Horse Racing Betting Strategy

Anyone who has ever played the races knows that there are a thousand ways to put a bet together and a thousand ways to screw it up. That’s why it’s critical to have a strategy, a tactic and a plan well before first post. The races are about having fun, but what fun is losing? In this piece, we will examine some sound betting practices and expose a few common mistakes to avoid at horse racing betting.

Horse Betting Tips

Most veteran players will tell you not to overcomplicate your bets – especially if you happen to be a newbie. Exotic bets such as the exacta, trifecta, superfecta, double, pick 3, pick 4 and pick 6 are inherently more complex and difficult to hit than conventional win, place and show betting. While this may seem an obvious point, it doesn’t seem to stop even the most novice of players from experimenting enthusiastically with wagers like the superfecta. There’s nothing wrong with playing a super every now and then, but if your go-to wager involves picking the top four finishers in a race, it may be a good indication that you need to simplify your strategy. 

The Truth In The Matter

First, let’s face a simple reality: picking winners at the racetrack is a hard business. Therefore, it’s even harder to pick multiple winners in a bet like the Pick 4, or routinely figure out who is going to clunk up for third place in a bet like the trifecta.

Once a player develops the necessary skill to interpret the form, analyze a runner’s condition, and weigh a runner’s merits against the rest of a field, the informed player might have two or three solid opinions out of ten races on a given card. How the player bets these limited opinions is the difference between winning and losing. There are very good handicappers out there, who never turn a profit because they are misguided bettors. So, what’s the game plan? 

***A wagering Anecdote To Consider

Let’s say a player spends Saturday morning studying the racing form, analyzing workouts and listening to expert opinions to generate three playable horses that afternoon. The player might like the 4-horse in race 2, the 8-horse in race 4 and the 10-horse in race 10 – the last race of the day.

The old school thinker might say that the player should bet these horses and only these horses and find something else constructive to do with his time during the other seven races.

That sounds great, and credit to the person who has enough willpower to do that, but let’s keep in mind that racing is supposed to be fun and our imaginary horse player – a mere mortal – has studied long and hard enough to notice other “interesting,” opportunities on the card that might not qualify as serious bets.

Legendary turf writer and horse player, Andrew Beyer makes the distinction of classifying his bets as “prime” and “action” bets in his seminal text Picking Winners. Our player clearly has three prime bets to which he should devote the majority of his bankroll. 

If our player has $100 earmarked for his day of wagering, he is well-advised to devote 75-80% of this money towards betting his three best opinions. The other 20-25% can be used to chase more frivolous “action” bets. Now we’re ready to discuss the finer decisions that must be made – sometimes in the closing minutes leading up to a race.

The first prime bet, our player identified was the 4-horse in race 2. For the sake of example, let’s assume this race is a maiden race (a race where none of the entries have won) and that there are nine other horses rounding out the field. With two minutes to post, the player sees that 4-horse has been bet down to odds of 9/5 from a 5/2 morning line.

Decisions That Matter 

Now our player has a decision to make. Of course, he still likes the horse to win, but are these odds too low to justify a simple win wager? Beyer advises that 8/5 odds are the lowest acceptable odds a win bettor should accept, but every player must make his own determination.

A $25 bet on a 9/5 shot will return $70, or a $50 profit. Remembering that our player started with a total bankroll of $100, making a profit equal to half his bankroll should be enough to entice him to play the horse to win.

Let’s now suppose, that after analyzing the race, the player felt very comfortable that either the 5-horse, the 8-horse or the 10-horse would rally late to finish second in the race. Does he get greedy and play an exacta wheel using the 4 over the 5,8 and 10 or simply stick with his gus and bet the 4 to win? These kinds of decisions are the ones that cause horse players to fret. There’s no right or wrong answer, but essentially the player would have to prepare himself for the angst of missing the exacta even if 4 horse won the race. That is often a very tough pill to swallow for most bettors and can cause them to lose their focus and ditch even the most well-laid plan. 

The Verdict

At the end of the day, there are no magic bullets or universal strategies to make horse players successful bettors, but simple bets usually reward good handicapping and solid opinions. From this premise, it’s often best policy to bet more exotic in action situations and to simplify bets when prime situations arise. Time to get into action!

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