Horse Racing Betting Guide

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Although betting still gets a bad reputation among some groups, it is synonymous with horse racing given that many races, matches and competitions started way back in time for the sole purpose of the organizers wagering on the outcome between them.

As long as it is done sensibly, betting on horse racing provides a major thrill and contributes to the overall wellbeing of the sport given the money generated by tracks and by online wagering firms goes back into the sport.

In this glorious internet age, the tools are all there to help you bet more professionally and give yourself a greater chance of success.  Here we have some guides to help you along, starting with the basics and getting to some more advanced stuff later on.

It’s always helpful before you begin trying to handicap horses that you at least understand what the odds mean, so check out our horse racing odds on that to ensure you know how much you may be paid out for your horse.

Betting on Horses – a Beginners Guide

To actually place your first bet you’ll need a funded online account and you can get one by registering with America’s number one choice, and there’s a nice bonus included for new customers too.

Listen to the Pros

We will of course be helping you to understand the terminology, understand statistics, read the form and much more on our betting pages but regardless of what level you are at or get to in the future, at first it’s always helpful to listen to our experts’ coverage of racing who can guide you the right way with their picks and analysis.

Listening to people who have already put in the time this sport demands means you’ll pick up plenty of tips on how things work and that, allied with reading our guides, can boost your knowledge to ensure you will be placing horse racing wagers with confidence in no time at all.

Placing Your Bets

Once your account is live, which will take a matter of minutes to complete, you can start placing your wagers but remember to read the rest of our guide first.

On TVG’s main page you will see ‘Horse Racing’ at the top.  Within this there is a ‘Full Race Schedule’ to look at with races from all over the world available to bet on.  Simply click on the race you wish to wager in, take a look at the field and click on the horse you want to bet.

Your betting options will become visible then, all you have to do is enter the appropriate amount and click ‘Bet Now’ when you are ready to go!

Basic Horse Betting Angles

Once you’ve gotten your head around this game there are thousands of different angles you can use to attempt to get an advantage and it remains a fact that different angles work for different race conditions.

Here we take a look at some of the most common angles used by amateurs and pro handicappers alike when attempting to make a solid race selection and place a bet.

Trainer Form

Stats on trainer performance are as readily available as stats on horse’s performances on the track, with some naturally more successful than others within the sport.

Generally speaking the cream rises, so a trainer winning tons of races and tons of prize money can be considered a solid option but remember that some really good trainers exist who simply don’t get the same success on the track.

This can be because, as good as the best trainers are, they still need to have the most well-bred, expensive and athletic horses sent to them while some of the best younger handlers out there can get the job done but won’t yet have the armory in their barn that they maybe deserve.

When looking at trainer stats, the advice is not to simply concentrate on win rate or overall prize money alone, but also whether a trainer has more success with sprinters, route horses, juveniles, fillies or any other specific area of the sport they may specialize in.

Jockey Form

Much like above, the best jockeys once they have proven themselves will usually be offered the best horses to ride so you don’t need to become an expert on riding styles to spot who the best pilots in the business are.

Although many top jockeys are officially attached to certain barns on retainers, they are free to move around so be on the lookout for jockeys switching allegiances in the big races.  Their agents will attempt to get them on the horse with the best chance of winning so a jockey changing his ride is often a big sign he or she believes they are making a smart move.

The very best jockeys in the world can win in most race conditions, but check out the stats in depth to discover whether some riders are better at certain tracks, over certain distances or perhaps at a certain level – the most skilled jockeys in the world don’t always get success in low grade races but you can bet they are at their very best when riding in Grade 1’s as their coolness and ability truly shines when it counts.

Horse Odds

In a perfect world we would regularly find horses we believe have an outstanding chance of success and are available at 20-1, but in reality the more we back outsiders the less successful we will be.

The stark reality is that around 85% of all winners come from the first four horses in the betting, i.e. from the favorite to the fourth favorite and so until you find that overpriced gem remember to concentrate most of your efforts on the most obvious horses in the line-up as they are favorites for a reason.

