The most common types of bets you will encounter at the racetrack or at an online horse betting site are win, place, and show bets. These are the foundation of betting on horses. To bet successfully, you need to understand what each of these bets represents and the best way to make them.
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A win bet is just what its name implies. You make a bet on one horse in a race to finish first. It is one of the most challenging bets in horseracing because it requires you to pick the winner from a field of 8, 10, or even as many as 20 horses.
All payoffs at the racetrack are based on a $2 bet. So, if the odds on your horse are 2-1 at post time (the moment the gates open and the race begins), this means you will receive 2X the amount of your bet if your horse wins. At most tracks and online betting sites, the minimum win bet you can make is for $2.
To consistently make money on win bets, you need to understand a few things. First, betting the favorite in a race to win is usually a losing proposition. One of the most reliable statistics in all of horseracing is that favorites win one out of every three races. That means favorites win about 33% of the time. Do the math. If you only bet favorites to win at the racetrack, you will lose 67% of your bets.
This brings us to the second thing you need to understand—the concept of value. Value means that you are receiving favorable odds, or what horseplayers call a “fair price”, on each horse you bet to win. By the above example of favorites winning only once in every three faces, you can see that a good benchmark for value is a price of 3-1. In other words, avoid betting horses to win that offer less that 3-1 odds. There are some exceptions to this that we will discuss in more depth in the handicapping sections of this website, but if you are just starting to bet the horses always insist on 3-1 odds for any horse you bet to win.
Whenever you bet a horse to place, you are betting that the horse will finish first OR second in a race. If the horse wins the race, you win your bet. If the horse finishes second, you also win your bet.
In most cases, the payoffs on a place bet are lower than those on a win bet. The reason for this is that there are more winning tickets that must be paid out. However, in some cases, a longshot horse can pay out a significant amount of money when it runs second and you collect a place bet because only a few people may have believed the horse had a chance to finish second.
As a rule, place betting is not necessarily a bad bet for a beginner to make. Remember the 33% win rate for favorites we talked about in win betting? Well, another tried-and-true statistic at the racetrack is that betting a favorite to place almost always returns a profit. Your winnings will be smaller, but you will cash tickets more often.
The minimum bet to place is also $2 at most racing establishments.
Betting a horse to show is betting that the horse will finish first, second, or third in a given race. As you might expect, your chances of winning this bet in some cases is greater. The payoff, however, is very small. For every $2 you bet on a horse to show, you can expect an average return of $0.40 to $0.60 cents!
Do we really have to tell you that show betting is one of the worst decisions you can make at the racetrack? In many cases, the horse you bet to show will finish “off the board” and leave you with nothing but a losing ticket. Sure, sometimes a horse will pay decent money to show if they are very long odds—20-1 or better—but you will lose more of these bets than you will ever win.
As a rule (and there are some rare exceptions), NEVER bet a horse to show. Find a horse you like and bet them to win or to place.
Stick to the win and place bets
Those who are new to betting the horses should stick to win and place bets until they learn more about the practice of handicapping. Keep your bets small, pick a horse, and cheer them all the way to the finish line. In time, you’ll be betting like a pro and will be ready to attack the most profitable bets at the racetrack—the exotic bets!