Betting Basics for Horse Racing

Backing Winners

How much does the track pay itself from the betting pool?

The deductions (called the “house take”) from betting pools vary from track to track. The pool deduction percentages are published in the track program, at the track website, and in the Daily Racing Form newspaper. They range from a low of 14% to as high as 26% on some wagers at some tracks. The “house take” is quite large in racing compared to other forms of sports betting. It is wise, whenever possible, to bet at those tracks and on those bet types which have the lowest “take.”

In casino betting a house take of 14% would be considered horrendous. Making a bet on a game with such a large house edge in a casino would be considered strictly for suckers. The same is not true in horse racing. What makes the casino bet in a game with a 14% “house take” so bad is the fact that the odds on the casino game are fixed. You can never have the advantage. In a casino, the 14% “take” represents a fixed negative expectation for the player that cannot be overcome. The same is not true in racing. In horse racing, the odds are not fixed. You are betting against the public. Consequently, the odds on some horses can be overlays and, therefore, good bets even after the large deductions. A player betting on those overlay horses would have a positive expectation despite the “house take.”

At most tracks, the exotics have bigger track “take-outs” than the straight Win, Place and Show bets. Those big deductions from the exotic betting pools make straight Win, Place and Show the bets of choice in most races. There are, however, several reasons for making certain exotic wagers.

First, just like with win betting, the pay-out on certain combinations in exotic wagering can be significantly higher than the actual odds of that combination winning, thereby making that combination an overlay despite the amount of the track deduction. Overlays are most often found when one of the horses in the wager has high win odds. If a horse is an overlay in the Win, Place and Show betting, it is normally an even greater overlay in the exotic wagering. Under such circumstances, the exotic wager can become the bet of choice.

Second, the exotic wager may be the only method by which the race is playable. As an example, let’s assume there are two horses in a race that have an equal chance of winning. You cannot decide the winner between them, but they are both much better than the rest of the horses in the race. The best way to bet those two horses may be in an exacta or quinella, or by placing them both on top in Daily Double or Pick Three combinations. Let’s assume the odds on each horse are even money. You cannot profitably bet both horses to win. Betting both to place requires that both horses finish either first or second if you are to win net money, but the win potential will likely be as little as .40 cents for every $4 bet. If the two horses are bet in a quinella or boxed in an exacta they still must both finish in the top two spots for you to win, just as with betting them both to place, but when you win, your profit is likely to be around $8 for every $4 bet., and not a mere 40 cents. In such case the quinella or exacta is the best way to bet.

Last, in some races there may be one horse that is much better than the rest. Let’s say that one horse in the race is going off at odds of 1-10 and is a huge, prohibitive favorite. Such a horse is often an underlay and cannot be bet to Win. Knowing that a particular horse in the race has a high probability of winning, however, or that a particular horse has a very high probability of finishing “in the money” (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), can cut down the odds against winning the exotic bets immensely. That reduction in odds can make the exotics the bets of choice in some races. For example, in a 10-horse race there are 90 possible exacta results. The odds against winning an exacta are, therefore, 89-1 if you simply pick two horses with darts thrown at the program. If, however, there is one horse in the race with an 80% chance of winning, then the odds against winning an exacta are reduced from 90-1 down to just 10-1 simply by placing that horse on top to win.

Carefully choosing the horses to play in the second position can greatly increase the value of the big favorite winning the race. The same is true if the big favorite is placed on top in any of the exotics.

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