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Horse Racing


Sports betting can be fun and profitable if you know what you’re doing and can beat the odds. The key here is to understand how to read horse racing odds and calculate payoffs, especially if you’re doing online horse betting for the first time.

Horse Racing Betting Odds and Payouts

Horse racing odds show the prices and payouts at a horse track. Fractional odds are the formats typically used by US bettors. 

You’ll see them displayed as 4/1 or 4-1, for example. The first number indicates how much you could win, while the second is the amount you bet. 

In this example, 4/1 or 4-1 odds:

How you read it: “four to one odds”

It means: You get $4 in profit for every $1 you bet.

Your actual payout: Amount of profit + original stake. $4 + $1 = $5 (for $1 stake)

What if a horse, for example, has 9-2 odds and you bet $10? You’ll take home $55. Let’s do the math on that.

9-2 odds means you get $9 in profit for every $2 stake. But you bet $10, so divided by $2 = 5. 5 times the actual payout (which is $9 + $2) = $55. 

Pari-Mutuel System of Betting

The term pari-mutuel means “mutual stake.” When you wager, you’re fighting for part of a pool of cash wagered by other bettors. 

The minimum bet for horse racing is $2. But this value changes depending on the race and the racetrack rules.

Types of Pari-Mutuel Wagers

Because you’re betting against other bettors, the odds fluctuate every time a bet is placed. Once the winning horse finishes, the house (or the bookmaker) will deduct its take (typically 15%). The remaining amount of money is divided among those who bet on the winning horse. 

But before any of the actual betting starts, there are morning line odds, which are placed on each horse by the racetrack’s handicapper. 

Racetracks display the odds or payoffs for each horse on a tote board. Racecards or racebooks are printed cards that give information about the horses running in each particular race. Racing forms (or race forms) sold in racetracks include the info on past performances and race results. 

Odds are also published online at sportsbooks. But since morning lines change as more bets are placed, they are rarely useful.

Straight Wager Types

Traditional wagers are good starting points for newbie bettors. 

  • Win Bets: You bet on a horse to cross the finish line first and get paid if the horse wins first place. 
  • Place Bets: You bet on a horse to finish second, but you still get paid if that horse wins first or second place.
  • Show Bets: You bet on a horse to finish third, but you still get paid if the horse places first, second, or third.

Exotic Bet Types

Exotic types of bets are more complicated, but they pay off better than traditional horse racing bets. Here, you pick more than one outcome on a single bet slip.

  • Exacta: Pick the first and second place horse in that order.
  • Trifecta: Choose the first three finishers in a single race in order.
  • Superfecta: Select the order of the first four finishers in one race.
  • Quinella Bet: Bet on two horses to finish first and second in the same race in any order.
  • Daily Double: Pick two horses that will win two consecutive races. 
  • Pick 3: Bet on three horses that will win three consecutive races. There’s also Pick 4, Pick 5, and Pick 6 betting. The pick number indicates how many consecutive races you have to pick the winners in.

For example, you bet an exotic: $2 exacta on the #3, #5. The #3 and #5 must finish in the correct order for you to win.

Some bettors will box Exactas, Trifectas, and Superfectas to make it easy to hit a winning ticket. Boxing the bet means playing all combinations of the horses you selected to win when they come in any order. 

In the example, you only win if the #3 wins and #5 finishes second. But if you box the exacta bet, you win if they finish #3, #5 or #5, #3. The cost of an exotic wager depends on the number of horses in your box.

A key bet is applied when you have a strong preference for a horse. You key a horse in a Trifecta or Superfecta wager instead of boxing to save money. 

A key assigns one horse as the winner and boxes the other horses to finish in no particular order.

Calculating the Payout

After the house takes its cut, your payout is calculated by subtracting the amount of winning dollars from the total pool. The remaining amount is divided by the amount of cash bet on the winner. Finally, the winning bet amount is added back in. 

For example, there’s $100,000 in the winning bet pool. With a 15% house cut, there’s $85,000 available to be shared among bet winners.

Let’s say the total bets on the winning horse is $42,500, and your personal bet on that horse is $2.

Calculate the payout per dollar. Divide $85,000 by $42,500, which is $2. After adding your $2 bet, your total payout will be $4.00. 

Horse Betting During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the United States, horse racing events continue to draw the attention of racing enthusiasts every year. These events include the Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita Handicap, Belmont Stakes, Breeder’s Cup, Preakness Stakes in Maryland, and Saratoga Racing Meet in New York. These spectacular events feature Thoroughbred races. 

But horse racing is not immune to the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Most bettors are now asking, “Where can I still bet on horse racing?” 

The good news is that horse racing will continue in some tracks but without spectators. As of May 8 announcements, these tracks include Golden Gate Fields, Charles Town, Gulfstream Park, Los Alamitos, Oaklawn Park, Remington Park, Tampa Bay Downs, and Will Rogers Downs.