26 Jun

How to Bet on Horse Racing

How to Bet on Horse Racing - How to Wager on HorsesWe’ve been betting on ponies since man mustered the courage to climb on the first wild stallion. Competitive racing is inherent within us all; both man and beast. It would be so easy to say, ‘$10 my horse can outrun your horse’. In a field, maybe. On the track, understanding how to wager on horses isn’t that simple.

How to Wager on Horses On the Track, OTB & Online

On track and off-track betting (OTB) is conducted in a format known as parimutuel pool betting. The size of each payout is directly proportionate to the total amount all bettors wager. To understand how to bet on horses, you need to understand how to evaluate the odds, all the different bet types, and other useful tips detailed below.

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What is Parimutuel Pool Betting?

The word “parimutuel” is taken from the French term, “Pari Mutuel”, meaning “mutual betting”. A parimutuel pool is the cumulative sum of all wagers on a particular horse race, minus commission (the track’s share). Just as all bets go into the pool, all prizes are paid out from the pool. Thus, the payout for any particular wager can shift based on how many wagers are being made, and the cumulative total of all those wagers.

For example, let’s say the horse in lane 1 is favored to win. Hours before the race, the payout for him to win is 1/1 (win $1 for betting $1). However, as the race nears, so many people are betting on this horse that the odds drop to 1/2 (win $1 for betting $2). A shift in odds is sometimes mandatory to ensure the pool is large enough to cover all bets made.

Just as the odds can down-shift on the most popular ponies, they can up-shift on the least favorites, too. If the horse with the highest odds (worst chance to win) gets good action, its payout will be decent. However, if no one is betting on it, the payout can skyrocket to astronomical heights by the time the race starts, simply because there’s enough money in the pool to cover it.

Example Odds Per Possible Outcome

There are 8 horses in a race, therefore 8 possible winners. The possible outcomes are actually much larger, due to the immense range of bets available, but to make this easy to understand, we’ll use those 8 potential winners as the 8 possible outcomes of a race.

Let’s say that combined, everyone bet the following amount of money on each of these 8 possible outcomes.

Outcome Money Wagered
1 $50
2 $100
3 $100
4 $200
5 $150
6 $50
7 $25
8 $75
Total $750

The total amount wagered was $750. Before any of that money can be awarded, the track will skim its commission off the top. Tracks can rake as much as 15%, so let’s calculate that.

750 * 15% = 637.5

This leaves $637.50 to be split among the winners.

Now, let’s assume that Outcome 5 was the result. $150 was wagered on this outcome, so the payout will be 637.5/150, which breaks down to…

637.5 / 150 = 4.25, or 4.25/1

So, everyone who bet on Outcome 5 will receive a payout of $4.25 per $1 wagered (plus their wager back). Everyone else loses.

By this evaluation, you should have a reasonable understanding of how the odds can shift and fluctuate leading up to the start of a race.

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How to Read & Calculate Horse Racing Odds

We touched on this above already. However, if you do not yet have a grasp on how odds reflect payouts, this section will clear it up for you. Horse race betting odds are always displayed in fraction form. Odds of 1/1 will pay out even money. If you bet $1, you win $1. Plus, you get your original $1 bet back. So if you bet $1 on a 1/1 race, you can expect to receive $2 when you turn in your ticket.

No thrills or frills here, right? Even money odds are super simple. But when the first and second numbers don’t match, things get more complicated. That’s not to say you will need a calculator. It’s all basic math, really. And the more you do it, the easier it will come to you, just like memorizing your single-digit times tables in grade school.

Odds with a Positive Payout

Odds where the first number is larger than the second number will pay out higher than your original wager; or what you might call a “positive payout”. For example, 2/1 odds will pay $2 for every $1 you bet (e.g. win $2 for betting $1). In these bets, the chances of winning are lower, but the payout is better if you do.

Here are some examples of Positive Odds, the Profit per $2 bet, and Total amount paid back (including original bet).

Odds Profit/$2 Total Odds Profit/$2 Total































Odd with a Negative Payout

The opposite is true of odds where the first number is smaller than the second. If the odds are 1/2, you must bet $2 to win just $1; a total of $3 back including your original wager. These bets have a higher chance of winning, but are more risky due to the lower payout potential.

