How to Bet on Horse Racing

There is perhaps nothing more exciting than the thrill of a horse race, especially when the magnificent equine athletes make a mad dash for the finish line. Perhaps the only thing that can add to that excitement is when you have some money on one of those horses making that furious run. Gambling and horse racing are inseparable, as people for hundreds of years have taken their chances on their favorite horses to come out in front.

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If you've never been to a horse race before, you can become somewhat confused by all of the numbers on the board and the unfamiliar terminology. You might even find that you are intimidated by all of the people standing in line waiting to make their bets, especially if you don't know what to say when you get to the window. As a result, you should learn a little about the types of bets you can make, the intricacies of the odds, where you can wager, and the protocol when you go up to bet at the track.

Horse racing is indeed one of the most thrilling spectator sports. With some tips on how to bet, you might find it fast becoming one of your favorite pastimes.

Types of Bets on Horse Racing

The specifics of each individual bet on horse racing can be found on this page if you really want to dive into how to do it like an expert. But for a beginner, it is important just to get a handle on some of the major choices you have among bets. The main reason is that each bet has a different expectation in terms of the chances you have of actually winning it and the expectations of payouts for each race.

Win, Place, and Show

These three bets are the most basic way of betting on horse races, especially in American Thoroughbred racing. A win bet is just as it sounds, as you will be betting on a horse to win the race. If you bet on a horse to place, you will win your wager if the horse comes in first or second. Finally, show bets are won if your horse comes in first, second, or third.

Keep in mind that you are not restricted to simply a single bet on a race. As a result, you might bet on one horse to place and another to show. You could conceivably bet on five different horses to win. And you might bet on the same horse to win, place, and show, which is known as a bet across the board.

Exotic Wagers

These are the wagers that depend on different combinations of horses in a single race. The most popular of these are the exacta, the trifecta, and the superfecta. In these races, you are trying to pick the first two, the first three, and the first four horses in the order of finish, respectively. You can attempt to hit these orders in the exact order, or you can box them, which means you just pick a number of horses and hope that they finish in the top two, three, or four, no matter the order.

You can also participate in exotic wagers that require you to pick horses in multiple races. The most common of these is the daily double. A daily double generally requires you to pick the winner of two consecutive races. Again, you don't have to contain your bet to just a single horse in each race in an attempt to win a daily double, but the more horses you play, the more money you have to risk.

Spreading out from the daily double, tracks offer different multiple-race exotic wagers. They often give them names which are tailored to the track, but the concept is that you would have to pick winners in several consecutive races. The daily racing program that you receive at each track will show you which wagers are available to you on any given day.

Odds and Win Expectations

When horse racing first began, the betting was, for the most part, in the hands of bookies. They would determine the odds and collect the money from bettors, paying it out when people won. Unfortunately, many of these bookies were somewhat shady characters and couldn't be counted on to be on the level in their dealings. In addition, they also could very easily make side deals with the jockeys and owners of horses to skew the results in their favors.

The advent of pari-mutuel wagering in the early 20th century pretty much put an end to that, at least on a widespread level. Pari-mutuel wagering depends on pools of money for each bet on each horse. From these pools comes the money that is paid out to people who win the bets, based on the mathematics of the situation.

It's a simple equation, really. If a lot of people are making the same kind of bet, the resulting payout if that bet comes to fruition will be relatively small. By contrast, if there is very little money placed on a certain wager and it should actually come to pass, the payouts will be high.

Playing the Odds

When you are watching horse racing, you will see some numbers near the name or the number of each horse, either on the tote board of the track or on the screen if you're watching on television. These numbers represent the odds to win on each horse. It is important to understand that these odds only govern the win payouts, but they do give a good indication of who are the most popular choices in any given race.

Imagine that you bet on a horse, and its odds are 5-1. That means that for every dollar you bet, you will receive five dollars in return if the horse comes home a winner. The more money you bet, the return will go up exponentially. For example, a $10 wager will bring you a tidy $50 payout (plus you'll get your original $10 back).

