Horse Racing

2024 Kentucky Derby Exacta and Trifecta Picks and Predictions

FanDuel Staff
FanDuel Staff
2024 Kentucky Derby Exacta and Trifecta Picks and Predictions

The Kentucky Derby is coming up on Saturday, May 4, at Churchill Downs.

This is one of the best betting opportunities in horse racing. Not only does the $5 million purse and 150-year history of the Kentucky Derby entice horses to run in a whole series of prep races just to get into the starting gate, but the 20-horse field in the race itself makes it a perfect race for cashing big on exactas and trifectas.

Naturally, you can bet on which horse will win the Kentucky Derby with FanDuel Racing. Discover the exciting 2024 Kentucky Derby promos to wager on FDR and FanDuel Sportsbook and get up to $20 back on your Bet!

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How to Bet Exactas and Trifectas

Before you start your Kentucky Derby betting, it is a good idea to learn what exactas and trifectas are, what strategies exist for betting them, and the costs and benefits of those strategies.

What are Exactas and Trifectas?

The classic win bet is just that: the bet cashes if your horse wins. Exactas and trifectas are just an extension of that: instead of betting on just the first horse to cross the wire, you are betting on the first few horses across the wire.

To cash an exacta, you need to have the first two finishers in the correct order. In a trifecta, you are betting on the first three horses to finish, in order. These are harder to get correct than just picking a winner. However, especially in races like the Kentucky Derby with huge fields, getting them correct can lead to a huge payout.

Horse Racing Exacta and Trifecta Betting Strategies

These are the basic strategies for betting exactas and trifectas.

Straight Exacta or Trifecta: One Combination

You can bet the exacta or trifecta straight, just one sequence or two or three horses. However, this is uncommon, especially in races with fields as big as the Kentucky Derby. If you have a very strong opinion that one horse is likely to finish first and another horse is likely to finish second, a straight exacta can be the right move in a race. However, it is more common to bet multiple possible combinations, and the large payouts when a live long shot runs into the top two or three can make this a profitable strategy.

Boxed Exacta or Trifecta

The opposite of betting a single combination is by betting an exacta box or a trifecta box. In a box, you are taking a group of horses you think can finish in the top two or three and betting all possible combinations of groups of those horses finishing first or second for an exacta, or first, second, and third for a trifecta.

A box can make sense if you have a short list of horses you want to play, especially if most or all of them are long shots. But, the price escalates rapidly: for example, if you play a trifecta box, and you think there are seven horses with a chance at the top three, and you want to play every combination? There are seven possible horses who can win, then six possible horses behind each of those, then five possible horses who can be third behind those two. That’s seven times six times five—or, 210 combinations.

These are the common costs of exacta and trifecta boxes at the minimum bets offered by Churchill Downs:

# of horses
Exacta box combinations
$1 exacta box cost
Trifecta box combinations
$0.50 trifecta box cost
22 (2 * 1)$2n/an/a
36 (3 * 2)$66 (3 * 2 * 1)$3.00
412 (4 * 3)$1224 (4 * 3 * 2)$12.00
520 (5 * 4)$2060 (5 * 4 * 3)$30.00
630 (6 * 5)$30120 (6 * 5 * 4)$60.00
742 (7 * 6)$42210 (7 * 6 * 5)$105.00
856 (8 * 7)$56336 (8 * 7 * 6)$168.00

Another issue with boxing exactas or trifectas is that they usually do not reflect your actual opinion on a race. A boxed bet suggests that you have a similar opinion on each horse’s chances to finish in the top two or three, since you put the same amount of money on each combination. However, if you have a horse or two who you think are more likely to finish high, or even finish in a particular spot, you are essentially wasting money by betting just as much on extremely unlikely combinations as you are on the ones that involve the horse or horses you think will run well.

Using a Key Horse in Exactas and Trifectas

You can cover multiple combinations while focusing on stronger opinions by using a key horse. A key horse is just like it sounds: they are the key to your bet, and you are leaning on them to finish in a certain position.

