Betting the Ponies 101 Part 1
Betting on the horse can be intimidating for those just starting out. Fortunately, our horse racing expert has you covered with this tutorial.
It was a nondescript January Sunday afternoon at Santa Anita Park and my then-girlfriend, Karen, and I were 0-for-the-day. Not one winning ticket between the two of us entering the last race.
That’s when she decided to go “across-the-board”—betting a horse to win, place and show—on an 85-1 shot named “Turn On,” because “I liked the name.”
Not three minutes later, she liked it a lot more. Coming into deep stretch, Turn On did exactly that, eking out a neck victory at the wire. Her $6 combined wager ($2 each on win/place/show) paid $247.60.
“Guess who’s buying dinner,” I told her.
Karen’s wild bet illustrates how horse racing is a sport where you can turn a small wager into a big payday. Today’s wagering smorgasbord offers bettors across the risk tolerance spectrum ways to turn a little into a lot.
Horse racing wagers are generally broken down into two types: vertical and horizontal. Vertical wagers are wagers on one race. Those are your win/place/show (and yes, across-the-board), along with exactas, trifectas and superfectas.
Horizontal wagers are also known as multi-race wagers. Those require horseplayers to pick winners of multiple races. These are your Daily Doubles, Pick 3s, Pick 4s, Pick 5s and Pick 6s. We will look at those bets next week.
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Straight Bets Great Place to Start
Also known as straight bets, win, place, and show are self-explanatory and are the best places to start for beginners. You find a horse you like for whatever reason: name, speed figures, form, what-have-you, and you bet at least $2 on him to win. If he wins, you walk to the window and collect.
A place bet means you bet on the horse to finish either first or second. A show bet means you wagered on him to finish first, second or third. If he finishes in the money, so do you.
The across-the-board bet is advisable when you like a horse at a good price, typically 8-1 or better. You usually don’t want to go across-the-board on a short-priced favorite because the payout doesn’t warrant the cost.
During horse racing’s glory days in the 1940s and 1950s, straight wagers were the only wagers offered, outside of the Daily Double, which involved only the first two races of the day.
Usually offered with a $2 minimum, the Daily Double asks you to pick the winners of two consecutive races. It’s a good wager when you encounter two consecutive races with beatable favorites. This allows you to pounce on mid-priced horses, possibly providing a nice payout.
Exacta Doubles Betting Opportunities
The Exacta was founded at Hollywood Park in 1971. It requires a bettor to pick the top two finishers in exact order. For example, you like the No. 3 and the No. 5 horses in a race. You can bet a 3-5 exacta and if the 3 wins and the 5 places, you win.
This bet can also be done with multiple horses either through a box or a key. The box wager means you use multiple horses in both the win and place positions. If you boxed the 3 and the 5, you’d win your bet if the horses finished 3-5 or 5-3. A key means you put a certain horse atop the ticket and others underneath. You could key the 3 over the 5 and the 6, meaning if the 3 wins and either the 5 or 6 finish second, you cash.
Keep in mind that a box doubles your wagering amount. A $2 boxed exacta with two horses costs $4. A $2 keyed exacta with one horse atop and three underneath costs $12. Most tracks offer $1 exactas, lessening the hit to your bankroll.
The exacta box is good when you like certain horses, but aren’t quite sure about the order. They also can produce strong payouts when you catch a high-priced horse atop the ticket
Trifecta Trip Play
This bet requires you to pick the top three finishers in exact order. It’s offered in amounts as low as 50 cents at some tracks and like the exacta, offers box and key options.
Experienced horseplayers will play trifecta keys when they like a horse to win. For example, you like the 3, but think the 5, 6, 8 can get a piece of the board. You also think the high-priced 1 can factor down-ticket. So you’d bet a trifecta key with the 3 over 5, 6, 8 and over 5, 6, 8 and 1. You walk to the window if the 3 wins, any of the 5, 6 or 8 finish second or the 5, 6, 8 or 1 takes third.
You can also box trifectas, but keep in mind that your cost increases exponentially as you add horses. A four-horse tri box costs $24. The other problem with boxing trifectas is all horses in your wager are not created equal. You’re paying money for a 20-1 shot to have the same odds of winning as a 5-2 favorite. Both your bankroll and your handicapping are better off taking a stand and keying horses.
Last year’s Kentucky Derby illustrated how this extremely difficult superfecta wager: picking the top four finishers, can pay eye-watering windfalls. When 80-1 Rich Strike stole the Derby in the last 50 yards, the $1 superfecta paid $321,500.
Even with minimums as low as 10 cents at most tracks, you’re swinging for the fences here. Hitting superfectas requires a big bankroll and an incredible amount of luck. This isn’t a wager for the short-of-experience or light-of-bankroll. A four-horse $1 superfecta box costs $24. Box five and the price jumps to $120. A six-horse box is $360.
Next week I will show you all about Pick 3, 4, 5 and 6.
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