Want to learn how to bet on horse racing? This comprehensive horse race betting guide gives you a clear explanation of your wagering options, what to consider before placing bets, how to read different odds systems, and much more.

Types of Horse Racing Bets

You can place various types of horse racing bets. Show, place, and win bets are the most popular with part-time bettors. These are single-horse bets (also called straight bets).

Win Bets

Win bets are the most simple wagering options: you only need to pick a winner. If your chosen horse finishes first, you’re in the money. Yet, if your horse finishes in any other position, you lose your bet. Check the latest horse racing odds to calculate potential returns before wagering

Show Bets

A show bet is when you wager on a specific horse to finish the race first, second, or third. Unlike win bets, show bets give you some insurance if your horse doesn’t win the race. However, this ‘insurance’ makes the odds less favorable.

Place Bets

Consider this an option in between show and win bets. With a place bet, your horse must finish the race in first or second place for you to win the bet.

Exotic Wagers

Some horse racing fans like to mix it up with exotic wagers on quinellas, exactas, trifectas, and superfectas – these types of wagers take place within a single race. However, there are also options to group bets together over consecutive races.

Quinella Bets

Quinella bets are straightforward: choose two horses to finish first and second. If your two horses finish the race in those positions (in either order), you win.

Exacta Bets

Unlike quinella bets, an exacta bet is when you wager on two specific horses to finish in exact positions: one to finish first and one to finish second. Your two horses must finish in those positions for your bet to come off. Therefore, if you get only get one prediction correct, you lose your bet.

Trifecta Bets

Trifecta bets let you predict which horses will finish first, second, and third. Again, you must get all three predictions right to win a trifecta bet.

Superfecta Bets

Superfecta bets give you high odds as they are so difficult to predict. This bet is the next step up from a trifecta – you have to predict the exact horses that will finish first, second, third, and forth. Again, if you get one prediction incorrect, you lose your bet.

Daily Doubles and Pick Bets

A daily double wager is when you pick the winners of two horse races in a row. However, you can wager on which horses will win the next three consecutive races with a pick 3 bet, the next four consecutive winners with a pick 4 bet, or the winners of the next six races with a pick 6.

As these bets are complicated to predict, they give you high odds. Again, keep in mind that you need to get all your predictions correct to win these types of wagers.

Box Betting

Boxing your bet is when you take either exacta, trifectas, or superfecta bets and choose which horses you want to take those top spots in any order. For example, let’s look at boxing a trifecta bet.

As explained above, a trifecta is when you wager on three horses: which horses will finish first, second, and third. However, if you box this bet, as long as these three horses occupy the top three positions in any order, you’ll win the bet.

Also, you can box more than the number of horses required to win the bet. For instance, you could play an exacta with four horses. In this case, if two of those four horses finish first and second in any order, the bet will come off.

Partial Exotics

A partial exotic bet is the same as an exotic bet but below a $2 minimum. These include the $1 exacta, the 50-cent trifecta, or the 10-cent superfecta. With these bets, you only have to pay the amount listed. However, most race tracks or betting sites will still require you to wager a $2 minimum overall.

Minimum wagers are different at various online betting sites. Always check the terms and conditions with your sportsbook before signing up.

Pari-Mutuel Pool Betting

Pari-mutuel pool betting, also known as pool betting, is different from other bets: instead of wagering against the bookmaker, you wager against other bettors who have placed bets on the same event. Despite not wagering against the sportsbook, you still have to pay a “vig” (the bookmaker’s fee) to place these bets.

There are three main wager types in the pari-mutuel system: win, place, and show. The money placed on each betting option goes into a separate pool. Each pool already contains a certain amount of money to attract interest.

Therefore, when you place a pari-mutuel bet, you will get probable odds instead of fixed odds. When the event has finished, the winning bettors share the prize pool equally depending on the amount they’ve wagered. This betting system, which originated in France, usually requires a standard $2 stake.

Horse Race Betting Angles

Now you know your betting options, there are many different angles you can consider before wagering.

Trainer Form

Looking at the stats to measure trainer form can help you make more informed wagers. In general, a trainer with a pedigree winning record could be a solid option. Stellar records don’t go unnoticed by rich horse owners. In fact, owners usually employ trainers with distinguished records and then provide all the necessary funds to give their horses the best chance of success.

