Horse Racing Basics

Horse races

Fred Faour

Horse race wagering (and greyhounds, for that matter) can be confusing for those just starting out. There are multiple bets available on each race, and learning when to play each one can be difficult. However, it also offers the possibility of huge returns for small investments. Here are five tips for beginners:

  1. Learn how to read the program or Racing Form. These will give you the history of each horse, so you can determine which ones to bet on. Sure, you can play your favorite names at first, but if you want to learn to win consistently, knowing which horse has done what will help you develop a winning strategy.
  2. The odds are different in horse racing. Because it is pari-mutuel wagering, odds will change right up until the race is off. In sports betting, when you make a bet, those are fixed odds and your return will be based on when you made the wager. In horse racing, all wagers go into a common pool, so each time a wager is made it will adjust the odds. For instance, if you bet $10, and I bet $5, there will be $15 in the pool. Whoever wins the bet collects all $15. Now multiply this by hundreds of wagers and that is how the funds are distributed.
  3. OK, let’s make a bet. The most common plays are Win, Place and Show. This means you are wagering on a horse to WIN, run second (PLACE) or third (SHOW). A common wager is called Across the board, which means you are betting on all three. There are also many other wagers to eventually try: Exactas (first and second), trifectas (first, second and third), superfectas (first, second, third and fourth), pick 3s (winners of three straight races), pick 4s (winners of four straight races), etc. Before you jump into those, let’s keep it simple.
  4. The show parlay. This is a fun, low-risk, low reward way to play. You simply start with a show bet on the first race for $2. You horse only needs to finish in the top three. If he does not, you start over the next race. If he does, you roll the winnings into a show bet on the next race and repeat the process thereafter. You won’t make much, but you will get the hang of betting on the races.
  5. The exacta box. Once you have played a few races, this is a low-risk, decent return option. You simply play $1 exacta “boxes” with three horses. In essence, you are buying six combinations. If you like the 1, 2 and 4 horses, you would do an exacta box 1-2-4. This means if any of the two horses run first and second IN ANY ORDER, you win. You have winning combinations including 1-2, 2-1, 1-4, 4-1, 2-4, 4-2. Make sure you throw a longshot in your three so you can get the occasional big return. Once you have mastered this, you are ready to move on to bigger things.