Basics of Horse Race Betting
by T.O Whenham - 01/08/2008
Horse racing isn't nearly as popular as it used to be, so there are a lot of seasoned sports bettors out there who don't know the basics of horse race betting. If that's you then you are truly missing out - the team sports are great, but horse racing offers more challenge, more chances to win in a relatively short period, a bigger variety of ways to get action, and way more chances to score a huge profit while taking a reasonable risk. That's not to say that horse race betting is easy, though. In fact, it's one of the most frustrating, perplexing and confounding things you can do. It's also more addictive than crack, though, and every time you win makes you want to try to win even more. If you've never tried to bet on the horse races beyond maybe the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders' Cup, you really should.
If you want to boil the basics of horse race betting down to just one word, that's easy - value. You can pick a lot of winners and still go broke if you aren't getting a fair price on them, and you can make some serious money while only picking a winner once in a while provided that the payout when you win exceeds the risk you are taking. When you bet on football you have to determine not only which team you think will win the game, but also if they can cover the spread that is set on the game. The mindset needed for horse racing is only slightly different. You need to not only figure out which horse has the best chance of winning the race, but also if the odds of that horse winning the race are reflected in the odds you can get on the horse. That's value.
The biggest difference between horse racing and other sports betting, and the most confusing and intimidating thing for new bettors, is the parimutuel system. This means one basic thing - you can't lock in a price when you make a bet. If you are betting football and the spread is 3.5 when you make your bet then your spread is 3.5 even if the line moves to 1.5 of 7.5 by game time. That means that you have to shop around for the best price you can find, but you don't have to worry about what happens after you make your bet. In the parimutuel system, the odds on each horse adjust according to the amount of money bet on that horse, and they keep adjusting right up until post time. You don't get the odds as they are when you place the bet. You have to settle for the odds at post time. Sometimes that can work in your favor, and sometimes that means that a horse that was a bargain 10 minutes before the race is not such a good deal when the gate opens. That adds an extra twist -- you not only have to look at the horses on their merits, but also anticipate how the public will react to those horses.
All horses are not created equal. It's not as simple as saying that the fastest horse will win a race. Different horses have different strengths. Some are sprinters that handle short distances best. Others need longer races to take advantage of their stamina. Some run best on dirt, while others like artificial surfaces or turf. Even if all the horses in a race are suited for the surface, some horses will have an advantage because of the class of horses they have faced recently. A horse that has consistently placed fifth against top level competition may be a better horse than one that has been winning against inferior horses. Just as in other sports, horse race betting is about looking at teams, or horses in this case, that last performed in different places at different times against different opponents in different conditions, and trying to determine how the horses will perform today. Even more than sports betting, this is a delicate balance between art and science.
It may all sound pretty overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. The beauty of horse racing is that it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. There are many handicappers who spend hours studying, analyzing and dissecting each race card looking for the best spots. That's great if that's your game, but there is no reason that you can't have success with a more reasonable approach. There are successful bettors who base their decisions entirely on how the horses look in the paddock before the race. Others will look just at how the horses did in their last race, or their last three, or how their workouts have done, or how they are bred. The best thing you can do is just get out there and start giving it a try. If what you are doing isn't working at all, try something new. If it shows promise, refine it and see where it leads you. Before you know it, you'll be hooked.