So, you’re looking to get better at betting on the ponies? Or, maybe there’s a big race coming up that you want to figure out how to make an intelligent bet on rather than just slamming down money wildly like a confused degenerate? Wherever you fall within these categories (or in your own special category we didn’t mention), we’ve got just what you’re looking for.
In the coming sections, our team of experts is going to share their favorite and most effective horse racing strategy tips. These are not the worthless tips you’d get from the sketchy guy who spends 24 hours a day at the horse track who clearly hasn’t picked a winner in years. No, these are from the industry insiders who know what they’re doing.
These tips can save your life! Okay, we’re exaggerating; they probably aren’t going to save your life. But, they can save your bankroll’s life and put you on a track towards being a big-time horse racing betting winner. Who isn’t excited to secure a stable profit? Yes, that’s a horse pun. You are welcome.
In all seriousness, though, let’s get to the tips. Everyone has to learn to be a successful horse bettor; no one is barn with it. Okay, we’ll stop. Let’s get onto the tips!
Don’t Get Hung Up on Tips at the Track
Before we go any further, we need to clear something up. In the horse racing world, you are going to run into a lot of people (especially at the track) who claim to be experts betting on the horses. They’ll claim to have insider tips or knowledge of a completely sure thing. Here’s the spoiler. There is absolutely no such thing as a sure thing in horse racing unless someone is cheating.
This means that fella at the track is probably just a degenerate gambler blowing smoke up your tailpipe. If they were really geniuses and had the ability to pick “sure things,” do you think they would be hanging out at the track all day with the common folk? Probably not! They’d probably have paid servants betting for them while they sat in an air conditioned owner’s box sipping on mint juleps. They wouldn’t be drinking a bud light with the same clothes on from yesterday and a weird aroma cloud following them around.
We’re not trying to be mean to the people at the track that love to bet on horses. What we’re saying, though, is when they tell you about a sure thing, they are doing you a disservice. You can’t get hung up on these tips even if they happen to pick a winner once in a while. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. It’s fine to listen to their tips, but don’t get so hung up on them that you get away from the strategies we’re going to give you in the coming sections. Fact and statistics will always win out against gut feeling in the long run. If you don’t believe us, you’ll eventually learn that lesson the hard way.
Jockey Experience is Important
Horse racing is way different than betting on dogs for really one main reason. There is a person on top of the horse directing it around the track. For some reason, a lot of novice horse racing bettors like to put all their weight into researching the horse and forget that the jockey in the driver’s seat is extremely important.
There are a few things that you want to look for when you’re researching a jockey. First, you want to look at their history. Are they a winning jockey? Have they been winning recently? Are they staying in shape (some added weight from a lack of discipline will make a difference)? Have they been active lately or are they coming off a break?
Second, you want to look at their specific experience with the actual horse they are on and the track they are racing. Have you ever driven a new car or someone else’s car for the first time? It probably took you a little while to get used to everything even though it’s still just driving a car. This is the same with jockeys and horses. If the jockey has never ridden that particular horse in race conditions, there might be some issues with the two synching up together. While you shouldn’t preclude a horse just because it’s their first race with a new jockey, you should take it into account.
The jockey’s experience on a track is probably the most important part of this equation. Yes, all tracks are ovals and have dirt on them. But, as will talk about more later, they are not the same. An experienced jockey who has run at a particular track a lot is going to know the ins and outs of the track. They’re going to know the good sections of track, the sections to avoid, and they’re going to know when and where to push the horses to get maximum effort.
So, what’s the bottom line? Make sure you research the jockeys. Look at their personal record and then their record and experience with the horse they are on and the track they are racing at.
Create a Mathematical Equation
We’re about to take you on a trip down math lane, so if you are someone who doesn’t like math, you can go ahead and skip to the next section. But, if you’re curious how the stats nerds that are crushing horse racing betting are doing it, grab a seat because we’re going to get into it.
Did you know that the odds the racebook put out on each horse not only tell you how much you stand to win, but they also tell you the percentage chance they think each horse has to win the race?
Understanding this is important to understand where we are going in this section. How do we find out the percentage chance the racebook thinks each horse will win? And, why is this important and how do we use it? Well, let’s answer these questions one at a time.
