There was a time when horse racing was among the most popular sports in America. People would stop what they were doing to listen to races on the radio, and some thoroughbreds were as popular as today’s NBA or NFL superstars.

The explosion of modern sports and entertainment options have diminished the popularity of a day at the track, but there is still little as thrilling as watching your horse cross the finish line, your arms raised high with winning betting slips clutched in your fists. Indeed, there is little to compare to an afternoon at the track, watching spectacular athletes compete.

If you ever seen a race at a track, or even on television, the system of odds and betting can seem intimidating, and even a little confusing. But it doesn’t have to be. With just a couple of basics, you can understand the odds and place bets just like a pro.

Bets at tracks these days are either taken by clerks at betting windows or entered electronically at machines. The true race aficionado still loves to interact with the clerks at the windows, who can often be characters and enhance the race-day experience, but the terminology is the same for both.

First, horses are identified by number in the track program for the day or the Daily Racing Form, both of which can be purchased at the track. Both the program and the Racing Form contain data on each race, like the length, purse and types of horses that are running, plus how each horse has performed in previous races. (The Racing Form contains much more information, but you can save that for later.) The numbers correspond to the order that the horses are placed in the starting gate, and you use the individual numbers to identify the horses you want to wager on.

Second, you have to decide on the amount of your bet. The minimum is generally $2 for each wager. The more you bet, obviously, the more you can win. But beginners should probably bet small until they are truly comfortable with the system.

Third, there is the type of bet. This is where it can get confusing for the beginner because there are many exotic variations. But the basics are pretty easy. Horses pay off bettors if they finish first, second or third, also known as Win, Place and Show. A horse that wins also pays off bettors who wager it to come in second or third, albeit at lower amounts. Likewise, a horse that comes in second also pays off bettors who wagered that it would come in third. So the easiest three bets are Win, Place or Show. Put simply, these are bets on a horse to finish first, second or third.

To put it all together, say you wanted to bet on a horse listed as No. 4 in the program to come in first, and you wanted to wager the minimum. The order of the bet goes as follows: amount of wager, type of bet and finally, the horse. So you would tell the clerk you wanted to bet “$2 on No. 4 to win.”

And those are the basics.

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