Rules for Horse Betting
by T.O Whenham - 01/07/2008
Rules, rules, rules. For the most part they are just annoying, but when they help you decide what bets to make and which ones to avoid they can be extremely valuable. If you're not a follower of horse racing, or even if you are, here are six simple rules for horse betting that could help you out the next time you head to the track. Obviously, this is far from a complete list - a complete set of the rules for horse betting would take up a hundred volumes. These are a good place to start, though, and they will at least get you thinking.
Have a very good reason to bet the favorite - There are few things more seductive to the general public than a favorite, and this is especially true at the track. The favorite wins about a third of horse races, so it can often seem that eating chalk is a good way to go. There's a problem, though. In order for you to make a long term profit if you are winning one race in three you need to be averaging a payoff of better than 2/1. Favorites will often get bet down to well below that level. That doesn't mean that you should always avoid the favorite. It does mean, though, that a smart bettor will be especially sure that a favorite presents value before making a play.
There is usually a reason why a big longshot is at the price it is - The thought of cashing a $50 or $80 win ticket is extremely pleasing, and if you watch the race results in the newspaper you will see the odd huge payout. What you don't see, though, is all of the high priced horses that finish well up the track. A longshot can win because any horse can win any race, but for the most part there is a pretty good reason why a horse is sporting a huge price. Like I said above for the favorites, you shouldn't automatically avoid the longshots, but you should have a good reason for backing one.
You can never be too concerned about changes in surfaces - Handicappers have always had to pay attention to horses moving between grass and dirt. A horse that is a dud on one surface can suddenly become a star on the other. With more and more tracks moving to synthetic surfaces, paying attention to the surfaces a horse has tried and excelled on is especially important. It's very hard to know how a horse is going to do when it moves from dirt to synthetic, or vice versa. Not noticing when a horse is making a surface change can be a costly mistake.
Maiden races are for suckers - This is a huge generalization, and is not always true, but I believe that skipping the races is a good general rule. Maiden races (races filled with horses that have never won a race) can present a couple of real problems. In many cases you have horses that have never run before, so you have no real idea how they will handle the surface, the crowds, the starting gate and the other horses. That's an extra level of unpredictability, and horse racing is already hard enough to handicap without that. The other problem is when you have a race full of long-time maidens. When all or most of the horses in a race have failed to win in eight or 10 tries then it is hard to figure out which one is finally going to come out ahead, or which one will be the best of the losers, in other words.
Be sexist - It might not be politically correct when talking about people, but the simple fact is that male horses are generally stronger and faster than female horses of an equivalent age. It is relatively rare to see a filly or mare running against the boys, but when you do you have to be careful. A female horse can win a race against men, but it has to be a good horse to pull it off. If all other things are equal, take the male horse.
Looks matter, but they can be deceiving - If you are at the track it is usually a good idea to take a look at the horses as they are getting saddled in the paddock or as they parade on the track. This way you can see the horses which, to your eye, look like they are ready to run. You don't want to be seduced by this, though. Often, people have a tendency to favor a particular color of horse (I like chestnuts), or horses of a particular size or build. That can cause you to make bad decisions if you aren't balancing your observations with other handicapping. You can also get in trouble by making a snap visual judgment about a horse - a horse that seems to be limping or favoring a leg in the paddock can often win by a mile, while a horse that is perfection in the paddock might not have the game to match those looks.