A beginner’s guide to betting on horse racing

So you want to bet on the ponies but don’t know where to start? I don’t blame you – horse wagering can be quite confusing… but very exciting once you know the basics, and can offer surprisingly large payouts.
So where to start?
With those basics!

First and foremost, there are two main types of horse racing.

Standardbred – this is also called harness racing. The horses pull a ‘bike’ with a driver and run at either a ‘trot’ or a ‘pace’.

horse racing

Thoroughbred – the iconic picture of horse racing, each horse is ridden by a jockey. 

Horse Racing

Both styles have their strengths and weaknesses but are fun to bet for different reasons. It is completely a personal preference as to where you prefer to bet, or where you might have the
most luck. 

So, what are the odds?

A horse’s odds are calculated by first determining the amount of money bet into each pool. Every track will constantly update and list totals as each pool starts to fill up. Let’s say the WIN pool is $1000. We take out 20% for the track and are left with $800. Then we subtract the TOTAL amount bet on your horse – let’s keep it easy and say it was $100, and we are down to a $700 pot. 

Divide that $700 by the TOTAL amount bet on your horse and round to the nearest dime.

700/100 = 7. 

In this case, your horse’s odds would be 7:1 – or $7 won for every $1 wagered. 

Keep in mind a race like the Kentucky Derby has well over 100 million dollars bet into it, and it is just one single race. This kind of money is where it starts to get fun – and brings us to…

RULE # 1 – HANDICAP (just think about it).

Handicapping is “the art of predicting horses who have the greatest chance of winning a race, and profiting from these predictions at the horse races.”

So what does that mean?

– Look at the odds board.
Is there a long shot? Odds are calculated up to 99:1 on the board but can go well above that. I’ve personally hit a 120:1 before. That’s $120 paid for every $1 bet.

– Look at the total pool. Is it large enough to pay out a reasonable amount of money?

– Look at the horses past performances. This can give you a great indication of what a horse is or was capable of – compare the times to the odds. 

– Consider the weather. Anything goes if it’s raining.

– Watch post parade. This is where the horses come out and warm up. Does one catch your eye? Does it look ready to run or ready to go home? I used to always bet on the horse that was acting up… this has never worked for me once.
– Who is the jockey or driver?Like anything in life, chemistry is important.
Now that we can calculate odds, let’s look at the types of wagers. The three easiest wagers to make are for a horse to WIN, PLACE, or SHOW. They break down like this:
WIN: You are guessing which horse will come in 1st place.
PLACE: You are betting on which horse will come in 2nd, they can come in 1st but you will only be paid 2nd place prices.
SHOW: You are betting on the horse to come in 3rd, they can come in 2nd or 1st, but you will only be paid 3rd place prices.

You can also bet to WIN/PLACE, and PLACE/SHOW, or all 3. But remember if you bet all 3, and your horse places 1st, you will win all 3 bets. If your horse places 2nd you will only win the PLACE/SHOW bets and if your horse places 3rd you will only win to SHOW.

Every bet to WIN shares a pool, every bet to PLACE shares a pool and so on. Most minimum WIN/PLACE/SHOW bets are $2. 
So let’s say you bet $2 on #5 to WIN and the horse’s odds are 9-5. If #5 wins, your payout will be calculated based on those odds and shared among every person who made the winning bet. 
Which brings us toRULE # 2 – BE CREATIVE.

If you win, but so does the majority of betters, the entire pool will be shared among every winner and your payout will not be very exciting. 

Therefore, it is more important to have a bet no one else has made. This is harder to do by betting WIN/PLACE/SHOW. So how else can you bet? My 3 favorites are:

EXACTA: Guess the horses that come in 1st and 2nd, exactly.
TRIFECTA: Guess the horses that come in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, exactly.
SUPERFECTA: Guess the horses that come in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, exactly.

These bets are generally a $2 minimum, but depending on the track can be $1.

A SUPERFECTA is quite often a $0.20 minimum. 
My average SUPERFECTA bet on a $.20 minimum works out to be between $10 and $20 total, or 50 – 100 bets per race. This is just what I prefer and where I am most effective.

For example, on a race with 7 horses, I might take 3 horses for 1st place. 4 horses for 2nd place, 4 horses for 3rd place and this brings to me the most important rule, RULE # 3 – ANY HORSE IN LAST PLACE. 

This allows me to cover my bases and create a bet no one else will have. A horse with very long odds might not come in 1st, but no one will have picked them for 4th either. This is how you take the whole pot.
It might look like this:
Image result for SUPERFECTA

In this example I have HANDICAPPED – I’ve thought about the field, done my research and covered the board well. I haveBEEN CREATIVE – I’ve dropped a horse with longer odds into 1st place but allowed the favorite to place anywhere. I’ve also putANY HORSE LAST, which has greatly increased my chances of having a bet no one else has.

And I will leave it there for now!

Get out there and make a few bets. Start small and see what you prefer or where you have the most luck. Be selective of your races and only bet into larger pools. Follow the rules and (hopefully) enjoy the exhilarating world of pari-mutuel horse wagering! 

Good luck!


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