The Best Strategies for Betting on Horse Races

Perhaps no fan experience is quite like the one enjoyed by someone who has bet on a horse race. The thrill will make your adrenaline spike as you root for your choice to make it across the line in front. Even if you don't pick a winner, it's a thrill, but it's no doubt better if you walk away from it a little bit richer.

When someone studies the past performances of the horses and connections in a race, he or she is said to be handicapping that race. Handicapping is something that no one has ever perfected, no matter what they might claim. If there was a perfect method of handicapping horse races, all the race tracks would go out of business, because they would have to hand over all their money to winning bettors.

The cool thing about deciding upon a strategy for betting on horse races is that you can choose the method that works for you. That might mean an intricate look at the program and every last bit of statistical information, or it could mean a simple gut feeling about the way a horse looks on the track. Whatever helps you to narrow down your choices and leads you to a winner can be the right strategy for your betting.

Of course, you can't expect to go to a race track blindly and expect to come away with some winners. Experience is the best way to improve at the art of handicapping. Reading up on some of the methods you can use to get it done is a good starting point.

Learning the Bets

Man Deciding How to Bet on a Horse Race

Before you know which horses you want to choose, you have to decide how you will parlay that information into some winnings. That means that you should get to know the different wagers that are available to you. The following link will give you a much more in-depth look at how the different bets work and how they pay off depending on the odds.

For a brief primer, though, you need to know that there are two basic groups of bets. The straight bets involve a single horse coming in first, second, or third in the race, which is represented by win (first), place (first or second), and show (first, second, or third) wagering. Exotic wagers, on the other hand, require a combination of multiple horses to come in a certain order in a single race or over multiple races.

Although it isn't an airtight rule, in general, the straight bets pay off relatively modestly because they are the easiest to hit. You often have to wager a decent amount of money to get a hefty payout on a win bet. By contrast, exotic wagers, while harder to hit, can bring you a big amount of money in return for a small wager.

Going into a night at the race track, you should be prepared in terms of which wagers you prefer. A lot of this will depend on your budget. It will also depend on whether you're hoping that you can strike it rich or you're seeking to walk away with a few bucks in your pocket at the end of the evening.

Types of Betting Strategy

Picking horses is, in many ways, like picking stocks. Some people pick their stocks by ingesting every last piece of information that they can, while others go by nothing more than a gut feeling based on very little technical information. Picking horses can be done in similar fashion.

In most cases, people who want to learn about the horses do so by looking at the programs. For casual bettors who might be visiting the track for one of the first times and have never actually seen the horses race before, a program can be their entryway into the race. It contains a lot of information, some of which might be overwhelming the first time you see it.

The good news is that there is usually a page somewhere in the program that gives a detailed explanation of everything that is found inside. Barring that, some track employee might be able to help, or another bettor. Here are some of the things that you'll find on a program page that will be useful in your wagering exploits.

Race Results

The program will tell you how each horse did in its most recent races. There will also be little notations showing the horse's results from the past year, the previous year, and the year before. Along the way, you will also be able to tell the horse's positioning in each race and if there were any incidents that caused them some sort of problem as the race progressed.

Many people like to look at race results because they feel that some horses have a knack for getting across the line first. Others might show impressive efforts but always come up a bit short. As in any sport, there are certain intangibles that certain athletes possess that allow them to come out on top more times than not, and horses are no different.

Class

The problem with relying solely on race results is that many horses move up or down in class at certain points during their racing career. What this means is that a horse might be facing a certain caliber of competition one week, only to be facing a much tougher group the next time. Many bettors are leery of taking horses who are moving up in class, while they gravitate to those who are dropping down.

When looking at a program, it can be difficult to determine class by looking at the types of races in which the horses have competed, especially when they are coming from different tracks. Your best bet to determine class is to look at the purse of each race. The higher the purse, the better the level of competition in most cases.

Handlers

By handlers, we are talking about the people in charge of the horse. The three main groups of people involved in the sport of Thoroughbred racing are the jockeys, the trainers, and the owners. In the case of the first two, the program will include the statistics of these individuals in terms of their wins, places, and shows for however many horses they may have been involved with during that calendar year.

Trainers and jockeys are often integral to a horse's success. You can bet that a horse who switches jockeys from one who is struggling to another who is doing well will receive increased betting attention. Owners don't really affect the betting all too much, although some bettors may include that information in their calculations.

