How to Bet On Horse Races

Whether it is the daily card at the local track or Derby Day at Churchill Downs, there is nothing more exciting than betting on a horse race.

It could be a small five or six horse field or 20 of the best three-year old thoroughbreds competing in the Kentucky Derby, watching your pick cross that finish line first provides a thrill that is hard to duplicate with any other betting event.

The basics of horse betting starts with the style of racing.

Horses with a jockey aboard is commonly known as Thoroughbred racing. Famed tracks such as Churchill Downs, Santa Anita Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga offer daily race cards for Thoroughbred racing at different times of the year. These tracks also offer racing on two distinct surfaces: dirt and turf. The turf can be real grass or a synthetic version.

The other style of racing horses is called harness racing. The jockey rides in a small cart behind the horse. These horses are also referred to as trotters since they do not race at high speeds in a full gallop. Many of the smaller tracks around the country will offer daily harness racing cards during specific times of the year.

Horse Betting Options

The one thing that remains consistent about every horse race is the actual betting options.

At the most basic level is betting on the top three finishers with a Win (1st)-Place (2nd)-Show (3rd) wager. You can bet on any particular horse to finish in one, two or all three of those positions, which is referred to as ‘across the board’.

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Betting on a single horse to finish somewhere in the top three or ‘in the money’ is easy to do. Those types of bets are also easier to cash in. If you bet a horse to win, they have to win the race to payoff

If you bet a horse to place, they will pay off place money with a first or second finishIf you bet a horse to show, you can cash a ticket at show money for a finish anywhere in the top three.

The actual amount one depends on the horse’s closing odds and which money pool you bet him to finish in (win, place or show).

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Betting Exotics

Expanded betting options are often referred to as ‘exotics’. The two most common bets are the exacta and trifecta.

An exacta bet predicts the first two horses in a one/two finish. The trifecta expands that bet to the first three horses to cross the finish line. The payout for these bets is much higher depending on the closing odds.

The exacta and trifecta bets in horse racing closely resemble a two-team or three-team parlay bet in sports. For horses, you have to correctly predict the exact finish of the two or three horses you bet. 

For double the wager in exactas and triple the wager for trifectas, you have the option to box the bet. This means the two-horse exacta bet can finish in any order as long as they finish first and second. The trifecta expands this to first, second and third. Some tracks will let you extend this bet to four horses. This is known as the superfecta.

A few other betting options for horse racing are the Daily Double, Pick 3 and Pick 4. This bet involves picking the winning horse in consecutive races from two all the way up to four races in a row.

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Dave Schwab
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