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Sports Authority

Adams: A horse betting primer

| Thursday, November 7, 2019

I say it a lot, but I am a proud son of the state of Kentucky. You don’t have to be a native Kentuckian to know how important horses are to the state historically, culturally and economically. I don’t deign to be an expert on the intricacies of the industry, and I don’t use pretentious terms like “blind switch,” “cribber” or “grab a quarter,” all of which I looked up for this story to show how snobby horse racing can be.

Still, while I am no expert, I had the privilege of going betting at Keeneland Race Course in my hometown over fall break for the second year in a row. While I lost most of my money, I began to have some break throughs towards the end of the day as I started betting based on various factors. So, here is your one-stop shop for the basics of horse racing and some tips on how to limit your losses.

The Rules

You can place bets either at a booth with a clerk attending, or you can use a machine with a touchscreen. I would recommend the latter, as the in-person booths can have long lines if not many people are working, plus people are kind of a hassle to deal with.

There are different types of betting that I’ll get to in a second, but based on whether or not you are doing a regular or an “exotic” bet, there’s a minimum amount of money you have to bet, typically one or two dollars for a normal bet. Contrary to popular (or maybe just my previous) belief, you don’t get the odds on the horse when you bet, but right before they leave the post, so odds for long shots typically increase as more and more people pick them.

Types of Bets

Now, the typical betting choices are picking a horse to win (come in first place), to place (come in first or second) or to show (come in first, second or third). It’s pretty self-explanatory that the odds for each bet for any particular horse are lowest to win and highest to show.

In addition to simply picking one of these, you can dip your toes in the more “exotic” bets horse racing has to offer: exactas, trifectas and superfectas. When doing an exacta, you pick any two horses to finish 1st and 2nd in a particular order. For trifectas, you pick three horses to win, place and show in a particular order. And for superfectas, you pick four horses.

Because the odds on certain horses can be pretty long, and the fact that exotic bets involve permutations of finishing order, the payout is a lot higher on those races. But here’s the rub: if the horses you pick all finish at the head of the pack, but not in the order you selected, you don’t win. There’s an easy remedy though, because you can “box” it.

Taking a box on an exacta, a trifecta or a superfecta means that you place a bet on every permutation of the finishing order of the horses you pick. You can simply request a box on an exotic bet and it saves you the time and brain power of picking the horses in all the possible different orders, so if you place a $1 bet on an exacta box, you pay $2 — one for each possible finishing order. Likewise for a trifecta box, a $1 bet actually costs $6 for all the possibilities.

Tips and Tricks

Disclaimer: my career winnings at horse races are far less than my losses, so take my advice with a grain of salt. That said, I think I have a pretty good formula.

It’s no fun to bet on the favorites, especially because they have basically no payouts. Instead, bet smaller amounts on the long shots to show, place or win. Then, take some exotic bets. If you do an exacta, choose one sure-fire winner based on the odds or based on a jockey’s record, the two traits I’ve found most accurate, then choose another likely or semi-likely winner so the already low odds give you a nice payout. Similarly, for a trifecta, pick a couple of sure-thing horses, then pick a long-shot to be the third horse, because the best horses will almost always place, while very often there’s a surprising shower. All you need is a $1 bet on either of these, then box it, and your two or six dollars can give you a nice payout.

Of course, you should always be careful when gambling in any form or fashion, and never let your emotions get the better of you. But, if you have some cash to spare and want a to experience something new, head out to a horse track and see why Kentucky is built on thoroughbreds.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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