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How to Bet on Horse Races

How to Bet on Horses - Horse Race Betting Guide
by Kenneth Strong

Betting on horses has been a favorite pastime of horse owners, gamblers and just about everyone else associated with racehorses ever since humans first figured out how to ride them. The domestication of horses thousands of years ago of course led to discussions of who had the fastest horse - discussions that could only be settled in one way - by racing one horse against the other. Betting was simple - win only. Second and third didn't count.

Fast forward to the 20th century - horseracing in North America has become organized to the point where everyone can participate. Bettors (and other forms of gamblers such as slot players) are now the lifeblood of modern horseracing. Without them there would be no organized racing. Fifty years ago when horseracing was the only form of legalized gambling, nobody in racing management really cared about the bettors (some still don't). They offered bettors just enough unimaginative betting options to keep the money flowing through the pari-mutuel windows and that was it. This is no longer the case.

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The onslaught of legalized forms of government gambling over the past 30 years has forced racetrack owners to wake up and smell the coffee or allow their facilities die a slow painful death, as bettors and gamblers flock to slots, casinos, card games, lotteries and other any other form of legalized gambling they can find. Those racetracks that have adjusted and survived now offer numerous different types of horseracing wagers, many of which allow both casual and professional players a chance at making a life-changing score.

There are now two basic types of horseracing bets - straight bets and exotic bets. Straight bets include win, place and show. Exotic bets can be subdivided into two categories - intra-race bets and multi-race bets. The intra-race bets, which allow for multi-horse wagering on individual races, include Exactas, Quinellas, Trifectas and Superfectas. The multi-race bets, which require a bettor to select the winners of consecutive races on one ticket, include the Daily Double, Pick 3, Win 4 and Pick 6, plus a few other experimental bets that have yet to gain household-name popularity.

Straight Bets - Win, Place and Show Betting

Win Betting - You bet on a horse to win. In order to cash your ticket your horse must finish first and first only. To learn more about win wagering strategies please see our expanded page on betting horses to win.

Place Betting - You bet on your horse to finish in the place (second) position. In order to cash your ticket your horse must finish first or second. Place betting payoffs are always less than win betting payoffs but do offer the added security of being able to cash even if your horse doesn't win.

Show Betting - You bet on your horse to finish in the show (third) position. In order to cash your ticket your horse must finish first, second or third. Show betting payoffs are substantially less than win and place betting payoffs but do offer the added security of being able to cash even if your horse doesn't win or finish second.

Win-Place Betting - When you make a win-place bet your horse must finish first or second in order for you to cash your ticket. If your horse wins you collect both the win payoff and the place payoff. If your horse finishes second you collect only the place payoff. Obviously it is better if your horse wins, but the additional place option in this type of bet offers you a chance to recoup some of your investment if your horse fails to win but still finishes second.

Across The Board Betting - When you bet a horse across the board your horse must finish first, second or third in order for you to cash your ticket. If your horse wins you collect all three payoffs - win, place and show. If your horse finishes second you collect the place and show payoffs only. If your horse finishes third you collect only the show payoff. Obviously it is better if your horse wins, but the additional place and show options in this wager offer you a chance to recoup some of your investment if your horse fails to win but still finishes second or third.

Exotic Betting - Intra-Race Betting Options

Quinella, Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta

Intra-race bets require you to pick numerous horses in the same race to finish in the first two to four positions. While these types of exotic bets are slightly more difficult to plan and execute than straight bets, they also offer greater opportunities to win large amounts of money. While straight bets have been around for hundreds of years, resulting in an efficient market, intra-race exotic betting options have been around for only the past 30-40 years. Many bettors have not yet learned how to properly structure exotic wagering tickets, resulting in inefficiencies in the betting pools that can be taken advantage of by smart handicappers and bettors. It pays to understand intra-race exotic wagering.

Quinella Betting - Quinella betting requires you to pick the first and second place finishers in a race in either order. For example, if you play a $2 Quinella 2-3, you win if the final order of finish is either 2-3 or 3-2. A popular option preferred by many bettors is to play a multiple horse Quinella Box. For example, a $2 Quinella box of the three horses 2-3-7 would include six possible combinations at a cost of $6. With this type of wager you would cash a winning ticket if the order of finish was 2-3, 3-2, 2-7, 7-2, 3-7 or 7-3. Often called the poor man's Exacta, Quinellas tend to pay less than Exactas simply because your horses can finish in either order. To learn more about Quinella wagering strategies please see our Quinella Betting page.

