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Horse Racing Betting Strategy Guide

Horse Racing - Finish LineWhen it comes to pure entertainment value, there aren’t many events that are more fun to bet on than a horse race. The drama and suspense builds as the start of the race approaches, you’ll feel a surge of adrenaline when the horses storm out of the starting gates, and the excitement only grows if the horse you bet on is in contention down the final stretch.

But horse racing doesn’t just have to be about the thrill factor. There’s also a chance to make some pretty good money if you know what you’re doing!

In this horse betting strategy guide, we’ll teach you what to look for when handicapping a horse race, as well as discuss the things that affect the horse racing odds. By the end of this post, you should feel ready to take on the challenge of winning money betting on one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious sports.

What Factors Should I Consider?

If you think there are a lot of statistics in baseball, football, or basketball, wait until you see a horse racing information program. A typical stat sheet can contain as many as 40 different fields of information, each of them telling their own story about every horse’s potential of winning today’s race.

But which factors are the most important to focus on when predicting the outcomes of horse races? We’ve boiled them down to these six areas that you should pay the most attention to first.

1. Recent and All-Time History

The obvious place to start when handicapping a horse’s chance of winning a race is by looking at how that horse has done in the past.

Any horse racing program should include this information. Not only will you be able to see how the horse placed in a race, but you’ll also see how they did in various distances or even how they have fared at any particular track in the past.

Look for trends in the horse’s recent performances as well as how they’ve done historically. If the horse is consistently among the top five finishers in a race but rarely wins, you’re probably better off betting on that horse to “show” (finish in the top three) than you are to ask for the outright victory. If the horse is wildly inconsistent but has a few victories mixed in with some poor finishes, they’re a good candidate for the outright win if they pay long odds because you at least know they have the potential to pull out the victory.

Ideally, the horse you bet on has a strong history of excelling in the exact distance of the race you’re betting on and has also delivered strong performances on the track they’re racing on that day. It’s also wise to put more stock in their recent showings than how they fared a year or two ago since their recent performances are a better indicator of their future potential.

2. Lineage

Sometimes there won’t be much historical information available on a horse when it comes to their past racing performance, usually because they don’t have a lot of racing experience. This can open up a lot of value on the horse, however, because a lot of people won’t be eager to wager on a horse who doesn’t have a proven track record.

So how can you tell what a horse’s potential is when you don’t have past results to rely on? Just look at who its parents are. Breeders use lineage and pedigree in order to match a stallion and mare for the best chance at producing quality offspring, and many traits are passed along from the parents to the foal.

You should be able to find this information on your program or on horse racing handicapping sites as well. Key things to focus on are how the horse’s sire (father) and dam (mother) performed at a similar age as their offspring is now, how they fared in their first times at a track, or what surfaces and distances they tended to prefer.

3. Age and Freshness

Just like pro athletes don’t usually hit the prime of their career until they are in their mid-20s, horses aren’t typically at their best until they are at least four years old. And just like human athletes start to see a bit of a decline in their production when they hit their 30s, Thoroughbreds tend to start slowing down once they’re seven or eight years of age.

With that in mind, look to avoid betting on horses who have been elite performers over the years but are entering the twilights of their careers. They’re going to start going downhill at some point, and you don’t want to be betting on them when that happens. Instead, look for opportunities to bet on higher-priced youngsters whose best has yet to come.

Age also plays a big role in how fresh a horse is for a particular race. Younger horses won’t need as much downtime between races in order to excel in their next one, but an older horse may struggle to rebound after exerting a lot of energy in a recent race. And if the races are too close together, a horse of any age is going to be at a disadvantage if it’s going up against a well-rested opponent.

One reason it’s so hard for a horse to win the Thoroughbred Triple Crown is because the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont are all held within a five-week span. Some trainers will intentionally hold their horse out of the Kentucky Derby, knowing they’ll have a greater chance of winning the Preakness if their fresh horse is racing against a tired field.

4. Pace and Speed

The pace and speed statistics are undervalued by most casual horse racing gamblers, but the sharpest track bettors know there is a lot of value to be found in those areas.

A horse’s pace rating measures how much a horse prefers getting off to a strong start. If a horse has a high pace number, it means they like to get out to an early lead, while a low pace number suggests the horse often has difficulty getting started before eventually hitting its stride. Meanwhile, a horse’s speed rating assesses how much they are able to sustain their speed over an entire race, giving you an indication of their stamina and endurance.

If the race is a shorter distance, you’ll want to look for horses who have better pace ratings. And if the race is on a longer track, horses with the higher speed rating are more likely to be able to overcome any early deficit and pass the rest of the field down the stretch.

Once again, pace and speed statistics should be available on any horse racing program you read.

5. Surface and Weather

The surface of the race track can also have a major impact on the outcome of a horse race.

Most surfaces in horse racing today are either dirt (predominantly in North America) or grass turf (Europe), although a few tracks in Europe are also made up of synthetic material. Many horses will develop a preference for running on a certain type of track, and knowing which horses in the field are most comfortable on that day’s conditions is vital in predicting which one will win.

