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Horse Racing Betting Strategies and Tips

Updated on January 3, 2018
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Understanding horse racing betting strategies and tips can make a day or evening at the races a more enjoyable and memorable experience. While attending a horse racing meet is about a lot more than just trying to make money betting on horses, having bets placed on the races and seeing the horses you bet on compete adds to the thrill and excitement of spending an afternoon or evening at a horse racing track. What makes horse racing betting really interesting is the variety of different ways to analyze the data in the horse racing program and the types of bets that can be placed on the races. It is fun to test your intellectual skills by analyzing the information available about the horses to try to pick winners.

#8 Horse Sprints To The Finish Line

#8 Horse Going For The Win at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
#8 Horse Going For The Win at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. | Source

An Overview of Horse Racing Betting Strategies and Tips

Horse racing betting strategies and tips vary almost as much as horses vary; however there are some things all the strategies and tips have in common that anyone new to horse racing betting needs to understand. The point of these strategies and tips is to use available information about horses to make educated bets about which horse or horses have the best chance to win or run well in a horse race. While there is no sure way of always placing successful bets on horse races, as the outcome of horse races can be quite unexpected (which is what makes them interesting), using these basic strategies and tips should help tilt the odds of winning in your favor.

The Starting Gate

A Typical Horse Racing Starting Gate Where Horse Line Up and Start The Race
A Typical Horse Racing Starting Gate Where Horse Line Up and Start The Race | Source

Horse Racing Betting Strategies and Tips | How To Read The Program

When you attend a horse racing meet, pick up the horse track’s racing program and Daily Racing Form. The racing program and Daily Racing Form provide a great amount of information, both past and present, about the horses that are running in the races that day.

The following is the key information in the racing program and Daily Racing Form to focus on in order to make educated bets regarding which horses may win or be contenders (not in any particular order):

  1. The horses running times in similar distance races and practice runs. This will give you a clue how the various horses match up at the distance being run.
  2. The jockeys riding the horses. The jockey is a very import thing to focus on since some jockeys have much better winning records than others over many years, which tends to attract better horses, as horse owners want winning jockeys to ride their horses.
  3. The stables the horses come from. Some stables have better track records than others, and betting on their horses can result in better outcomes
  4. Whether the horse is moving up or down in class is an important thing to look at. Horses moving up to race with faster horses are obviously going to have a hard time winning, whereas horses moving down to a lower class might be prepared to lead the pack.
  5. The horses most recent finishes in recent races provides some clues as to whether a horse is on a winning streak or is in a slump.
  6. Where the horses are positioned in the starting gate. While starting gate position is not crucial, it can provide advantages and disadvantages to some horses and in some types of races. For example in a short race, if a speedy horse gets an inside starting gate position, such as gate 1 or 2, the horse may be able to sprint out of the gate and break away from the pack to win the short race easily.

Dueling Horses Round The Final Bend

Dueling Horses Round The Final Bend at Monmouth Park, New Jersey
Dueling Horses Round The Final Bend at Monmouth Park, New Jersey | Source

Horse Racing Betting Strategies and Tips | How To Assess The Pro Picks

Another thing to take into consideration is what horse race betting professionals have to say about the horses in a particular race and who their favorites are to win. The racing program will usually have one or two professional analyses, along with the statistics for the horses in the race. Local newspapers often have their own horse race betting professional analyses, so it may be a good idea to bring a copy of your local newspaper with you to the track to get some additional professional input.

While you could just follow the professional’s advice and place your bets based on their picks, it would take the fun out of horse racing betting. Also, the professionals can be dead wrong at times, so betting based solely on their advice could be quite disappointing. Use horse race betting professionals’ advice to get a sense for which horses to focus on, especially if they mention a horse or two that people appear to be overlooking, based on the betting odds (the higher the odds, the less bets have been placed on a horse). Occasionally, they will provide some valuable and useful insights, such as: the horse comes from a stable with a great track record at this distance, or the horse has been putting in better practice times since its last race.

How To Place Horse Racing Bets

Once you have taken the time to look over the racing program and the professionals’ advice, it is time to start figuring out which bets you would like to place for the upcoming race. At this point, some people like to spend some time on the paddock to see the horses being walked from the stable to the track, as it adds to the horse racing experience and occasionally one might notice something about a horse that influences the way they bet, such as a horse that appears sluggish or one that seems like it is in exceptional shape.