Exacta Betting - Also sometimes referred to as Exactor betting, Exacta betting requires you to pick the first and second place finishers in a race in exact order. For example, if you play a $2 Exacta 2-3, the 2 horse must win and the 3 horse must finish second in order for you to cash a winning ticket. A popular option preferred by many bettors is to play a multiple horse Exacta Box. For example, a $2 Exacta box of the two horses 2-3 at a cost of $4 would include two winning combinations. With this type of wager you would cash a winning ticket if the order of finish was either 2-3 or 3-2. Exacta wagering offers casual and professional players alike the chance of making a good score with a minimal outlay of cash. To learn more about Exacta wagering strategies please see our Exacta Betting page.

Trifecta Betting - Also sometimes referred to as Triactor betting, Trifecta betting requires you to pick the first, second and third place finishers in a race in exact order. For example, if you play a $2 straight Trifecta 2-3-5, the 2 horse must win, the 3 horse must finish second and the 5 horse must finish third in order for you to cash a winning ticket. A popular option preferred by many Trifecta bettors is to play a multiple horse Trifecta box. For example, a $1 Trifecta box of the three horses 1-3-5 at a cost of $6 would include six possible $1 combinations and would payoff if the horses 1, 3 and 5 finished in the first three positions in any order. Trifecta wagering, while obviously more risky, offers all bettors the chance of making a big score. There are numerous different methods of betting Trifectas, some more efficient than others. To learn more about Trifecta wagering strategies please see our Trifecta Betting page.

Superfecta Betting - Superfecta betting requires you to pick the first, second, third and fourth place finishers in a race in exact order. For example, if you play a $2 straight Superfecta 2-3-5-7, the 2 horse must win, the 3 horse must finish second, the 5 horse must finish third and the 7 horse must finish fourth in order for you to cash a winning ticket. A high risk-high return wager, Superfecta betting can be quite expensive, but it does offer the potential for life-changing payouts. Playing Superfecta boxes that include multiple horses can be both expensive and inefficient, but there other methods such as wheels and part-wheels that offer you a good chance of winning a substantial sum for a more reasonable cash outlay. To learn more about Superfecta wagering strategies please see our Superfecta Betting page.

Exotic Betting - Multi-Race Betting Options

Daily Double, Pick 3 or Win 3, Win 4 or Pick 4, Pick 6

The most common multi-race bets require you to pick the winners of anywhere between 2-6 individual races in a row. The most common multi-race wagers are the Daily Double, Pick 3 or Win 3, Win 4 or Pick 4 and Pick 6.

There are a few significant advantages to playing multi-race wagers. The first is the fact that each multi-race wager has its own separate betting pool. The government and race track takeout is applied to a multi-race bet only once, despite that fact that the bet occurs over multiple races. In contrast, a separate win bet on each race would be subject to the government and track takeout on each bet on each race. So while multiple-race wagers inherently have more risk, they also offer better odds partly due to a takeout which occurs only once rather than on each race.

The second advantage to multi-race wagers is the fact that the public tends to overbet certain combinations. Like intra-race wagering, many bettors have not yet figured out how to properly structure multi-race tickets. This results in inefficiencies in the wagering pools. These inefficiencies, when combined with the one-time takeout, often provide excellent value-based opportunities for smart handicappers and bettors. As in intra-race wagering, it pays to understand the mechanics of multi-race exotic wagering.

Daily Double Betting - The first exotic wagering option to appear at racetracks in North America, Daily Double betting requires you to select the winner of two consecutive races. For example, if you play a $2 Daily Double 5-8, the 5 horse must win the first race in the Daily Double and the 8 horse must win the second race in the Daily Double in order for you to cash a winning ticket. A popular option among many bettors is a $1 Daily Double Wheel, in which multiple horses are combined in one leg of the wager with multiple horses (or a single horse) in another leg of the wager. For example, a $1 Daily Double wheel of 2, 3, 4 with 5, 6 would include six possible combinations at a cost of $6 and would be a winning ticket if horse 2, 3 or 4 won the first race and horse 5 or 6 won the second race.

Traditionally offered on the first two races of a race card, many racetracks now offer both an early and late Daily Double and some rare tracks even offer rolling Daily Doubles throughout the card on consecutive races. Because the Daily Double is the oldest of the exotic multi-race wagers, it is very popular among traditional long-time race goers. For more info, see our article on Daily Double Betting.