First, the way you convert this is by using an implied probability calculator. You put the odds in, click calculate, and the calculator will spit out the implied probability. This is a fancy phrase for the percentage chance the book thinks the horse will win. Basically, 7/2 “implies” that the “probability” of the horse winning is 22.22%.
Pretty neat, yea? Well, now let’s talk about why this is important to us. You have to remember that racebooks pay you out based on the likelihood of your bet winning. If a horse is more likely to win a race (the favorite), you’re not going to get paid out as much because that’s pretty likely to happen more often. If the horse is less likely to win a race (an underdog), you’re going to get paid out better because this should happen less likely. Basically, you’re getting paid a premium on your money for picking a horse that is less likely to win.
How do the racebooks know the percentage chance or likelihood of a horse winning a race? They don’t. They have to make an educated guess which is why it’s not called the probability but just the implied probability. When they set their lines, they are making a guess on the likelihood of each horse winning. Are they always right? Not a chance. When you can find situations where they are wrong and therefore paying out incorrectly, you’ve found value and potentially a great horse to bet on.
You’re looking for a horse that you think is MORE likely to win the race than the racebook thinks they are. When you find this, it means you will be winning your bet more often, but you’ll still be getting paid that premium because the racebook incorrectly thought they were going to win less often.
Let’s look at an example to drive this point home and then we’ll talk about how you can exploit it to make money at the track.
Let’s say that the horse Lucky Lucy is 4/1 to win on an upcoming race. You put this into your implied probability calculator, and you see that this means Lucky Lucy is going to win the race 20% of the time (1 out of 5 races). You also know that 4/1 pays out on a $10 bet, $40 in profit. So, let’s see what happens if you were able to bet this race 10 times and the racebook was right. They said that Lucky Lucy would win 20% of the time, so let’s see what happens to your profit if the horse wins 2 out of the 10 races (20%).
|Race #||Horse Bet||Amount Bet||Odds||Outcome||Profit/Loss|
In this example, the racebook was right on the money as Lucky Lucy won 20% of the races. Let’s add up your profit. The total profit comes out to $0. You didn’t win any money or lose any money.
But, what happens if the racebook is wrong? Remember that earlier we said we were looking for opportunities where we thought a horse was going to win more often than the racebook did. That way we could win our bet more often, but still, collect that premium. Let’s say that you actually think Lucky Lucy is 30% likely to win the race. You think that out of 10 races, she’s going to win 3 races. But, the racebook still thinks it’s 20% so that is the rate you will be getting paid out. Here’s what that will look like.
|Race #||Horse Bet||Amount Bet||Odds||Outcome||Profit/Loss|
Now let’s add up your profit. You’ve now made $50 because you found a mistake in the line being offered by the racebook.
Alright, so you understand what you’re looking for when picking out a horse to bet. But, where do we get these percentages from? Well, let’s look at what we need first. We need to know the implied probability from the racebook, and we need to know the percentage chance we think the horse is going to win. The implied probability comes from converting the odds they put out. We’ve got that down with our implied probability calculator.
As per the percentage chance, we think the horse is going to win? Well, there are two ways to go about this. The first is by straight eye-balling it. You have to predict the percentage chance you think the horse is going to win the race. While this might be tough if you look at the race as a single race, it might be easier if you look at it as 100 different races.
Ask yourself, if this race was run 100 times, how many times would this horse win? Whatever number you come up with is the percentage chance you think the horse will win. Think Lucky Lucy will win 30 times out of 100 races? That’s 30%. Think Lucky Lucy will win 25 times? That’s 25%.
But, what if you want to take a more refined approach to the problem? Well, you can do this too by creating a formula. We’re going to look at a very simplified example to show you what we mean. You can take this simplified example and use it to build your own formula. If you can develop a winning formula, you can just print money on races.
Let’s say there is an upcoming horse race with only five horses in it (to keep things simpler). These are the five horses:
- Lucky Lucy
- Barrelin’ Bobby
- Too Good to Lose
- Shoot Where’s My Ladder?
