There are two types of horse racing wagers—straight bets, where you bet on a single horse in a single race and exotic bets, where you bet on multiple horses in the same race or a series of races. In this guide we’ll focus on straight bets and tackle exotics in a subsequent article. There’s a nice symmetry between the two types of wagers. Straight bets are simple and you can expect to hit a reasonable percentage of them. They’re the classic horse racing bets (‘win, place show’) but don’t have the massive payout potential that a networked slot machine or lottery has. Exotic bets are more difficult to win but pay out in the hundreds or thousands—even hundred thousands—of dollars. You want to think about the two types of bets not as ‘lifestyle choices’, but the same way that a golfer thinks about golf clubs. He has a variety of clubs in his bag so he can afford himself of the right tool in the right situation. Same thing with the various types of horse bets. There’s not necessary a ‘best type’ of bet—they’re all tools to implement various strategies in various situations.
‘Straight bets’ is a term you’ll hear in sports betting as well as horse racing. You bet that something will (or won’t) happen and if that eventuality transpires you get paid at certain odds. In sports betting, the odds are set in advance (typically you’ll have to lay 11 to 10 in a basic pointspread bet). In horse racing, you won’t know your payout until after the race. It will be calculated based on the closing odds on your horse minus the track’s ‘takeout’ or commission. This information will be shown on the track tote board following the race shown as follows:
RACE 2—UPSON DOWNS
# HORSE WIN $ PLACE $ SHOW $
9 Heartbreak Kid 7.60 4.00 2.60
3 Jilted Lover 5.80 3.00
7 Not My Fault 2.10
Sometimes you’ll see other information in the payout such as the name of the jockey and trainer.
WIN, PLACE, SHOW
The specific bets are also very simple:
WIN: A ‘win’ bet, as the name suggests, is a wager that a specific horse will win the race in which he’s entered. If he doesn’t win, you don’t get paid. If he does win, you’ll be paid at the odds indicated on the tote board less the track takeout percentage. Roughly 33% of horse races are won by the favorite.
PLACE: A ‘place’ bet is a wager that a specific horse will finish first or second in the race in which he’s entered. If he finishes out of the top two, you don’t get paid. If he does finish first or second you get the amount in the ‘place’ column by his name. Note that the actual win position doesn’t matter—the ‘place’ payout is the same for a first or second place finish.
SHOW: A ‘show’ bet is a wager that a specific horse will finish first, second or third in the race in which he’s entered. If he finishes out of the top three, you don’t get paid. If he does finish first through third you get the amount in the ‘show’ column by his name. Note that the actual win position doesn’t matter—the ‘show’ payout is the same for for any top three finish.
Pretty simple, right? Another term you’ll hear concerning straight bets is ‘across the board’. If you bet a horse ‘across the board’ it means that you’re making individual bets on the horse to win, place and show. For a $2 bettor, this will cost 6 dollars.