The Jockey’s Form

Like star trainers, wealthy horse owners covet successful jockeys. Again, the owner’s budget can help give the jockey advantages, such as well-trained horses from outstanding stock.

Although many top jockeys stay with certain teams, they do move around. Therefore, keep your eye out for top riders switching teams. Moves can signal that a jockey is looking for more success with a better-equipped team. However, some switch allegiances purely for personal financial gain.

Race conditions

The very best jockeys and horses can win in most race conditions. However, the surface, weather, course type, and the grade of the race all play a factor in the outcome.

Gate Position

Because most race tracks in North America are left-handed and tight, gate position is crucial. The further inside the track, the less ground the horse has to cover. Of course, after leaving the gates, the horses can jostle for the best position, but this takes time.

However, always check whether the starting gate positions have affected previous race outcomes, as there might not be a provable advantage.

Horse Racing Betting Tips

Predicting the outcomes of horse races isn’t easy. These tips below can ensure your betting stays what it should be: fun.

Gamble Responsibly

Firstly, always gamble responsibly. Never bet money you can’t afford to lose. If you feel like you might have a gambling problem, visit the National Council on Problem Gambling’s website.

Start Small and Have a Bankroll

Placing small bets helps you learn about horse betting with less risk. It’s also a good idea to have a bankroll. Put simply, a bankroll is a money management system you can use to track how much you spend when gambling. You can do this by using Google Sheets for free or you can keep a physical logbook.

All you need to do is keep track of your wins and losses. Having a bankroll can help keep your gambling under control.

Avoid Exotics at the Beginning

A lot of people enjoy placing exacta bets, pick 6’s, etc. However, the one thing a beginner horse bettor and a sharp (pro bettor) have in common is that they keep it simple with win bets. This is because the chances of winning exotic bets are unlikely. So, even though the potential returns of exotic wagers seem tempting, the chances are low that you’ll profit from them.

American Odds

American odds indicate how much you can win from a $100 bet. For example, +200 American odds mean that you could win $200 with a $100 wager if you predict correctly. Negative (-) odds also exist, but never for horse races. If the number is negative, it shows you how much you have to wager to be in with the chance of winning $100. For instance, if you bet on an outcome at -200, you need to bet $200 to win $100.

Traditional Fractional Odds for Online Horse Betting

Horse racing odds in the form of traditional fractions are common in Europe. These fractions show you how much of the stake you could profit if you win the bet. The number on the left shows you how much you can win in relation to the figure on the right.

Formula to calculate profit from fractional odds: initial stake x fraction = profit

For example, if you place a $10 wager with 4/1 odds and win, the bookmaker will give you a $40 profit. The betting site then adds this profit to your initial wager to give you a total return of $50.

Total return formula of 4/1 odds with $10 stake: $10 stake x (4/1) = $40 profit + $10 original stake = $50 total return

Remember that the first number in the fraction represents the amount you can win in relation to the stake (the second number).

Some odds don’t feature the number one. Use the same calculation when you see odds like this – 5/2, 6/3, 4/3, etc. For instance, if you place a $10 wager on a horse to win with these 9/2 odds and it comes off, you will make a profit of $45 and receive a total return of $55.

Total return formula of 9/2 odds with $10 stake: $10 initial stake x (9/2) = $45 profit + $10 initial stake = $55 total return

Odds-On Favorites in Horse Racing

Odds-on favorites are the horses deemed most likely to win a race by bookies. These give you less than even-odds. For example, when you wager on these horses to win, your stake is higher than the potential profit you can win. To explain how these work, let’s use 1/4 fractional odds as an example.

For example, if you wager $10 on a horse with 1-4 odds and it comes off, you will profit $2.50 and receive a total return of $12.50. In this instance, you will only profit a quarter of what you wager if you win your bet.

Total return formula of 1/4 odds with $10 stake: $10 initial stake x (1/4) = $2.50 profit + $10 original stake = $12.50 total return

Even Odds

When the odds are even, you win the amount you stake. For example, if you wager $10 on a horse with even odds and win, you’ll make a $10 profit. Therefore, the total return from your sportsbook will be $20.

