How fans can prepare for the Kentucky Derby

The day begins with a huge crowd singing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ – and ends with the winner being blanketed with swathes of red roses, the official flower of the race since 1904.

That’s why the Kentucky Derby isn’t just a horse race. With a history stretching back to 1875 it’s a major traditional event in the American calendar… Some even call it “the greatest two minutes in sports.” 

This year the race will take place in its customary venue, Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky on May 4. It will be a special occasion – this is the 150th running of the race.

The 2024 Derby

The race itself is the finale of a long process that gives fans clues as to how horses will perform on the day. 

The field for the Derby is limited to 20, plus four substitutes in case of late withdrawals. The Derby itself is for three-year-old thoroughbreds who run a distance of one and a quarter miles (10 furlongs; 2,012 metres). 

They all qualify by competing in the series of pre-races known as the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Horses win through using the ‘Main Road’ of races in North America (plus one in Dubai), ‘Japan Road’ consisting of four races in Japan, or ‘European Road’ consisting of seven races in England, Ireland and France. 

There’s a complex points system to choose horses competing in those races. Anyone studying the Kentucky Derby odds now however should note in advance that all colts and geldings carry a weight penalty of 126 pounds (57 kilograms) and all fillies 121 pounds (55 kilograms).

How can fans prepare?

The Derby is held annually on the first Saturday in May and always acts as the first leg of US Racing’s Triple Crown. 

If you are planning to be trackside, it’s certainly time to make travel and accommodation arrangements. Hotels and flights fill up quickly for Derby weekend.

If you’ve never been before, be aware that the Kentucky Derby is known for fashion, particularly extravagant hats. Plan to look your best – and that usually includes a fancy hat or fascinator.

From singing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ to mint juleps served in souvenir glasses, that day is full of traditions to enjoy. While you’re there take time to visit the Derby Museum and have a guided tour of the track.

What about this year’s odds?

Whether you’re a seasoned bettor or a novice, placing a bet on the Kentucky Derby adds to the excitement of the race. Those at home and those at the racetrack always enjoy the thrill of studying the odds and placing a wager on your favorite runner.

Before making any 2024 Kentucky Derby picks, be sure to check the experts’ horse racing predictions though. 

At the time of writing, smart money is already heading for two big names. Wins at the Louisiana Derby and Jeff Ruby Stakes, mean that Catching Freedom and Endlessly have become early favorites.

Florida Derby winner Fierceness is another well-liked runner, currently at 9-1. Sired by City of Light out of the Stay Thirsty mare Nonna Bella, this colt is trained by Todd Pletcher and has had looked electric during the preparation stages. 

However, some pundits are noting that he was only third at the Holy Bull Stakes and has generally been up and down early in his career. He finished seventh in the Champagne Stakes – but then won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November.

Sierra Leone is another early favorite with odds as hot as 7-1, followed by Forever Young and Timberlake at 12-1. 

Fancy a long shot? Honor Marie, a 35-1 outsider is a wild target for punters looking for a huge payout. Sired by Honor Code out of mare Dame Marie, Honor Marie won the 2023 Kentucky Jockey Club as a two-year-old but then had a disappointing first start as a three-year-old when he finished fifth at the Risen Star Stakes.

However, he bounced back with a second-place finish at and is now a lock for the 2024 Kentucky Derby line-up if his connections decide to enter him. 

Note that Honor Marie finished just a length behind Catching Freedom in the Louisiana Derby. 

Catching Freedom is another hot tip. He made an impressive charge from the back of the pack to win that race. 

Look out too for Forever Young and Dornoch, two qualifiers already attracting serious backing.

Don’t forget…

It’s easy to get caught up in the odds and form book of the Kentucky Derby. But don’t forget that the Run for the Roses is a great event that’s there for you to enjoy too!

Whether you’re a casual fan or a battle-hardened veteran of the racing world, the Derby is one of the highlights of any sporting calendar. Watch the spectacle, savour the memories – and treat your flutter as part of the fun.


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