- Commas, Are, Life,
The first thing you need to do is figure out the criteria that you think is important to research when determining the likelihood of a horse winning a race. You can have as many or as few criteria as you want. It will be up to you to build your winning formula. We can tell you that typically these formulas have a lot of different variables involved and not just a few. But, for today, we’re going to pretend that you decide there are only three criteria you think are important:
- The jockey experience level = Jockey
- The horse’s sprint speed = Speed
- The horse’s age (you think younger is better) = Age
The next thing you need to do is assign a point value for each horse in each category. Typically, we like to do this on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best), but you can do this on a scale of 1-100 if you want. It’s completely up to you.
|Too Good to Lose||5||6||2|
|Shoot Where’s My Ladder?||7||4||9|
|Commas, Are, Life,||8||2||8|
Just to make sure you see what we’re doing here, let’s look at a couple of the horses. You’re saying here that Lucky Lucy has a very experienced jockey, middle of the pack speed, and a big advantage because the horse is young. You’re saying that Barrelin’ Bobby has a weak jockey, pretty good speed, and is in the middle of the pack regarding age.
The next thing you need to do is assign how important you think each criterion is. The best way to do this is to split all the characteristics up out of 100%. For example, let’s say that you think speed is the most important factor, jockey is the second most important, and then age is just a small factor. Out of 100, you might say that speed is 50% of the equation, jockey is 40% of the equation, and the horse’s age is only 10% of the equation.
You then take those numbers, and you build an equation to calculate your value on each horse.
- Value = (50% * Speed) + (40% * Jockey) + (10% * Age)
What we do now is we plug in each horse’s numbers into the equation. Remember, you’ll want to multiply everything within the parenthesis first and then add them together. Also, you can convert percentages to decimals by moving the decimal two places to the left. So, 50% is actually the same as .5. 40% is the same as .4, and 10% is the same as .1.
- Lucky Lucy = (50% * 5) + (40% * 8) + (10% * 9)
- Lucky Lucy = (0.5* 5) + (0.4 * 8) + (0.1 * 9)
- Lucky Lucy = (2.5) + (3.2) + (0.9)
- Lucky Lucy = 6.6
Do this for all of the horses, and you get the following numbers:
- Lucky Lucy = 6.6
- Barrelin’ Bobby = 5.2
- Too Good to Lose = 5.2
- Shoot Where’s My Ladder? = 5.7
- Commas, Are, Life, = 5
Now, you need to do one last step to convert these into percentages. You have to divide each number by the total value points that you awarded. So, we start by adding up all the points like this.
- 6.6 + 5.2 + 5.2 + 5.7 + 5 = 27.7
Then you divide each of the value numbers by this total number and multiply it by 100. This will give you the percentage chance your formula thinks each horse will win the race.
- Lucky Lucy = 23.82%
- Barrelin’ Bobby = 18.77%
- Too Good to Lose = 18.77%
- Shoot Where’s My Ladder? = 20.57%
- Commas, Are, Life, = 18.05%
Notice, if you add up all of these percentages it comes out to 100%. (If it’s off by a few hundredths, it’s because we rounded our numbers down to two decimal points).
So, now you have everything you need to look for value. Take the percentages you think the horse has to win and compare them with the implied probabilities you got from the racebook. If your percentage is higher than the racebooks, then you’ve most likely found a good bet assuming you are correct. The more bets that you make where you are correct, the more money you are going to make in the long run.
Now, in the real world, your formula is not going to only have a couple of criteria. Most likely, you’ll have 10+ different things that you’re giving an assigned value to. Everything still works the same, though. Is your first formula going to be a winner? Probably not. Unless you’re some wizard, you are probably going to have to continually update and change your formula. You may even want to try out multiple formulas at once to see which one is a winner. You don’t necessarily have to bet to test your formula, though. If you have access to historical data, you can always test your formula over past races.
Keep adding and taking out different criteria, and keep tweaking the importance level you place on each. Also, keep tweaking how you go about assigning value for each horse. It’s a lot of moving parts, but if you can come up with a winning formula, you’ll literally be able to print money at every race track on the planet. This is the golden ticket that every horse racing bettor chases.