Again, you must keep in mind that the win odds only govern the win bets. For example, a horse might be a 2-1 favorite in a race, but it could have, for whatever reason, very little money bet on it to show. That means that the show payoff could conceivably be higher than the win pay, even though it is much more difficult to win the race than it is to show.

What Each Type of Bet Can Bring You

With the knowledge that each type of bet's payoff is determined by specific pools on that day, you can still go in having a reasonable expectation of what each will bring. In terms of the win, place, and show wagers, these are the safest plays. It means that you have the best chance of walking away a winner, but it also means that you generally have to wager a little bit more to win a lot of money, unless you are really choosing long shots (horses with poor odds).

On the other hand, an exotic wager is something like a lottery ticket for horse players. The possibility that you can pick the first four horses in the order of finish (for a superfecta) or the winners of six consecutive races (for a Pick 6) seems somewhat remote. As a result, you can win a lot of money, sometimes hundreds of dollars or even more, for a small wager of a couple bucks if you hit an exotic.

In the end, your choices for the types of bets you prefer will be determined by what you are looking for from your experience at the track. If you'd like to win a lot of money without wagering too much, the exotics are for you. By contrast, those looking to walk away with something for their money should stick to the straight wagers. Many hard-core horse players will often indulge in a combination of both for each and every race on the card for multiple tracks around the country.

Where to Bet

Now that you have a handle on all of these different wagers, you can get ready to put your money down. But first, you need to know the best places to do this. Here are the most obvious choices for you.

Horse Race Betting Facility

The Track

Most people have some sort of race track somewhere in the vicinity of where they live. It could be a Thoroughbred track (the most popular form of racing around the world) or even a harness racing track (a style of racing popular in America where the horses pull bikes with drivers in them). This is the obvious location that you'll want to visit to bet on horses.

Keep in mind that most tracks only race certain days or nights per week and often only at certain times of the year. You should check the schedule before you arrive. Even if the track isn't featuring live racing on the night that you visit, you should be able to watch and wager on other tracks via their simulcast areas.

Off-Track Facilities

These locations aren't as popular as they once were, as the internet has largely overtaken them in terms of bettors wanting to wager without actually being at the track. But there are many still in existence. Essentially, off-track facilities are equipped with betting tellers and televisions showing different tracks, and they allow you to make remote wagers on the tracks being shown.

Internet Horse Racing Wagering

As it has with just about every other aspect of society, the internet has revolutionized the way that people bet on horses. By simply finding a site that takes wagers on tracks throughout the country and world, bettors can sit at home and have all of these tracks at their fingertips. In general, these sites require you to put some money into an account so that any wagers can be taken from it and winnings put back into it.

Most race tracks have a proprietary website that will allow you to wager on them specifically. There are also hub sites that will allow you to wager on any number of tracks. Because the internet is largely unregulated, it's a good idea to do your homework and make sure these sites are given the stamp of approval of the horse racing industry before going ahead and giving them your money.

How to Place Your Bet at the Track

As mentioned above, the prospect of going to a race track and wagering for the first time can be tricky. Luckily, tracks are generally friendly and will help you along with any questions you might have. After all, they rely on your money to firm up their business.

In terms of betting on each race, you generally have to provide certain information to the tellers at the betting windows. You have to tell them which horse you want to bet, for how much money, and what kind of wager. The tellers will assume that you are betting on the track you are at and on the current race, so if you are deviating from that in any way, you should let them know.

You should also realize that the tellers will not know the names of the specific horses in each race, so you can't place your wager using that name. Each horse is assigned a number based on their post position in the race. That is the number you will tell them when you go to wager on a specific race.

In terms of choosing which horses to bet, you can find excellent strategy ideas if you know where to look. The racing program, which can admittedly be hard to understand at first glance, will give you information on the horses in each race and their past performances. Barring that, you can just pick the horse that has the best name or even the one that looks the best on the track.

Conclusion

No matter which method you choose, you'll find that wagering truly makes horse racing an even more exciting event than it is without it. Place your bets, as they say, and you'll likely be hooked on this sport for life.