Here are some examples of Negative Odds, the Profit per $2 bet, and Total amount paid back (including original bet).

Odds Profit/$2 Total Odds Profit/$2 Total































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Basic Horse Racing Bets – Win, Place, Show

The most common bets made on a horse race are Win, Place or Show (a.k.a. W-P-S). If you’re new to the horse racing arena, I would suggest starting with these. These basic wagers are the least complicated of all, and often have the best chances of success. Their definition and winning conditions are as follows.

Win: A bet that the chosen horse will come in 1st place, winning the race outright. This is the hardest of all W-P-S bets to win, but usually pays more, depending on the horse’s overall odds.

Place: A bet that the chosen horse will come in 1st or 2nd place. The chances of winning this bet are about twice that of a Win bet, resulting in a lower payout.

Show: A bet that the chosen horse will come in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. Of all W-P-S bets, this has the greatest chance of winning, but the lowest payout.

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Other Types of Horse Racing Bets

All other horse racing wagers fall into the category of parlay bets. A parlay is a wager in which more than one outcome has to occur in order to win. The more complex the parlay (i.e. the more outcomes necessary to win), the worse your chances are, but the higher your profit can be.

These bets and their basic descriptions, in order of least-to-greatest difficulty, are as follows.

Single Race Bets

Quinella: Choose two horses to come in 1st and 2nd place, in either order. Most punters will choose three horses and place a box bet. For example, a box bet on horses 1, 2 and 3 would be a Quinella on 1 and 2, another Quinella on 1 and 3, and a third Quinella on 2 and 3. This increases the bettors odds of winning, so long as two of the three chosen horses finish in 1st and 2nd place.

Exacta: Choose one horse to come in 1st place, and another horse to come in 2nd place; same as a Quinella, except that the exact order of their finish must be selected. Bettors traditionally choose two horses, placing two bets on both orders.

Trifecta: Choose three horses to come in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, in any order. This is a very hard bet to win, and can get costly when choosing multiple horses to box your bets.

Superfecta: Choose four horses to come in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place, in any order. This is an extremely hard bet to win, but can pay vast riches if you do. You’ll need a healthy budget to box bets in this one.

Multi-Race Bets

Daily Double: You must select the exact winner in two specific, consecutive races. The Daily Double is generally offered on the first two races of the day, as well as the final two races of the day.

Pick-3: Correctly choose the 1st place winner of three consecutive races. Very hard to win, but cheap to play at $1 per Pick 3.

Pick-4: Correctly choose the 1st place winner of four consecutive races. Extremely difficult, but at $1 per Pick 4, you can box two horses per race for $16.

Pick-6: Correctly choose the 1st place winner of six consecutive races. Practically impossible to win, akin to playing the lottery.

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How to Bet on Horse Racing – On Track, Off Track, or Online

With so many options, placing a bet on a parimutuel horse race may seem like a daunting endeavor. Don’t be intimidated by it all. Knowing how to wager on horse races will restore most of your confidence. All you have to do next is step up to the plate and swing that hyperbolic bat.

Where you place your bet will alter the course of action. Online betting is the easiest and least intimidating, since there’s no one watching, but that also means no one to ask questions of. Betting at the track is the most intimidating, if only because there’s so much buzz going on around you. However, it’s also the most exciting because you get to watch the races take place before your very eyes. Off-track betting (OTB) falls right in the middle. Let’s take a closer look at how each one works.

Betting at the Race Track

There are two ways to place a bet at the track. You can go to one of the many betting cage windows and deal with a live person, or you can use one of the digital kiosks. If you have any questions, go to the window. Otherwise, use the kiosk. Either way, you’ll need to relay the following information.

  1. Name of the race track where the race is taking place.

  2. Number of the race you want to bet on.

  3. Dollar amount you’re betting.

  4. Type of wager you’re placing.

  5. Number of the horse(s) you want to select.

Repeat this process if you want to place more than one bet. You can pay in cash or card at the window, or by inserting a credit/debit card at the kiosk. Before you walk away, double check your ticket to make sure everything is correct.

Placing Your Bets at an OTB Site

An OTB can be any business licensed and authorized to take bets on horse races that are taking place elsewhere. Almost every casino in Las Vegas has an OTB racebook. You’ll know it not just by the signage, but the multitude of large, flat-screen televisions displaying live horse races, and the myriad LED panels depicting the odds for upcoming events.

