Tips to Consider for Your Next Horse Race
March 26, 2019
There’s no chest pounding, barely a somersault in sight, and a zero-tolerance approach to trash talk. Why, then, do those in the know still insist on referring to horse racing as “the most exciting two minutes in sports?” Let’s narrow it down to two reasons. The first is the visceral, sensory thrill of thoroughbred horses galloping at speed, willed on by a packed tribune. The second is the burning sensation from a betting slip in your pocket enhancing your personal interest in the result. Enjoy our tips on how to get into—and get the most out of—horse racing.
How to Make Your First Bet on Horse Racing
There’s little to beat a spot trackside on race day. Not only are you close enough to the action to feel the vibrations, but you’ll also be surrounded by race information screens to plan your strategy, and tellers to place your bet. Pick up a race program for detailed intel on the day’s race card, along with the vital statistics for each race, including:
- Each horse’s race number, age, breeding, weight carried, position in gate, and more.
- Details on the jockey, owner, and trainer for each horse.
- The distance and time for each race.
If you're new to betting, the most popular and simple bets to get you started are:
- Win: The best odds of the three. The odds you see posted on screens are, by default, for a Win.
- Place: Your chosen horse comes first or second.
- Show: Lower odds, but your chosen horse just has to finish first, second, or third.
Skin in the Game Time
Once you’ve picked your horse, go to the teller window and give the race number, horse number, stake value, and the type of wager. You can also go to a self-service machine, but if this is your betting debut, it’s worth having a teller check over the details before you submit.
Racing Odds Explained
The odds printed in the program are called the Morning Line, and they’re the starting numbers only. Racecourses operate a pari-mutuel system in which bets are pooled and the odds fluctuate. Unlike fixed-odds where you’re betting against the bookmaker, in pari-mutuel you’re betting against other bettors, so the odds are dynamic. That means you won’t know exactly how much you stand to win until the race is over. Otherwise, betting is simple enough. The standard bet is calculated on a $2 stake (usually the minimum), so if your horse wins at 3-1, you will get back your original stake ($2) plus (3 x $2), for a grand total of $8. Bet a higher stake and the payout increases proportionally.
How to Wager Like a Pro
Stick to backing the favorite to win and you can expect a payout roughly 33% of the time. To beat the house, however, you have to pit yourself against Exotic Wagers, where the odds are higher but the chances slimmer. Some of the more common high-stakes bets are:
- Exacta: Pick the first two horses to finish, in the right order.
- Trifecta: Pick the first three, in the right order.
- Superfecta: Pick the first four, in the right order.
- Rolling Double: Pick the winner of two consecutive races.
- Rolling Pick Three: Pick the winner of three consecutive races.
- Quinella: Pick two horses to finish first and second, in any order.
A quick top tip on betting in the big leagues: Do your research. The only way to become a millionaire if you’re picking horses on superstition or a hunch is if you started out a billionaire. The experts have the long-odds down to a science, taking into account past performance, track conditions, and the condition of each horse on the day.
Get More from the Experience
Of course, you can have a great time at the horse races without betting at all. For a sport worth millions of dollars, often broadcast around the world, horse racing is surprisingly accessible, both in terms of ticket prices and culture. Courses such as Del Mar, for example, have made a concerted effort to appeal to a fresh demographic, opening up the Surfside Race Place for those who want to follow the action in a sports lounge environment. Away from the track, you’ll find great cocktails, dining and live music. In turn, you’re encouraged to dress up, show a bit of style, and sample some unique racing traditions.
Best Horse Races to Check Out
If you find yourself hooked, these iconic national horse races are worthy of a place on any bucket list:
- The Kentucky Derby in May, famous for its big hats, mint juleps, and a big celebrity turnout.
- Maryland’s Preakness Stakes in May, near Baltimore. Crowds of up to 100,000 turn out for a party atmosphere fueled by plenty of black-eyed susan cocktails.
- The Belmont Stakes in June, just outside New York City. The longest of the Triple Crown races.
- The Breeders Cup in November, hosted in 2019 at Santa Anita Park, the legendary course in the San Gabriel Valley.
Horse racing can seem like an impenetrable pastime from the outside, and it might lack the fan rivalry that makes college and major league sport so memorable. These are its strengths, however. There’s a touch of sophistication and spectacle to a racing event that are hard to find elsewhere. It’s simply a great day out at some of the country’s finest historic sports venues. The clincher is the chance to place a responsible bet or two. After all, where else can you watch a race and finish as one of the winners?
Written by Nick Marshall for Knockaround