One way of using a key horse is by betting for a horse to finish in a particular position in your exacta or trifecta. This is most often done by keying a horse to win (“keying on top”), though you can also key a horse in second or third. For example, if a horse finishes second often, keying a horse in second in exactas and trifectas can be just the right move.

Then, you just play the other horses you think can finish in the exacta or trifecta in the other spots where you do not have your key horse. You have fewer winning combinations since the key horse has to finish in the spot where you placed them, but also, you are putting your money on your opinion about that one horse.

# of horses
Exacta key combinations
$1 exacta key cost
Trifecta key combinations
$0.50 trifecta key cost
1 key + 2 others2 (1 * 2)$22 (1 * 2 * 1)$1.00
1 key + 3 others3 (1 * 3)$36 (1 * 3 * 2)$3.00
1 key + 4 others4 (1 * 4)$412 (1 * 4 * 3)$6.00
1 key + 5 others5 (1 * 5)$520 (1 * 5 * 4)$10.00
1 key + 6 others6 (1 * 6)$630 (1 * 6 * 5)$15.00
1 key + 7 others7 (1 * 7)$742 (1 * 7 * 6)$21.00

Finally, a good middle ground between a key and a box can be a wager sometimes called a “key box.” In an exacta key box, you are wagering on a situation that has your keyed horse finishing either first or second, with any of your other horses of interest in the other spot: it’s basically two separate key bets, one keying them in first and one keying them in second. The trifecta key box works similarly, except it’s like three key bets at once: one keying them in first, one keying them in second, and one keying the horse third.

# of horses
Exacta key box combinations
$1 exacta key box cost
Trifecta key box combinations
$0.50 trifecta key cost
1 key + 2 others4 (1 * 2 * 2)$46 (1 * 2 * 1 * 3)$3.00
1 key + 3 others6 (1 * 3 * 2)$618 (1 * 3 * 2 * 3)$9.00
1 key + 4 others8 (1 * 4 * 2)$836 (1 * 4 * 3 * 3)$18.00
1 key + 5 others10 (1 * 5 * 2)$1060 (1 * 5 * 4 * 3)$30.00
1 key + 6 others12 (1 * 6 * 2)$1290 (1 * 6 * 5 * 3)$45.00
1 key + 7 others14 (1 * 7 * 2)$14126 (1 * 7 * 6 * 3)$63.00

Especially given the large field size and the potential for chaos in the Kentucky Derby, this can be a useful wager structure when betting Kentucky Derby exactas and trifectas. Even the best horse on the day can finish second or third due to trip trouble, and in such a large field the risk versus reward ratio often merits the cost of covering situations in which your key horse finishes anywhere in the exacta or trifecta.

2024 Kentucky Derby Field

Now that you know about how exacta and trifecta bets work, let’s make some Kentucky Derby bets! This is the official field for the 2024 Kentucky Derby, including post positions, trainers, jockeys, and morning-line odds for each horse.

1DornochDanny GarganLuis Saez20-1
2Sierra LeoneChad BrownTyler Gaffalione3-1
3Mystik DanKenny McPeekBrian Hernandez20-1
4Catching FreedomBrad CoxFlavien Prat8-1
5CatalyticSaffie Joseph, Jr.Jose Ortiz30-1
6Just SteelD. Wayne LukasKeith Asmussen20-1
7Honor MarieWhit BeckmanBen Curtis20-1
View Full Table

A total of 20 horses are allowed in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. With Encino being scratched on Tuesday, Epic Ride gets into the main field. If another horse scratches before 9 a.m. EDT on Friday, Mugatu gets into the main field and will break from the outermost gate. If more than one horse scratches or a scratch happens after that Friday-morning deadline, the Kentucky Derby will be run with fewer than 20 horses.

Kentucky Derby Contenders

These are the key horses for wagers on the 2024 Kentucky Derby.

Exacta and Trifecta Key

Honor Marie comes into the Kentucky Derby off of a second-place run in the Louisiana Derby (G2), and there are plenty of reasons he can run into exactas or trifectas, or even become the Kentucky Derby winner.

