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Win, Place, Show – Horse Race Betting Basics

Whether it’s one of the Triple Crown races or the Breeders’ Cup, there are a few times each year when people who are not likely to make a bet on a horse race any other team are drawn to pick a pony and lay down a few bucks. If you aren’t familiar with horse racing, though, there is a lot of terminology that can be confusing, and that can make it frustrating to make the bet you want to make.

The simplest types of bets are win, place, and show bets, but if you aren’t familiar with them then even they can cause some issues for bettors. To ease the confusion and make it easier to cash your tickets here’s a look at what those bets are and what you need to keep in mind to make winning bets.

Win – This is the simplest type of bet there is in horse racing. All you are doing is betting on which horse is going to win the race. If your horse wins you win, and if it doesn’t then you don’t. The minimum amount you can bet to win at any track in North America is $2, and you can bet any dollar amount above that. The potential payoffs for a winning bet are listed on the tote boards at the track and on the TV screens around the track, or can be found several places online. They list the potential payoff for that $2 bet, and they include the amount of the bet. The  most important thing to remember with this and any other type of bet on horse racing is that it is a pari-mutuel system. That means that the odds adjust accordingly to the amount of money bet on each horse – if more money is bet on one horse than others then the odds will fall, and vice versa. It doesn’t matter what the odds are when you make your bet – no matter what you will only get the price that the horse settles at when the race starts. If you aren’t paying attention then you can bet on a horse thinking that it’s a great deal only to discover that it winds up being a horrible price at post time. You can obviously bet on as many different horses to win a race as you want, but you will want to be sure that you don’t bet more than you can potentially win.

In the program or racing form for each race there are morning line odds listed for every horse in the field for each race. These odds are assigned by a track handicapper, and are an estimation of what the fair price for a win ticket would be. One quick way to get a sense of where the value is in a race is to compare the morning line odds to the odds on the tote board. If the morning line odds are significantly higher than the current odds then there isn’t much value on the horse, but if the current odds are significantly higher than the morning line odds and it’s close to race time then there could be value to be had.

Place – To cash a place bet your horse needs to finish first or second. Because you have twice as many chances to win as you do with a win bet the payoff for a place bet is obviously lower on any given horse than the win bet. The payoff is also lower because all of the money bet on horses to place has to be split between the bettors who bet on the horse that won and the one that finished second. Because there are two horses that bettors can win on with a place bet it is impossible to know before a race what the potential place payoff will be. In almost all cases, though, it will be significantly lower than the win price, so you can estimate accordingly.

Show – This is the easiest bet to win in all of horse racing, but u=it also pays off with the lowest price. To win this bet all you need is for your horse to finish first, second, or third. The payoff here is dramatically lower than a win bet, and typically significantly lower than a place bet as well. The lowest possible payoff for a $2 bet is $2.10, or just 10 cents of profit, though the typical payoff is significantly higher than that for all but the heaviest favorites.

If I am looking to enjoy a casual day at the races – enjoy the sunshine and the people watching and have a beer or two – and I don’t feel like doing serious handicapping but I still want some action then I’ll often use a show parlay. I’ll start with a $2 or $5 bet on the first race, and roll the original bet and the profit over into the next race each time until I have enough money or I go broke. It’s reasonably easy to get a good streak going, and you can quickly turn a little money into quite a bit if you have a bit of luck.

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