Horse Race Betting for Beginners

I’ll admit the first time I ever bet on horses, it was because I clicked on the the “horse racing” tab out of curiosity in my sports betting account, went through the day’s races, and saw a horse named Sorority Wildcat.

I was already familiar with horse race betting, since, at the time I was taking literally thousands of horse bets over the phone when I used to work at a sportsbook.

I always knew about horse racing, but never really thought about actually placing my money on the ponies.

I never really cared about horses, and the sport itself seemed for old-timers.

But when Sorority Wildcat ended up winning me something like 40 bucks at that time on a $2 win bet, I started dabbling a bit more in horse betting, and even got into greyhound races eventually.

The first thing you need to understand about betting on horses, is the fact that you won’t really know the exact payout of your bet until the race starts.

Why is this?

Because horse race payouts are based on the parimutuel betting model.

Parimutuel betting, also known as totalisator or tote in some countries, is a type of betting systems where all the wagers/stakes are pooled, then a small percentage is taken out to pay the racetrack or website as their commission, and the remaining funds are split and paid out to the winners.

As an example, say you have a 5 horse race and the total amount wagered next to each horse:

Horse #1 $70
Horse #2 $50
Horse #3 $80
Horse #4 $180
Horse #5 $120

If you add up all the total wagers at the time the race closes for betting, that’s a $500 pool.

Horse 5 ends up winning this particular race, where there was a total of $120 in bets.

The track or horse betting site will deduct their commission, so for this example let’s use a 10% commission.

$500 minus 10% ($50) equals $450.

These $450 will be split among the people who bet on the winning horse in the following way:

The total pool after commission ($450) divided by the amount of wagers on the winning horse (Horse #5 with $120).

              $450 / $120 = $3.75

So whoever bet on Horse #5 will win $3.75 for every $1 they wagered.

This figure does include the original $1 stake, so it’s really a $2.75 profit per $1 wagered, and could be expressed as having 2 to 1 odds.

If you’re asking, “Where did the .75 go?” it goes into the operator’s pockets.

The odds will always be rounded down, no matter how close it is to the next upward number.

Remember that this is a very basic example, and major horse racing events like the Grand National, The Kentucky Derby, The Cheltenham Festival among others can bring in literally millions of dollars each race, making for incredible payouts even after hefty commissions.

The way payouts are calculated will also be influenced by what type of bet you placed, since understandably, if you were to place a show bet and your horse came in third, you’ll get a lower payout than if you placed a win bet on a horse who has finished first.

If you don’t understand what I just said, I explain it below.

Common Horse Racing Bets:

  • Win: A win bet is used to choose the horse that you think will finish in first place, winning the race.
  • Place: Place bets are used to pick a horse you believe will either come in first or second place. In some places, such as Australia, a place bet includes third place, thus negating the show bet.
  • Show: When placing a show bet, you’re picking whatever horse you think will come in first, second, or third. If your horse places in any of the top 3, you win, but your payout depends on what position your horse came in.
  • Exacta: An exacta bet means you’re choosing what horses you think will come in first and second place, in the exact order, meaning that if you choose the correct horses but are wrong in the order they came in, you will lose your bet.
  • Trifecta: Similar to the exacta, except you have to pick the 3 winning horses in the exact order they come in, instead of just the first 2.
  • Superfecta: I guess you can see where this is going, a superfecta wager means you’ll have to choose the exact finishing order of the first 4 horses in a race.
  • Box: You won’t hear the term used by itself, instead it’s used in the trifecta, superfecta and exacta bets. It’s used to quickly place a bet on all possible combinations of horses chosen. This way, if you have an exacta on horses 7 and 8 to come in first and second, if you box the exacta, you’ll also have horses 7 and 8 to come in second and first accordingly. Since you’re getting multiple combinations, the price to place these bets will also rise exponentially the more horses you pick as well, so keep that in mind.

On the other hand, if there is an overwhelming favorite in a race and everyone is betting on it, the payout will probably be close to nothing.

One of the advantages of the Parimutuel betting system is that players are basically competing amongst themselves, not against the bookmakers as in traditional sports or the house in the casino. This also means that basically every winning purse is guaranteed, because the house cannot go broke since it cannot pay out more than players have already wagered.

Horse racing (and betting on horse racing) has been around for hundreds of years, and the appeal of the sport has also made it a worldwide phenomenon.

You can find race tracks and jockey clubs all the way from Japan, Australia and New Zealand, to Peru, the USA, and even the Maltese Islands.

Each country may have their variations on the traditional horse race, such as in Sweden, where the most popular variation is “trotting” or harness racing, where the rider is not directly on top of the horse, but is sitting in a carriage attached to the horse.

For me, the best thing about having worldwide racetracks is the fact that there is always a race about to start, usually no more than 10 minutes away!

With any decent horse racing bookmaker, you’ll have access to most, if not all of these racetracks in a couple of clicks.

Not only that, but any decent online horse racing site will offer and list treasure troves of data regarding each horse and jockey for you to do as much research as you want and make informed bets.

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