How To Bet On Horses

Horse Racing Betting Sites

With a history of organized racing that goes back centuries, horse racing is one of the oldest competitive sports there is and is unique in that for as long as there has been racing, there has been wagering on racing, making betting and horse racing intricately connected. So it only makes sense that the best modern online betting sites include racing alongside other sports in their wagering menu. [+]

If you are new to the game of handicapping horse racing, it’s important to understand some of the basics of how the sport works and how that relates to the betting options that are available. There are well over 100 thoroughbred and harness racing tracks around North America, and while they don’t all run races every day, and mostly operate on a seasonal basis, on any one day there may be more than a dozen tracks running live racing, with typically around 10 races per day, and most betting sites will offer wagering on a select number of those tracks. Often the betting sites will catagorize the tracks (‘A’ Tracks, ‘B’ Tracks and ‘C’ Tracks, for example) with the difference being that the maximum payouts on winning bets is highest at the ‘A’ tracks.

Unlike team sports that are played according to a fixed schedule set by the league, there is no fixed schedule for when a particular horse will be running in a race. While a horse’s trainer may indicate that they would like to run a certain horse in such-and-such race at some point in the near or distant future, the officlal entries for any given race are only taken four days before the race is scheduled to be run.

At that point, the draw for the horses’ post position (that is, the gate number they will start the race from) is also done, and then the track sets what is called the Morning Line (ML) odds. All tracks employ a person as “oddsmaker” whose job it is to know the details of every horse running in a particular race – their racing history, their breeding pedigree, what kind of racing competition they’ve been facing, if they tend to be “speed” horses that like to run at the front, or if they are come-from-behind types, and their recent timed workout/training results. They then take this information, compare all the horses running in a race and determine the odds of each horse to win the race, from 1-1 to 99-1.

These morning line odds are what the betting sites then offer to their clients. At the track, the ML is essentially a starting point, as the “live” odds on most horses leading up to the start of a race race will fluctuate based on how much money is being bet on all the individual horses into the track’s betting pool (this is called a pari-mutual wagering system). Most racebooks, however, simply offer the ML as fixed odds on every horse in the race.

Bet Types

As for the actual betting types, most racebooks offer all the same types of bets as the individual tracks offer. There is “straight” wagering, which is betting on a single horse to Win, Place or Show, and all straight wagers have a minimum bet of $2.

It’s also possible to make multiple straight wagers on a horse to cover different possible outcomes of the race, such as betting a single horse to both Win and Place, Place and Show, or to Win, Place and Show (referred to as betting a horse “across the board”).

So, for example, say a horse named Lucky Boy is running in the fifth race at Belmont Park, and has ML odds of 5-1. If you like Lucky Boy to win the race, you can simply bet $2 to Win, and if Lucky Boy runs first, you collect $10 for the win, plus the original $2 bet, for a payout of $12. As a general rule of thumb, the Place payout is around half of what the Win payout is, and so if you bet Lucky Boy to Win ($2) and to Place ($2) and he wins the race, you collect the payout for both, in this case that would be around $18 for your $4 total bet. If Lucky Boy runs second, you collect the Place payout only.

Exotic Wagers

In addition to straight wagers, the tracks and racebooks also offer the opportunity to make what are called “exotic” wagers, which is generally betting on combinations of horses and/or races, such as exactas (the first two horses in exact order), trifectas (the first three horses in exact order), Daily Doubles (the winners of two consecutive races), quinellas, Pick 3s and others. The minimum bets for these types of races varies by track, with quite often $1 exactas and trifectas, or even $.60 or $.10 superfectas (the first four horses in exact order). As these types of bets are more difficult to win, the payouts are usually substantially higher.

Further explanation and details on how to make exotic bets and some basic handicapping strategy will be provided in the near future here on Be A Better Bettor. For now, check out some of our recommended racebooks from this list, and see what they have to offer for horse racing fans in terms of available tracks to bet as well as their bonus and cash back incentive programs, which provide for a bigger return on your wagering investment above and beyond the actual payouts on winning tickets.             


OTB Locations

In addition to betting through an online racebook, many state or provincial jurisdictions offer what is called Off Track Betting, or OTB. The regulations for OTBs vary widely from state to state (or province to province in Canada) and in some places such as Arizona, New York or California there are dozens of OTB locations, while in other places such as Kentucky or Arkansas there are none. 

Quite often OTBs are located in sports bars, pubs or restaurants, or like in New York state, for example, they exist as stand-alone betting shops. Even in those states where OTBs don’t exist, almost every track in North America that hosts live racing also offers “simulcast” wagering, which is betting on a live television feed of a race from another track. Different from betting through an online racebook, the OTBs offer live odds on the races, rather than the fixed morning line odds. 

Check back with Be A Better Bettor in the future for more details on OTB locations throughout North America.