Gate Position

As all tracks in North America are left-handed and fairly tight, gate position is often crucial in that you want to be drawn on the inside of the track when going round the turns.  Think of this the same way an Olympic athlete does; running out in lane 8 means you essentially have to cover more ground.

Keep a check on stats related to race distances at each track, as sometimes there is no provable gate advantage at all while at other tracks it is crucial.  Case in point the Kentucky Derby where the safety limit is 20, so whoever is coming from out wide is 20 horses deep from the start and has a lot of extra energy to give away to get into a good position early in the race.

Speed Figures

Judging how quickly a horse has gone from one point to another gives a good insight into its overall ability, so while many online entities offer data on this a good and accurate starting point would be Bris and you can check out how to use speed to handicap horses.

There are many different ways to interpret speed and its importance in the context of a race, with a solid angle being to find a race in which only one horse has solid early speed.  This usually means that they will break quickly and get a ‘soft’ lead, allowing them to dictate the pace and kick on from the front whenever they like having saved plenty of energy for the stretch.

Helpful Stats for How to Bet on Horse Racing

Betting on horses, other than being a little bit of fun, is all about trying to give yourself the best chance of success and not simply taking a guess.  Even without true professional or insider knowledge you can edge ahead of the lay person by taking in the information that is readily available out there on the web.

Here are some basic stats that stand the test of time, all of which you should have on your side when thinking about betting a horse:

  • Favorites win about 32% of all horse races. This is true right around the world.  Of course, betting the favorite every time means low payoffs and with more than two thirds of them unsuccessful betting them all will mean a loss.  But, they are favorite for a reason and around 85% of all winners come from the first four positions in the betting market, as mentioned above.
  • During a meet, 90% of all races will be won by horses ridden by jockeys who are in the top ten in the rider’s standings. In this case a lot of the hard work is done for you; the best jockeys will often get on the best horses so by seeing who the rider is you are essentially finding out what the best horses are too.
  • Odds are important as we’ve said, but the morning line is simply a rough guide as to where odds compilers believe the field will stand come post time. Don’t use this as a truly reliable measure though it remains a handy guide.

Common Online Horse Betting Tools

When you head to the track, some of the traditional tools are obvious.  Grabbing a race program which lists all the horses, gate positions, form, trainer and jockey stats will help but betting off-track online means you actually have a bigger wealth of information at your disposal, including but not limited to the following:

  • The track’s official website. This gives you direct information regarding the surface, who the top performers there are and usually handy hints as to any gate position bias and such like.
  • TVG’s guides. Right here on these pages we cover all you need to know about betting on horses so make sure you are well informed before making a selection for real money.
  • Not every handicapper gets it right every time, but they are in this position because they have worked for years within the industry so listen to what they have to say and learn from them.
  • Speed figures. Various online platforms offer information on accurate speed figures at a cost and these can prove crucial in dirt races in particular.  Download a racecard and see what horses factually are quicker at certain points of a race.
  • Stats websites. Equibase and others provide stats track-by-track, horse-by-horse, jockey-by-jockey etc so you can see, without bias or prejudice, who and what is performing well and under what conditions.

Reading the Horse Racing Form

By clicking on any race within the TVG website you’ll see a basic racecard showing the horse number, which in North America also correlates with their gate position, so horse number 1 will be in gate 1 and so on, then current morning line or live odds will appear before its name and pedigree, its trainer and jockey names and the weight it carries.

To read the form, speed ratings and other useful information you can simply click through whatever type of card you are reading to find out more detailed information.  As they are all different depending on where you get your information some trial and error is needed, but it becomes pretty obvious what you are looking at over time.

Where possible always cross reference the statistical information you’re reading with a more detailed explanation or even a visual clue, as by reading for example that a horse won by a half-length doesn’t seem too impressive but you may discover that they did things really easily on the day and therefore had more to give if it was required, meaning you can ‘upgrade’ the performance somewhat.

