerry Bailey each have three wins apiece, and trainer Bill Mott leads with three wins as well. The Hall of Fame runner Wise Dan won it twice in 2013 and 2014. Other top horses to win include English Channel, two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Lure, and Einstein.
The La Troienne is for older fillies and mares over 1 1/16 miles and is held on the same day as the Kentucky Oaks. Blind Luck and Unrivaled Belle were standout winners in 2011 and 2010; the former is a Hall of Fame level runner and the latter produced Grade 1 winner Unique Bella. Breeders’ Cup winners Ginger Punch, Jewel Princess, Escena, Spain, and One Dreamer have also won the La Troienne. It was upgraded to a Grade 1 in 2014.
The last of Churchill Downs’ major Grade 1 races in the Humana Distaff. The seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares has been won by Breeders’ Cup heroine Groupie Doll and Mona de Momma, dam of 2020 Met Mile (G1) winner Vekoma.
Churchill Downs Online Betting
It is not an issue if using an online racebook, but if you need to cash a ticket at Churchill Downs itself please head to the window. If you have earned more than $5,000 in a wager then you will need to fill out forms to the government for tax purposes. A photo ID will be required.
Betting online avoids that scenario. It is more convenient and an easy way to keep your money in one place.
There are 12 Grade 2 races at Churchill Downs run each year: the Alysheba, the American Turf, the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, the Eight Belles, the Falls City, the Fleur de Lis Handicap, the Golden Rod, the Kentucky Derby prep for juveniles called the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, the Mrs. Revere, the Stephen Foster, the Twin Spires Turf Sprint, and the Wise Dan Stakes.
The most famous of these is the Stephen Foster, which was a Grade 1 race until recently. Named for the man who wrote the famous song “My Old Kentucky Home,” the Stephen Foster has been won by some of racing’s very best runners.
It was first run in 1982 and is run over nine furlongs and is worth $500,000. The winningest jockeys are Pat Day and Robby Albarado. Breeders’ Cup Classic winners Gun Runner, Fort Larned, Blame, Curlin, Saint Liam, and Awesome Again all took the Stephen Foster. Victory Gallop won it in 1999 en route to an Eclipse Award, and the mighty Irish-bred Street Cry won it in 2002 before retiring to sire both Winx and Zenyatta.
The 2020 edition of the Stephen Foster went to Tom’s d’Etat, a popular local runner, who scored over a very good field. Active trainers Steve Asmussen, Mark Casse, and Pat Byrne are among only five trainers to ever win the race twice.
Churchill Downs Derby Betting
Betting for the Kentucky Derby begins with Future Wagers held months before the race. Then on Kentucky Oaks day, more than 24 hours before the Derby itself, betting opens on the big race. There is also the Derby-Oaks double where you have to select the winners in both races, and the Derby Day Pick 6 with six major stakes races highlighting one bet.
Common betting angles at Churchill Downs include trainers, such as looking at who the top trainers are. Brad Cox has quickly become Kentucky’s top trainer, with Dale Romans and Eddie Kenneally both high percentage trainers as well. Steve Asmussen always does well at the Louisville track, and Ian Wilkes and Ken McPeek call Churchill Downs home. Ship in trainers that do well include Chad Brown and Bill Mott.
Another is the jockey. Some do better at Churchill Downs than others and in Kentucky in general. The all-time leading Churchill jockey is Pat Day, who has since retired. Active riders include Tyler Gaffalione, Corey Lanerie, Ricard Santana, Jr., Florent Geroux, Julien Leparoux, and Brian Hernandez, Jr.
Having access to speed figures helps decide who will be the fastest horse in the race. Try betting on pace scenarios, such as if there are too many front runners and they will burn each other out, or too many closers and a lone pace horse will get away and win. Look for horses who are changing to a more profitable barn – or exiting a barn like that.
Pedigree also plays a big part. Knowing if the sire and dam appreciated fast tracks or muddy, and what distances they were best at, can help take your handicapping to another level.
Churchill Downs is the most iconic racetrack in North America. With its famed twin spires overlooking the track, Churchill Downs has been the host of some of the greatest races in history and is home to the most exciting two minutes in sports – the Kentucky Derby. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the track was rated 18th by the Horseplayer’s Association of North America in 2015.
Churchill Downs Betting Sites
A variety of racebook sites provide wagering enthusiasts with the opportunity to bet on the biggest races at Churchill Downs, including the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. Many offer a wide range of deposit bonuses, betting rebates and special betting events that allow you to get even more bang for your buck when playing races from Churchill Downs.
Churchill Downs Track Layout
Churchill Downs has two tracks – the main track is a one-mile dirt oval that is roughly 80 feet wide. There is also a 120-foot wide section that accommodates the oversized starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. Inside the main track, there is a seven-furlong turf course which is also about 80-feet wide. The infield of Churchill Downs hosts one of the most raucous parties at the Kentucky Derby and is also home to “The Big Board”, a massive Panasonic high-definition video board that debuted in 2014 – at the time, the 171 x 90-foot screen was the largest high definition board ever built.
Track History & Quick Facts
Churchill Downs opened in 1875 and that year, held the Kentucky Derby for the first time. The Kentucky Derby has been run every year since then without fail making it the oldest continually run sporting event in American history.
Churchill Downs hosts two separate three separate race meets over the course of the year. Their spring meet begins at the end of April and traditionally runs through July. From there, a short meet is held in September and then the fall meet begins in late October and closes in late November, typically Thanksgiving Weekend.
In addition to the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks, Churchill Downs has been the host site for the Breeders’ Cup eight times, most recently in 2011. The Breeders’ Cup is scheduled to return underneath the Twin Spires in 2018. Churchill Downs also hosts two major stakes races for older horses - the Clark Handicap and Stephen Foster. The Stephen Foster is held in June and the Clark is held in November. Both are Grade 1 events and are both contested at a mile and an eighth with a $500,000 purse.
When the infield is open for the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs has the capacity for 170,000 fans and the Kentucky Derby is always a sold-out event. The attendance options range from the infield revelry to the highest end seating on Millionaire’s Row.