Check the Horse’s History
We feel like we should take a couple of deep breaths coming off of that math intensive section. Inhale…exhale. Alright, now we want to start talking about some other tips and strategies that you can use to pick winners. If you aren’t feeling the math stuff, these next tips are going to help you out a lot. If you are feeling the math stuff, you can use these tips to help you decide on your criteria and how you assign your values. Basically, the rest of this guide is going to be awesome for everyone.
What we want to talk about now is checking the horse’s history. You need to do research on the actual horse you are betting on. What exactly are you looking for? Well, there’s a lot you can look at. The first and most obvious is the horse’s experience and record. Have they raced at this track before? Have they won here before? How have they done in their past few races?
Then, you’ll want to look at the condition of the horse. Have they been overworked lately or given adequate rest? Have they raced recently or has it been a little long since they were on the track racing competitively? Has the horse ever been injured? Is the horse healthy?
Taking all of this into account, you should be able to get a really good picture of how each horse is going to run. We would recommend looking at each horse in the race, but if you’re pressed for time, you can probably get away with just looking at the top four or five horses that are favored to win. But, if you’re taking your horse racing seriously, you might want to look at every horse involved in the contest.
Not All Tracks Are Created Equally
If you have ever watched any form of racing before (not just horse racing), you know that not all tracks are created equally. You also know that certain contestants tend to do better at different tracks based on a lot of different criteria. This is no different when it comes to horse racing. Not only do you have varying lengths of races, but you also have varying surfaces to run on including dirt, turf, and synthetic. You also have varying weather conditions at different track locations (temperature, humidity, ground saturation) that play heavily into how well a particular horse is going to do.
How do you handle all these different variables? Well, you need to look at how the horse you’re interested in and their jockey fare under the conditions they are going to be racing in. Look at their history and see how they’ve fared in similar conditions in the past. You won’t be able to accommodate for every single factor, but you can do your best to account for the major ones like weather, track length, surface, and track conditions.
A Proven Owner is Hard to Bet Against
If we’ve learned one thing from horse racing, it’s that certain owners know how to get the job done. You might be wondering why on Earth we’re looking at who the owner is when they aren’t even on the track during the race. Well, it’s for a few reasons. First of all, the owners are the ones who decide how much money they want to invest in a horse’s future. They decide the quality of food they’re going to get, the quality of their lodging, and most importantly the quality of their training (our second point).
The owners get to choose who trains their horse. If you don’t think the quality of the trainer makes a big difference, you need to slow down and do some learning before you bet another dollar on the ponies. The trainer can have as big of an impact if not bigger than the jockey on the success of a horse.
It’s not to say that a new owner can’t get a win because everyone has to start somewhere. But, history has shown us that there are a handful of owners out there that seem to have cracked the formula especially at a few particular tracks. Identify these trends, and you’ll be off to the races. Pun intended.
Track Conditions Matter A Lot
We briefly touched on this earlier, but we want to visit it in full now. You need to pay attention to the track conditions and be prepared for them to change. If the track is muddy, it’s going to have a major effect on the horses. Even if the humidity is higher, the ground is going to be a bit more saturated, and that is going to have an effect on the horses.
We’ve talked about this already so we don’t want to beat a dead horse, but here’s the takeaway. Consider the track conditions AND the potential track conditions. Look at how each horse and jockey has faired in similar conditions in the past and weigh this into your predictions.
You Can Bet Multiple Horses in the Same Race
Something that a lot of novice bettors are unaware of is that you can bet multiple horses in the same race and still make a profit as long as one of those horses wins. For example, let’s say these are the odds for five horses on an upcoming race.
- Lucky Lucy 7/2
- Barrelin’ Bobby 7/2
- Too Good to Lose 4/1
- Shoot Where’s My Ladder? 12/1
- Commas, Are, Life, 3/1
Let’s say that you want to bet $30 on the race and you think that Lucky Lucy is going to win, but you have a good feeling about Too Good to Lose as well. You could go with your first pick and bet $30 on Lucky Lucy if you want to. If you’re correct, you’ll profit $105.
But, what if you want to lower your variance a little bit? You could bet $15 on Lucky Lucy and $15 on Too Good to Lose. Here’s what happens if one of them wins. If Lucky Lucy wins, you will profit $52.50 minus the $15 you bet on Too Good to Lose. Your profit would be $37.50. If Too Good to Lose wins, you’d profit $60 minus the $15 you bet on Lucky Lucy. Your profit would be $45.