With any racecard or results page you will see where the horses lined-up, where they all finished, how they ran (descriptions include things like “ran wide, hit the front with a furlong to go, lost the lead at the eighth pole” etc), what track they were at, how much the race was worth and the conditions of the race.

All of this information is crucial but there are myriad factors to take into account so for a beginner, sticking with ratings, speed figures, trainer and jockey form will be the way to go.

Handicapping Horses Using Pedigree

For many this is seen as a more advanced angle to take, and while it remains useful throughout a race horse’s career given that things can change even when they are four or five years old, it is particularly good to know its influence when it comes to 2-year-olds or those making their race track debut.

When race horses are still juveniles, it goes without saying that there is precious little to go on in terms of form on the track or speed ratings.

Breeding is so crucial with thoroughbreds though and a great many race animals take on the same traits as their family, making their lineage an angle we can use to attempt to determine what surface a horse will like, what distance will be their optimum and sometimes even what their rate of improvement will be.

It’s a well known fact for example that over in Europe, top sire Dubawi’s progeny keep on improving right up to at least four so whatever they do as juveniles and even as 3-year-olds, you can expect them to keep going forward and handicappers must factor that in when attempting to second guess how well they will run in a certain race.

There are some wonderful North American sires especially successful in Triple Crown races, Breeders’ Cups and Dubai World Cups but sticking with the European angle here, there is a superb example of how important breeding really is in the shape of the now deceased Sadler’s Wells.

A great horse in his time, Sadler’s Wells was bred in the United States but was trained in over Ireland where he won top class races over a mile and a mile-and-a-quarter as a racehorse.  He was sent to stud and some years later it became apparent that his progeny had stamina as well as speed and he became synonymous with the Epsom Derby.

One of his Derby winners was Galileo, the champion sire as we speak, who won at Epsom and himself went on to produce great horses.  One of those was Frankel who became the best horse seen in modern times and now that he is at stud he has produced the likes of Cracksman, the best horse in the world as of 2018 according to international ratings.

None of this is a coincidence as the family line is so important, but it also means that through their successful progeny we know what sort of distances a horse will prefer when they are mature.  Trace that back and you kind of also know what they will like as young horses too.  Here are some of the things to look out for, breeding-wise:

Basic Sire Statistics

Look at lists of leading sires, these can be split into the best sires of 2-year-olds, best dirt track sires, best turf sires etc.  See if the horse you’re looking at is by one of the outstanding sires and it will help you determine whether or not you think it has a chance of making it big and therefore is expected to run well early in its career.

The Sire’s Race Record

The Hard Spun’s, Galileo’s and Scat Daddy’s of this world had to be first season sires at some point, so with little in the way of stats to go on simply check out their own record on the track.  True, things will change a little with their progeny, but if you know what made them tick when they were racing you can imagine their offspring will take on some of the same traits.

Don’t Forget the Dam

We concentrate so much on what a sire and even a grandsire and damsire brings to the party, but don’t forget that the horse will take half of its DNA from the dam.  There is no equine sexism here, we simply use the sire’s information more often because he can produce dozens of horses in a single season while the mare is restricted due to being in foal for a year but her own race record and stud record will give you further hints as to what you may expect.

We have less information to go on when it comes to the success or otherwise of a broodmare, so remember to check out her race record for a hint at what she will bring to the party as many times her stamina will mean even a son or daughter of Scat Daddy will want extra distance to be seen to their very best when they go racing.

Race Distance and Surface

Remember to keep things relative.  A young horse may be about to race and you realise he is by one of the best stallions in the world.  But, if that champion sire gets most of his success with route horses on turf and your juvenile is about to run five furlongs on dirt, his excellent breeding may not do him much good at all.