Pick 3 Betting - The Pick 3, also sometimes known as the Win 3, offers an excellent opportunity for a good score with a minimal outlay of cash. It requires you to select the winner of three consecutive races. For example, a $2 straight Pick 3 of 2-1-4 would require that horse 2 win the first race (leg) of the Pick 3, horse 1 win the second leg and horse 4 win the third leg, in order for you to cash a ticket. A popular wagering strategy among many Pick 3 bettors is the $1 Pick 3 wheel. For example, if you play a $1 Pick 3 wheel combining horses 5 and 6 in the first race of the Pick 3 with horses 1 and 2 in the second leg with horses 6 and 7 in the third leg (5,6 with 1,2 with 6,7) at a cost of $8 ( $1 * 2 horses * 2 horses * 2 horses = 8 possible combinations), horse 5 or 6 must win the first race of the Pick 3, horse 1 or 2 must win the second race and horse 6 or 7 must win the third race in the Pick 3 in order for you to cash a winning ticket.

Traditionally offered twice on a race card, many tracks now offer rolling Pick 3s on consecutive races throughout the race card. There are a variety of different methods and tricks used for betting the Pick 3 that can give you an advantage over your fellow bettors. To learn more about Pick 3 wagering strategies please see our Pick 3 Betting page.

Win 4 Betting -The Win 4, also sometimes known as the Pick 4, offers both casual and professional players a chance at a four-figure score with a minimal to reasonable outlay of cash. It requires you to select the winner of four consecutive races. For example, a $2 straight Win 4 of 1-6-5-7 would require that horse 1 win the first leg of the Win 4, horse 6 win the second leg, horse 5 win the third leg, and horse 7 win the fourth leg of the Win 4, in order for you to cash a ticket. Wheeling is also a popular strategy in Win 4 betting. For example, if you play a $1 Win 4 wheel combining horses 1 and 2 in the first race of the Win 4 with horses 5 and 6 in the second leg with horses 6 and 7 in the third leg with horses 4,9 in the fourth leg (1,2 with 5,6 with 6,7 with 4,9) at a cost of $16 ($1 * 2 horses * 2 horses * 2 horses * 2 horses = 16 possible combinations), horse 1 or 2 must win the first race of the Win 4, horse 5 or 6 must win the second race, horse 6 or 7 must win the third race and horse 4 or 9 must win the fourth race of the Win 4 in order for you to cash a winning ticket. Traditionally offered once on a race card, many tracks now offer both an early and late Win 4. To learn more about Win 4 wagering strategies please see our Win 4 Betting page.

Pick 6 Betting - The Pick 6 offers all types of bettors a chance at make a life-changing score. The most expensive of the exotic multi-race bets, it is not uncommon to see five and six figure payoffs on a daily basis. Generally appealing to those with a larger bankroll, the Pick 6 requires you to pick the winner of six consecutive races - a very difficult task.

While playing the Pick 6 as a straight $2 ticket at a cost of just $2 offers a chance at the big money, the odds of winning using this method would be more like playing the lottery. For example, if each race in a Pick 6 had eight horses, the odds of a straight $2 ticket coming in might be calculated as (8 * 8 * 8 * 8 * 8 * 8 = 262,144 combinations) or 262,144 to 1. Of course, all horses generally do not have an equal chance of winning each race, so the odds can be reduced accordingly based on your selections and their relative chances of winning. And since no bettor can afford to cover all 262,144 combinations, or even the thousands of semi-logical combinations, a single horse or key must often be used in one or more races of the Pick 6 in order to make the ticket affordable.

As an example, let's say you found two races in the Pick 6 in which you really liked one horse and a few other races where you could narrow down the contenders. Your $1 Pick 6 Wheel ticket might look like this: 7 with 1,2,3 with 2,4 with 5 with All (8 horses) with 5,6. The cost of such a $1 Pick 6 wheel would be ($1 * 1 * 3 * 2 * 1 * 8 * 2 = 96 combinations) $96 - certainly affordable. A popular method of playing the Pick 6 is to combine the financial resources of several bettors in an effort to cover more combinations. Multiple $1 Pick 6 wheel tickets costing in the range of $500 to $1000 are not uncommon when trying for a six-figure payout. To learn more about Pick 6 wagering strategies please see our Pick 6 Betting page.

For any horse handicapping or betting related questions you may have, please feel free to drop us an email at Predictem (at) Hotmail.com.

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