So, $37.50 or $45 are a lot less than $105. But, you now have two different horses that can win the race. If Too Good to Lose wins when you bet $30 on Lucky Lucy, you would win $0 and lose your full $30 investment. But, in the second betting scenario, you’d walk away a winner.
It’s up to you if you want to bet on one or two (or sometimes even more than two) horses in a race. We just want you to be aware that you can do this. Just make sure you keep track of how much you are betting so you don’t bet too many horses and end up in a spot where you can’t make any money no matter who wins the race. This can be a great way to lower your variance when betting on horses.
Understand the Different Types of Bets Available
Something that takes a lot of new horse racing bettors for a ride is the multitude of different types of bets that are available. You don’t just have to pick a horse to win the race. There are a lot of other ways to bet your predictions. The important takeaway is a basic sports betting principle. Do not bet on anything that you don’t completely understand.
This doesn’t mean just to have a general understanding of what you think it is based on what your buddy told you. You need to understand what is required to win your bet, how your bet is going to pay out, and any extenuating circumstances or situations that can arise regarding your wager.
To help you out with this, we’ve included links to dedicated guides that break down all of the different types of horse bets you can make. One disclaimer before we give you the links…There is no reason to overcomplicate things just for the sake of betting something more complicated. You can make just as much money betting on the winner of a race as you can firing off some crazy-confusing bet. But, in the instance that you need to use one of these more complex bets to work your prediction, we’ve included information on those as well.
Win, Place, and Show
These are the three most common horse racing bets that you can make. A win bet is simply a bet on a horse to win. If the horse you bet on finishes first, you win. A place bet is a bet on your horse finishing first or second in the race. It doesn’t matter which of these two spots they get; they both pay the same. A show bet is one on your horse to finish first, second, or third. Again, it does not matter which of these positions the horse gets.
As you might expect, the payouts decline as you move from win to place to show as it’s easier to win when your horse only has to finish in the top two or three instead of win outright. Here’s a link to our dedicated win, place, and show bets guide.
These are the horse racing bets that are a little more complex and not really beginner friendly. These are bet on more than one horse to do certain things in a particular race. For example, a quinella bet is one where you pick two horses to finish first and second. It doesn’t matter which of the two wins as long as the other horse also comes in second. The step up from this is the exacta bet where you select two horses to go first and second, but you have to select the particular order.
These are just two examples of exotic horse racing bets. To learn more about your different options, check out our dedicated exotics horse racing betting guide linked below.
Line Shopping is In Play Here Too
Different racebooks are going to offer different odds on the exact same horse races. While this won’t matter if you are betting in person, it does come into play when you’re betting horses online. If you can get the same horse paying out at 5 to 1 instead of 4 to 1, you’d be a fool not to take it!
When you go to make a bet, check what the odds are at each of the racebooks you have accounts with. Check each bet individually. If you find better odds at one over the other, place your bet there! You can always have one of the racebooks as your “home” book where you bet all your wagers when the odds are the same. But, having an alternate book to shop lines can make a huge impact on your profit.
Something we always say around here is the only reason not to line shop is laziness. If you’re serious about making some money betting on horses, put in the extra few seconds of work to check the different lines. It’s not like you have to drive to a different race book to see the odds they are offering. You literally just have to open another browser tab and see what the odds are. This is one of the biggest perks of betting horses online instead of at the racebook or the track.
You Don’t Have to Bet Every Race
What do you do when you can’t figure out which horse you like in a particular race? Do you just pick the favorite? Do you pick the second favorite? No! You don’t bet at all! Remember in the math section above where we talked about finding value? Well, not every race is going to have value. There are sometimes where the racebook is just going to get it right. In these situations, you’re just going to be guessing, gambling, and losing to the juice (the house rake).
Also, there are going to be races where you just have no idea who you think is going to win. This is okay and happens all the time (even to professional bettors). Here’s what separates the pros from the joes, though. The pros are disciplined enough not to bet on that race. The joes end up forcing a pick or firing off some sort of random bet just to get action. They might even convince themselves that they’re getting some sort of very thin value.