All of this information is available widely and remains important right throughout a horse’s career.  Case in point races such as the Pegasus World Cup.  A horse may have run well in a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 2, the Kentucky Derby at 3 and maybe the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 4 years old.

This all points to the fact that they can stay the distance but when they head to Florida at age 5 perhaps, unless you see some speed in their breeding you would have to worry that as an experienced horse going down to a mile-and-an-eighth at a late stage in their career they will be taken off their feet by more exuberant horses and may not give their best running.

Top Tips for Betting on Horses

By way of a round-up then, keep the below things in mind whenever you are about to place a wager.  Think of it as a kind of ‘cheat sheet’ until you have the level of expertise you feel is where you want it to be.

Nobody becomes a pro overnight, it takes a long time to perfect this art and in fact we never stop learning as things in the sport change constantly.  Keep these factors on your side though to give yourself a great start:

  • Learn from your mistakes. A great man once said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  If they way you bet now is not working for you, change it.
  • Start with small stakes. If you win, great, you can increase your stakes over time.  But if you mostly lose, which almost all neophyte horseplayers do, then you want to minimize your losses until you are more confident of success.
  • Learn to read the form. Because so many factors are included in horse racing and it is an ancient sport, most of our terminology is very colloquial and a lot has to be abbreviated so be sure you understand the information you are reading.  Pros love to talk about racing so if you’re unsure, just ask!
  • Have a bankroll. There are many ways do run one of these, but as a starting guide set aside maybe $100 and only bet 5% of it on win bets.  If you’ve won and have $200 in your bankroll, terrific, you will be betting $10 a time but if it has slipped to $60 then by betting $3 a time you are being sensible and not losing all your money before you’ve had a chance to learn the ropes and hone your skills.
  • Be selective. There are hundreds of races every day around the world, but you don’t have to bet them all!  That’s a sure fire way to lose your cash.  With tons of statistics and advice at your disposal you can afford to only bet when you believe there is enough information on a horse to suggest it has a good chance of success at reasonable odds, so be patient.
  • Watch live. You can do that at TVG.  Stats are great and informative, but watching the race gives you a proper perspective.  The style of a victory, or of a defeat for that matter, will tell you more than the clock or the official ratings will and by listening to pros and interviews with horsemen you will glean lots of valuable information that you can then weaponize as a bettor.
  • Find an angle. Trainer and jockey form, speed figures, breeding, whatever it is if you feel the betting show doesn’t reflect something accurately and you believe a horse is going off at bigger odds than it needs to be then you essentially believe you have found good value, so don’t be afraid to make that bet.
  • Stay realistic. Given the above, you should not be afraid to bet on outsider if you truly feel the evidence suggests it has a winning chance.  But, the harsh reality is that most winning horses come from the top end of the betting pool and from an elite bunch of trainers and jockeys so stick with the obvious, at least at the beginning to give yourself a better statistical chance of winning.
  • Avoid exotics. At least at first.  Placing exacta’s, pick 6’s etc to small stakes can be fun and may one day lead to a big payout, but the truth is that the one thing a newbie and a pro has in common most often is that they stick to win bets.  The reason payoffs on exotics are huge is that your chances of winning are extremely slim.  So, unless you’re simply lucky, the best way to build your bankroll is to accumulate your winnings slowly and patiently.
  • Make your bets online. The world is small now, so use that to your advantage.  Long gone are the days of being required to attend the track in order to place a bet.  If you’re happy with your selection, you’re just a few clicks away from betting it and doing it this way will often mean you getting better odds or offers and promotions to boost your bank.

Maximize Your Horse Betting Wins with TVG

Now that you understand the best horse betting strategies, it’s time to put them to the test! TVG offers the best sign up bonuses for new players so be sure to check those out.

Still looking for more insight? Take a deeper dive into the strategy behind betting on horses with the following in -depth articles:

Horse Betting Terms


Horse Racing Odds

Horse Racing Wager Types

How to Bet the Triple Crown

How to Handicap Horse Racing Speed



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