Placing a bet at an OTB site is incredibly similar to betting at the track (see steps above). There will be multiple windows attended by cashiers, all happily waiting to accept your bets. Instead of kiosks, most OTBs have touch-screen panels in front of a line of seats, all facing the wall of TV screens. Have a seat, pick your ponies, and watch the races.

How to Bet at an Online Racebook

So long as you live in Canada, or any other jurisdiction where the activity is legal, online horse race betting is as easy as it gets. The hardest step is choosing the right racebook; one with a stellar reputation, distinguished license, and strict compliance with player protections. The following link is geared towards online casino safety, rather than racebooks, but the lessons apply equally. I highly encourage giving it a read before registering and funding any online gambling account.

That being said, the process of placing a horse race bet online is analogous with on-track and OTB kiosks. Being that these websites accept players from different regions of the world, you may need to input a little more data to place your bet(s).

  1. Geographic location of the race (Province/State, Country)

  2. Name of the race track where the race is taking place.

  3. Date of the race you want to bet on.

  4. Number of the race you want to bet on.

  5. Dollar amount you’re betting.

  6. Type of wager you’re placing.

  7. Number of the horse(s) you want to select.

You will be able to view the bet slip before completing the purchase. Make sure everything is correct, then tap the confirmation button to place your bet.

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Handy Tools To Help You Bet on Horse Races

If you’re going to be at that track, there are a few things you should consider having with you. Sunscreen is usually a good idea, and a pair of binoculars will grant a better look at the steeds as they’re crossing the finish line. But that’s not really the type of tools this section is referring to. Race tracks offer a number of materials you may find very useful.

A Racetrack Program will teach you all about the horses, their jockeys, their owners and trainers. A Daily Racing Form (DRF) delves further into past performance data on the horses, as well as some handicapping articles on the day’s races. If you trust the guidance of others more than yourself, you can purchase a Handicapping Sheet for a few dollars and follow their picks.

A Word About Handicapping Horse Races…

There are plenty of online handicappers you can purchase picks from, as well, should you choose to go that route. Just be careful you don’t over-invest in the handicapping of others. No one can accurately predict every race, or even most races. An above 50% average is good, but if they’re claiming 80% or higher, it’s probably not the real deal.

If you like the idea of handicapping, a better choice might be to gather and digest your own racing data. It takes time and a genuine interest in the sport, and the equestrian world in general, but if you’ve got those talents to work with, give it a shot. The racing programs and DRFs will help a lot, and if you’re smart, you’ll get them for free.

Before you buy any of these at the track, look online. A lot of Canadian tracks, like Woodbine, now publish their programs, DRFs and handicapping sheets right on the website for all to view, free of charge.

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Facts and Tips to Maximize Your Horse Betting Odds

Now that you know how to wager on horses at the track, here are some interesting and resourceful facts that can help you make better picks.

Favorites Win 33% of Races

Statistically speaking, the horses that are favored to win will do so about one-third, or 33%, of the time. If the favorites on the day’s race docket pay out an average of above 3 to 1, you could pick them all and expect a probable profit. Unfortunately, being the favorites, they don’t usually pay that well.

Top 10 Jockeys Win 90% of Races

The top 10 jockeys in a day’s races will win 90% of those races. That sounds like a great statistic – 90% winners – but don’t go betting the house on it. The top 10 jockeys just means that someone in the top 10 will win 90% of the time. If only one of those top 10 jockeys is competing in a particular race, then by all means, bet on him. Otherwise, that 90% gets slashed for each top 10 jockey in a race. Still, it’s useful info to explore when strategizing your picks.

Commentators Give Up to the Minute Advice

Between every race, a commentator appears on the TV simulcast to tell you about the next race on the docket. You can get some great tips from these guys, but be quick to get your bets in – the race is about to start!

Jockey Club Published a Free Annual Fact Book

Every year, The Jockey Club (est. 1894) publishes a Fact Book that details racing and breeding all over the world. You can get statistics on everything from trends in racing and betting, field performance and starts per horse. It’s a must read for anyone with a real interest in how to bet on horse racing the right way. The 2020 Fact Book can be found here.

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