A Primer on Horse-Race Betting - TheStreet

A Primer on Horse-Race Betting

If you want to wager on the Belmont, here's a guide on some of the many ways you can do it.
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If the upcoming Belmont Stakes is giving you the urge to place a bet or two, this guide can teach you a little bit about what to expect.

As one of the only sports with legal and sanctioned betting involved, horse racing has a strong following with the gambling crowd. Betting on a horse race can make the viewing experience that much more rewarding because it gives the bettor a clear horse to cheer for and adds an entirely new element to the event.

Still, it's not something that should be entered into lightly. In preparation for the

140th Belmont Stakes

this weekend, here are a few of the more basic things needed to understand and get started in the world of horserace betting:

The Odds

Before placing any bets you should first know how to interpret the money line odds. Essentially, the odds that are given are what determines how much money a winning bettor will be paid. It's a ratio of the amount won for a correct bet to the amount originally wagered.

For example, in this weekend's Belmont Stakes the heavy favorite Big Brown has

odds of 2-5

. This means that for every five dollars bet, you would win two. So if you place a ten dollar bet for Big Brown to win and he does, then you would stand to collect 14 dollars. That would include the original $10 that was bet, plus the $4 that was won based on the odds.

Of course, these money lines are determined by professional oddsmakers based on any number of variables from the total amount being wagered on the horse to the type of track and the weather that day. It's important for the amateur bettor to fully understand the odds before wagering any money, and to know what they stand to win or lose by doing so.

Finally, payouts may change drastically based on the type of bet made. Each track is specific and the odds for the individual horses will not change, but the payouts may increase for bet types that are harder to win.

The Types of Bets

There are several different bet types and combinations that can be made for a horse race. Many of them are specific to the track, type of race and number of races being held each day, so be sure to check with the appropriate track if you are unclear.

These are a few of the more common bets you might encounter:

Win bet

: This is a straight-up bet where you are essentially just picking the winner. You bet on one horse to win at whatever odds have been set, and if that particular horse finishes first then you win.

Place bet

: A variation on the win bet is the place bet, which also requires you to pick just one horse. If that horse finishes first or second you win, but receive a slightly lower amount than the win bet.

Show bet

: This works in the exact same way as the win and place, only this time you win if the chosen horse finishes first, second, or third. As with the place bet, this pays out even lower.

Perfecta, trifecta, superfecta

: These are three different bets that require you to pick two, three, or four horses respectively. In order to win, those horses must cross the finish line in the first two places for a perfecta, first three places for a trifecta or first four places for a superfecta. They must also finish in the exact order that you specified. Each pays out progressively better than the last.

Boxed Bet

: This is a form of the perfecta, trifecta or superfecta bet where you are betting on every possible combination within that original bet. For example, if you place money on a perfecta for horses X and Y, you would pick them to finish in a specific order, say X first and then Y. But with a perfecta boxed bet, you would also place another bet where those same two horses finish in the opposite order. Obviously, on a trifecta or superfecta you will have to place more bets, because there are more combinations for that number of horses to finish.


: Also referred to as "letting it ride," the parlay involves making multiple bets as one group. The catch is that any winnings from the first race will carry over and be placed as the bet on the next race, and so on, for however many races the bettor chooses. Parlays are tricky in that you must win every race to collect any money, and once the parlay has started you must let it go the duration of all the races you chose, so there's no quitting while you're ahead.

As with any sport, there are far more nuances to learn than these simple basics. But understanding the odds and the main types of bets to be made is a good start to getting into the world of horse racing.

Finally, while betting horse racing is a widely legal and sanctioned practice, each state may have their own laws. It is important to always check the laws regarding betting in your home state.