Betting Basics for Horse Racing

Backing Winners

What should I know about placing bets at the track or with a legal off-track betting system?

If you bet at the track or with a legal off-track establishment that is tied into the track betting pool, you can wait until the last few minutes to bet so long as the lines are short or the phones aren’t too busy. Bets at the track and with the legal off-track systems should be placed by first giving the amount of the bet, then the type of bet (Win, Place, Show, Exacta, Exacta Box, etc.) and next the horse program numbers only. A bet to win and place on Program #4, the horse called “Upset,” would be given as follows:

“Give me $10 to win and place on number 4.”

If you are betting different amounts to Win and Place then separate the two bets as follows:

“Give me $10 to Win on No. 4, and $20 to Place on #4.”

Note that the track and the legal offtrack betting operations don’t want to know the name of the horse. The name is useless to them. They enter numbers only into a computer that transmits your bet to the track computers for inclusion in the pool.


There are two sets of numbers in horse racing: (1) Post Position, and (2) Program Number. These numbers are often not the same. You must use the program numbers to bet. If you use the post position number by mistake, you may wind up with a bet on the wrong horse. The program numbers are the numbers posted next to the odds on all the tote boards and all the odds boards on the internet.

At tracks and most legal off-track betting establishments you will get track odds, although a few have a surcharge or service fee that they take off every win. The legal off-track betting systems are most often run by local and state governments or the race tracks themselves. A few private companies have been licensed in some states, including the casinos in Atlantic City, and the British bookmaker, Ladbroke. Not every off-track betting system is licensed in every state. You can find some of them advertised in the Daily Racing Form right next to the ads for off-shore bookmakers (not to be confused with off-track betting systems), To find out if a particular off-track establishment is licensed in your state call them up or check with your State licensing authority or a racetrack in your State if you have one.

A legal and licensed off-track betting company can be recognized by the fact that all bets placed with them go directly into the track pool. The off-track establishments merely act as agents to place the bets, for which they get a percentage of the track “takeout” directly from the track.

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