Pedigree

This is one for the more serious horse players. A horse that has a mother and/or father that was successful is often considered a better prospect for racing than one whose pedigree is nondescript. You need to know which sires and dams are the best for producing winners for this information to be helpful to you.

Distance

Thoroughbred races are contested at many different distances. And some horses prefer certain distances over others. In some cases, you might be able to tell from the past performance lines if a horse is suited for a better distance.

For example, you might notice that a horse who is running a race longer than a mile was really coming on strong at his last race at less than a mile. That could mean that the horse will be strong at the longer distance.

Surface

For the most part, Thoroughbred races are held on either the turf or the dirt. Certain tracks also have surfaces within those two main categories that have subtle differences from others. In any case, some horses prefer certain surfaces over others, which will show from their performances on those surfaces.

Previous Betting Odds

This is an interesting way of telling how well a horse is regarded by other bettors. There will be an indication on the program of the final betting odds for a horse in their last several races.

Why is this important? Well, bettors generally know what they are doing, so if they are betting on a horse, they might know the horse is good before the horse does. Seeing a horse that has been well-bet for several races gives an indication that there is something behind all of that attention.

Workout Times

Thoroughbreds often take weeks or months between starts. That doesn't mean that they are idle during that time. These horses generally have morning workouts that are timed to give an indication of how their training is going.

You have to be aware that a horse doing a fast workout is not necessarily better than one running a slow one. It could be an instance that the slower horse was held back a bit and was just using the workout to get in shape. Still, extremely fast workouts which take place without a jockey doing any urging can indicate that a horse is at the peak of its game.

Post Positions

The post position that a horse inhabits at the start of a race can sometimes be overstated in terms of importance. It generally only matters when a field is particularly big, as in the Kentucky Derby, the most famous of horse races. But for the most part, even a tough post, be it on the extreme inside or outside, can be overcome.

Descriptions

At the very end of a racing line in a program lies a very brief description of the horse's performance. Many bettors cling to these descriptions because they provide an unbiased expert's view of the horse's effort. These descriptions will also include any factors that might have mitigated the horse's performance, such as being bumped by another horse, getting blocked in traffic, or even being forced wide.

Speed Figures

Most programs also include numbers known as speed figures, which are an attempt to put a number on a horse's performance. These figures take into account all of the factors that we listed above and try to combine them into one simple number, with higher numbers indicating better performances. These speed figures are by no means perfect, but they can act as a kind of shorthand for handicappers who might not have time to pore over all of the other details.

Non-Statistical Methods for Handicapping Horses

All of the things listed in the program are meant to quantify and describe races that people might not have had the luxury of seeing. Yet there are many handicappers who will put all of that aside in favor of an eye test. They would prefer to watch as many races as possible and see for themselves which horses are up to snuff.

What might they be looking for when they watch? Well, there are subtle signs, such as a both before and during a race, the way its ears lie, if their running style seems effortless or not, and so on. In addition, watching the races will give them an indication of whether or not a horse has perhaps outperformed its actual results in previous races, which could mean that it will be a value at the betting windows.

There is no exact science to any of these methods. But there are many bettors who feel that these signs that are only visible to the human eye are much better than any statistical method for judging the horses. As stated above, these are strategies for the avid handicapper, because a casual observer might miss these signs and won't have the time to watch all of the past performances.

Putting It All Together

As you can see, there are a multitude of ways to devise strategies for betting on horses. Perhaps the best thing to do is to develop a style with which you feel comfortable. Chances are, if you come up with a method that provides positive results, you will stick with it. You can always modify through trial and error as you go along.

It's also important to decide what kind of bettor you want to be. Are you the type that likes to handicap every race and find values in each one? Or do you have the discipline to sit a number of races out and wait for the one in which there is a horse that you feel strongly will perform well?

You should also develop a plan of action for budgeting for your betting. Maybe you can go in with the idea that you have a certain amount of money to work with, stopping your bets the minute you lose that money. Or you could look at it the other way and walk away the second your winnings hit a certain level, fearing that you might fall back and cough up all your gains.

In any case, a little forethought and study will go a long way to becoming a winning handicapper. Thinking that you are just going to walk up to the window and pull winners out of your hat is foolish.

As we've shown, there are many different strategies for horse race betting available to you. It's just a matter of you choosing one, or a few, that are right for your temperament and philosophy.