While there are a variety of bets, the following are the most common bets, and are more than enough for beginners. To keep things fun and not risk too much money, most beginners make $2 bets. Never bet more than you can afford to lose. The point is to have fun, not to go home without money you need to pay your bills.

Win Bet – A bet that the horse you chose will win the race.

Place Bet – A bet that the horse you chose will come in second (a place bet is also a winning bet if the horse you chose comes in first).

Show Bet – A bet that the horse you chose will come in third (a show bet is also a winning bet if the horse you chose comes in first or second).

Win, Place, and Show Bet (a.k.a. Across The Board Bet) – Bets on the first, second, and third place finishers; each act as a separate bet.

Exacta Bet – A bet on the exact first and second place finishers in exact order.

Trifecta Bet – A bet on the exact first, second, and third place finishers in exact order.

Daily Double Bet – A bet on the first place finishers in two consecutive races.

Box Bet – Any of the above bets can be boxed for an additional wager. For example, instead of paying $2 for an Exacta bet that requires the horses to finish in an exact first and second place order, you can pay $4 for an Exacta Box bet, and you will win the Exacta bet regardless of which of the two horses comes in first.

The following is the correct way to place a bet with a betting clerk:

To place a $2 Win bet on horse number 7, you would say, “<Track Name>, $2 to Win on Number 7”.

To place a $2 Exacta Box bet on horse 2 and 5, you would say, “<Track Name>, $2 Exacta Box on Numbers 2 and 5” (keep in mind that this is actually a $4 bet since you are boxing the bet).

The reason why you need to start out with the <Track Name> is because you can bet on horse races at many tracks from the horse track you are currently at, so you need to specify the track to the betting clerk.

An Explanation of Horse Racing Odds

The odds associated with the various horses in a race are based upon how much money people have wagered on each horse. The odds for each horse change as more bets are placed and more money is bet on the favorite horses. For example, a horse that begins with odds of 4 to 1 will have its odds adjusted downward, if a lot of people place bets on the horse to win and upward, if more bets are placed on other horses.

While it is fun to pick the winning horse, if a horse is overwhelmingly favored to win a race, it may have so much money bet on it that the odds associated with the horse could get to 2 to 1, or even lower in some cases. This makes the winnings negligible, if the horse wins the race, which must be considered on a risk-reward basis since favorites only win approximately one-third of all horse races. Some betters would rather take a chance on a “long-shot”, which means the odds are high (say 10 to 1 or 20 to 1) because the payouts for long-shots are much bigger, if they wind up winning the race. Some prefer to focus on horses with medium odds, below 10 to 1 but above 3 to 1, as these horses will likely be contenders to win, and the payouts will be higher than the favorites, if they win.

The odds determine what winners are paid after a race has been completed and the Winnner (1st), Place (2nd), and Show (3rd)have been officially declared. The actual payout for a Win (1st) bet is slightly less than the final posted odds when the race begins because track fees and state taxes are often taken out before winners are paid. Lesser amounts than the latest posted odds are paid for Place (2nd) and Show (3rd) bets, with the amounts paid reduced further by fees and taxes.

Horses Approaching The Finish Line

Horses in the Final Stretch at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
Horses in the Final Stretch at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. | Source

A Day at the Horse Races Is About A Lot More Than Betting

Betting is just part of spending a day at the horse races. In an effort to attract families, many horse racing tracks have picnic areas and playgrounds, which can make for a nice outdoor outing. Some also have family days that include fun things for kids, such as bounce houses, face painting, and pony rides. Some people just like to look at the horses as they are led out of the paddock and onto the track, as their strength and majesty can be quite a sight to behold.

The key to enjoying a day at the horse races is to have fun with the betting. Challenge yourself to see if you can figure out how use all the information available about the horses to place winning bets. Don’t just pick a horse to bet on because you like the name of the horse. Try to look at the factors discussed above to assess which horse or horses seem to have a good chance of winning or make a good effort. Of course, you want to have fun, so only bet what you can afford to lose. If you’re just starting out with horse betting, make small bets, or even make paper bets (write down what bets you would have placed on which horses, and see how they do), until you feel comfortable with how horse race betting works.

Feel free to share your own horse racing betting strategies and tips in the comments section below.

An Amusing Example of a Horse Race at Monmouth Park

© 2013 John Coviello

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