Last year, he found his best form at the third start of his form cycle, winning the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs. That win, as well as a strong recent work, suggests that Honor Marie can find his best form again at Churchill Downs. He is also showing a good trajectory on his current form cycle. He only rallied for fifth behind a slow pace in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) in his first start of the year, but ran an improved second in the Louisiana Derby.

The pace in the Kentucky Derby should be swift with rail-drawn Dornoch, blinkers-on Track Phantom, forwardly-place Fierceness, and outside-drawn Epic Ride all likely to battle up front. And, the extra sixteenth of a mile should help Honor Marie: as he is by stoutly-bred Honor Code out of a Smart Strike half to a Group 1 winner at 1 ¾ miles, he should be able to run all day.

Even though the 20-1 morning line is unlikely to hold, Honor Marie would be no surprise at 12-1 or even a bit higher in the win pool, and should provide value as a key in exotics as well.

More Kentucky Derby Exacta and Trifecta Contenders

Sierra Leone belongs on exacta and trifecta tickets. Like Honor Marie he will benefit from the hot pace scenario. He launched an impressive sustained rally to win the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) in his final prep, and if not for a nose loss in the Remsen (G2) last year he would be perfect in four starts. He is the second choice in morning-line Kentucky Derby odds, yet off his consistency and his impressive three-year-old form he deserves to be the favorite.

Catching Freedom is the only horse who finished ahead of Honor Marie in the Louisiana Derby. He is another who will benefit from the hot pace in front of him, though he also has the versatility to sit a little bit closer than the deep closers, something he showed in the Smarty Jones Stakes three back at Oaklawn. That could be useful if a track bias against closers emerges on Derby Day, or if there’s a shock last-minute scratch of some of the speed. He was also a winner at Churchill last year, and his jockey, Flavien Prat, has hit the board in five of six Kentucky Derby attempts.

Among horses a bit more forwardly placed, Just a Touch has a good chance to finish in the frame. The drawback is his lack of experience, as he has raced just three times before and has yet to win a stakes race. But, that didn’t stop Mage from winning the Kentucky Derby last year. And, Just a Touch’s effort in the Blue Grass Stakes was particularly impressive: he tracked close to a fast pace and kept on well enough in the lane to soundly beat everyone in that field not named Sierra Leone.

Especially in trifectas or deeper exotic wagers, Just Steel has claims. A win would be a surprise, but he was a consistent presence on the Arkansas Spur of the Kentucky Derby trail. He did not win any of the points races, but he was second in three of the four preps there, including behind Muth in the Arkansas Derby (G1). With stamina on both sides of his pedigree, expect him to chase in range and battle on; on his best, another exotics share is realistic.

Kentucky Derby Bet-Againsts

Kentucky Derby picks are not always about the horses you think can win. Another aspect of building well-paying exactas and trifectas involves choosing not to use a Kentucky Derby race favorite. If a horse who is going to be on a lot of people’s tickets isn’t on yours, and that horse finishes out of the exotics, your bet will pay more.

In this year’s Kentucky Derby, the horses to bet against include Fierceness and Forever Young.

Fierceness, the favorite on the morning line and in most futures markets, will be part of the speed. The entry of Epic Ride into the main field means he’ll have to battle between speed horses. On his best he is simply dazzling, but taking short odds in a 20-horse field on a horse who disappoints if everything does not go his way is a recipe for an underlay.

Even though the pace does set up well for Forever Young, and he does have stamina and consistency, he has yet to face the kinds of horses he will face in the Kentucky Derby. He comes out of the UAE Derby (G2), a race that has yet to produce a horse who finished better than fifth in the Kentucky Derby. There is enough to like about Forever Young to make him interesting if he were the longest shot, but with him being the third or fourth shortest price in the field, others appeal more.

2024 Kentucky Derby Best Bets

Here are our recommended exacta and trifecta bets for the 2024 Kentucky Derby:

  • Kentucky Derby exacta bet: Key box #7 Honor Marie with #2 Sierra Leone, #4 Catching Freedom, and #8 Just a Touch
  • Kentucky Derby trifecta bet: Key box #7 Honor Marie with #2 Sierra Leone, #4 Catching Freedom, #6 Just Steel, and #8 Just a Touch

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