Also keep in mind that not all dirt tracks are created equal. They can vary in areas such as how much sand they have, how deep they are, and how well they drain. Although turf tracks are usually slower surfaces to run on and are most affected by weather, heavy rainfall on a dirt track can quickly lead to some muddy conditions. If the track is slower than usual, it favors the underdog.

6. The Jockey

Not all horse racing handicapping is about the animals. Jockeys also play a major role in the outcomes of races, and you need to do your research on them as well.

The better the jockey, the more likely he is to keep the horse running in a clear lane or push the horse at the exact right time. Look back at the jockey’s past history to see how he’s done with a variety of different horses, and also see how the jockey has shown a tendency to prefer a certain distance.

One final thing to consider about the jockey is his past experience with the horse he’s riding on for that particular day. Familiarity between the jockey and the horse is huge, and it could be all the difference down the stretch.

Things That Can Affect Odds

Since the majority of horse racing odds are based on the parimutuel betting system, there’s really just one thing that moves them: the amount of money that comes in on each horse.

In case you’re not familiar with how parimutuel betting works, it’s when the bookmaker combines all bets received on one market (i.e., which horse will win) into one big prize pool, takes a percentage off the top (their commission), and then pays out the winners in an amount proportionate to their wager. That means that the more money that is wagered on a horse, the less money that the winners on that horse are eligible to receive (because the prize pool has been spread out among more people), and the less money that is wagered on a horse, the more money the winners on that horse could potentially win.


Some online betting sites do not use a parimutuel betting system, instead offering fixed odds. This means that any wager you make on a horse will pay the odds at which you wagered on it. Before you bet on horse racing online, make sure that you know whether the site is using parimutuel odds or fixed odds.

So what causes more money to be bet on one horse than another? Here are three things that commonly affect the odds at the track.

1. Opening Odds

The opening odds on a horse race are simply the oddsmaker’s projection of what the odds will look like at race time. Much like the point spread on a football game or a moneyline in a baseball game, the odds are set to encourage equal betting action on all sides, not a prediction of what’s going to actually happen.

However, many casual bettors at the race track view the opening odds as a prediction. Wanting to back the horse who has the best chance at winning, a lot of recreational bettors will just bet on the favorite, driving their odds down even further while pushing up the odds on every other horse in the field.

2. Line Movement

As different amounts of money begin to come in on the various horses, the odds begin to move accordingly to reflect the difference in potential payouts. So when the odds start to drop on a particular horse, it indicates that’s where the majority of the betting money is going.

At this point, many more people will be encouraged to bet on that horse, thinking that everyone else knows something that they don’t, and the odds will change even further.

This opens up a great chance to be a contrarian and take advantage. Unless you’re able to figure out what is making all the money come in on that specific horse, a good horse betting strategy is to look at the rest of the field and see what betting value may have opened up.

3. The Draw

The lane in which a horse runs the race is determined by a random draw, and which lane the horse draws can have a drastic effect on the odds.

On a curved track, the closer lane assignment that a horse draws to the inside rail, the better his chances are perceived to be. Horses in a race tend to filter towards the inside rail, so starting closest to the rail (typically Lane 1) means having less ground to cover in order to get to the rail.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any concrete stats out there that spell out how big of an advantage or disadvantage starting in any particular lane is. There are also a lot of variables that affect the advantage of being close to the rail, such as how long the race distance is (the longer the race, the less the advantage), how many horses are in the field (making it easier for a horse on the outside to make his way towards the rail), or even the varying conditions of lanes in the track.

Regardless of the size of advantage/disadvantage on lane assignments, however, the betting odds will always be affected in some way by the draw.

“Gotta Be in It to Win It”

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying horse betting recreationally by making small wagers without doing extensive research or even knowing much about the sport. But if you’re going to be wagering a significant amount of money on horse racing, you need to make sure that you’re fully committed to following and understanding the sport.

Horse racing is tough to beat if you don’t know what you’re doing. Unless you’re using an online site that has fixed odds, the parimutuel system protects the oddsmakers from making any errors, and they’ll have a mathematical advantage on every race. Overcoming the 4%-5% commission that the oddsmakers take from every pot is not impossible, but it will require some expertise, dedication, and perseverance on your part.

The best strategy for a beginner is to start small, learn from your mistakes (as well as your victories), and build your way up as you gain knowledge and experience. If you’re winning, your bankroll will grow as time goes on, allowing you to progressively bet more and more.

The Biggest Key to Success in Horse Betting

If there’s one thing you should take away from reading this article, it’s that you aren’t going to win in horse betting if you don’t do your homework. Betting on horses because you like their name, think their number is lucky, or simply have a hunch may work once in a while, but it won’t be enough to profit in the long run.

Fortunately, horse tracks and online betting sites are more than happy to provide you with all the information that you need in order to make winning horse racing picks. They want to make it as easy as possible for people to bet on the races because the more betting there is, the more money they can make. There’s also no risk to the bookmakers in the parimutuel system. Just like poker, you’re basically betting against the rest of the gamblers, the sharpest minds are going to win, and the bookies are going to collect their commission.

Focus on the most important factors that determine a horse race, make some small bets, and continue to track your progress. Once you get to the point where you’ve been able to make money betting horse racing over a few hundred races, you can then increase the amounts of your wagers and really start to cash in.