Total return formula of 1/1 odds with $10 stake: $10 initial stake x (1/1) = $10 profit + initial stake = $20 total return

Calculating Winning Probability from Fractional Betting Odds

Finding out the winning probability with fractional odds is straightforward. Let’s explain it using letters instead of numbers. For example, if we change 2/1 odds into A/B, the formula is:
Formula to calculate winning probability from fractional odds: B ÷ (A + B) = probability (%)
Find more examples of this formula below.

  • 10/1 is 1 ÷ (10 + 1) = 0.09 – 9% chance this outcome will happen
  • 4/1 is 1 ÷ (4 + 1) = 0.20 – 20% chance this outcome will happen
  • 2/1 is 1 ÷ (2 + 1) = 0.33 – 33% chance this outcome will happen
  • 1/1 is 1÷ (1+1) = 0.5 – 50% chance this outcome will happen

Decimal Horse Racing Odds

At some sports betting sites, horse racing wagers are in a decimal odds format. The decimal odds systems are even more straightforward than the fractional odds system.

The decimal format shows you how much money you could win in relation to your wager. Simply multiply your stake by the decimal, and the result will tell you the total payout. Remember, this total payout includes your original stake.

Odds that are even in the decimal format are 2.0. So, if you win a $10 bet on a horse with 2.0 odds, you will win $20 ($10 profit + $10 initial stake). If the odds of a horse winning are less than 2.0, it’s an odds-on favorite.

Remember that fractional odds aren’t the same as decimal odds: fractional odds calculate the amount you could win in profit without the initial stake, whereas decimal odds calculate your total payout.

For example, a winning $10 bet with 5/1 will pay you $50 in net profit. The bookmaker will add this to your initial wager of $10 to give you a total return of $60.

However, decimal odds of 5.0 would give you a profit of $40. This profit added to your initial wager will provide you with a total payout of $50. Always remember that decimal odds calculate the total payout, not just the winning profit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I bet on horse races using my smartphone?

    Many online betting sites let you use your mobile to bet on horse races. Some online sportsbooks even have an app to make it even easier for you. However, if an online sportsbook doesn’t have an app, its website will be fully compatible with mobile browsers of iOS or Android devices. If you want to wager on upcoming races online using your smartphone, open an account with a trustworthy sports betting site.

  • What does 4/5 mean in horse racing odds?

    If a bookmaker gives a horse 4/5 odds to win means the horse is an odds-on favorite (if you bet on this horse, your initial stake is higher than the potential profit). A winning $10 bet with these odds will make you a profit of $8. Add this profit to your initial stake to find out how much your total return will be.

    Total return formula of 4/5 horse racing odds with a $10 stake: $10 initial stake amount x (4/5) = $8 profit + $10 original stake = $18 total return

  • What are morning line odds in horse racing?

    A track oddsmaker sets the morning line odds for every race to reflect how the public will bet. Once the morning line odds go live, you can see which horses will likely emerge as the betting favorites and which aren’t. Although the track’s oddsmaker sets these odds in relation to the attributes and of each horse, the oddsmaker’s principal aim is to predict how the bettors are going to wager on the race.

  • What are the rules of horse racing?

    Each rider must ride safely while following the course and, if present, jump every hurdle. A jockey and the horse must cross the finish before competitors to win the race. Usually, the event holders will give cash prizes for the first, second, and third finishers of the race.

  • What are classic horse racing bets?

    There are three main wager types in horse racing: win, place, and show. A win bet means that if the horse wins the race, you win your bet. To win a place bet, the horse needs to finish 2nd or 3rd. Finally, to profit from a show bet, the horse can place either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. Because show bets are the most likely to happen, the odds are always less favorable than a win or place bet.

  • Do I need to understand all the different odds to bet on horse racing?

    Depending on where you’re placing bets, you might have to understand how decimal and fractional odds systems work. However, most reputable online sportsbooks have an odds calculator and give you the option to change the odds into different systems. This guide on horse racing odds explains everything you need to know about fractional horse race betting lines.

Ben Perks

Ben is a sports journalist & part-time trader with a passion for finding +EV bets. Ben lives in Madrid, Spain where he enjoys the live poker scene, and sunshine where he covers UFC, MLB, NHL, NBA, as well as tennis betting.