Don’t be like these joes. If you don’t have a prediction on the race or don’t think there is value, it’s okay to not bet and sit one race out. If you’re betting online, you know that there are literally hundreds of races to choose from throughout the day. If you have to sit one out, it’s not going to kill you. Heck, if you had to sit an entire day out, it wouldn’t kill you. There are going to be just as many races tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, etc. Horse racing isn’t going anywhere, so you don’t need to be recklessly betting like this is its last day of existence.
Use Proper Bankroll Management
If you’re planning on betting more than just one horse race, you need to have a bankroll strategy. You’re not going to come out and win 100% of the horse racing bets you make. In fact, the pros that have been doing this for decades don’t even win all of their bets. They win closer to 40-60% of them depending on if they bet more favorites or underdogs. This means that even the best in the world can go through periods where they’re losing a bunch of races in a row. But, their skill will eventually prevail in the long run, and they will realize their profit.
That is if they have budgeted their bankroll properly so that they still have money to realize these long-term gains. Remember our example earlier where we said the racebook thought Lucky Lucy was going to win 20% of races, but we thought it was 30%? Well, in that example we had put that Lucky Lucy won the first race. However, math and statistics can be squirrely sometimes, and there’s no way to predict which races will be the wins and which will be the losses. The only thing we do now is the more races we bet, the closer the percentages and stats will get to accurate.
Let’s look at a scenario with that same example. Let’s say the racebook is paying out at the 20% rate, but we think it’s the 30% rate. Let’s also say that we’re right. Here’s what 20 races could look like.
|Race #||Horse Bet||Amount Bet||Odds||Outcome||Profit/Loss|
In this example, everything is still correct. You were still correct, and Lucky Lucy ended up winning 30% of the races. After these 20 races, your profit would be $100. A great return for betting only $10 a race. But, what happens if your bankroll is $100? Well, you would be busto. Because of variance, you ended up losing the first 10 races even though your prediction was skilled and correct. You’ll never know that if you had just gotten a little more into the long term, you would start realizing your profit.
This is why bankroll management is so important. You should never be betting more than 1-5% of your bankroll on a particular race. If you’re betting win/place/show bets, you can be towards the top end of that range as those bets are lower variance. But, if you’re betting exotics, you’re going to want to be lower on that range because you can easily go a lot longer without a win even if you’re still picking value.
For those of you just betting a one-off race for fun or to cash in on a tip, you don’t have to worry about this as much. You can bet whatever you’re comfortable with losing, and you really won’t run into any problems. But, those of you that are looking at betting horses long-term or even as a source of income, you need to nail down proper bankroll management before you get started.
To help you out in the process, we have a complete guide dedicated to bankroll management in sports betting. While the examples in this guide are about sports other than horse betting, the numbers, rules, tips, and strategies are exactly the same. If there is nothing else you take from this guide, please at least take this information. Proper bankroll management can protect you from ruining your horse racing betting career before it even has a chance to get started.
Put In the Work
Betting on horses is easy. Betting on horses and winning is not easy. The quicker that you realize the difference, the better off you’re going to be. Notice that we said not easy, we didn’t say impossible. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can find a lot of success at the track. There are a lot of people who bet horses for a living and are very successful at it.
Do you think they got there by putting in five minutes of research on every race? We’ll go ahead and tell you that’s not the case. They worked their tails off and continue to work every day to make sure they’re making the right bets that will continue to put food on the table and Courvoisier in the cup.
The bottom line here is that winning at betting on horses is certainly doable as long as you are willing to put in the work. The good news, though, is that if you love horse racing betting it’s not really going to feel like work at all. It should still be fun.
The Wrap Up
Well, there you have it ladies and gents. You’re ready to slurp down your mint julip, throw on your big hat, and get out there and start betting (and winning) on the horses. Okay, you don’t have to start drinking or even get dressed thanks to online racebooks. But, you are now equipped with the tips and tools you need to start betting and winning.
Here’s our last piece of advice before we send you out to the track.
We’re not saying this to sound negative; we just want you to have a realistic view of what you’re walking into.
But, once you find that winning stride, hammer it home and make the big bucks! Good luck out there, and we’re always here if you need some more help or a refresher when things aren’t going your way.