Parimutuel Wagering 101

Placing a bet on a horse is like placing your order at Starbuck’s – it has its own language. Whether you’ve been following a particular horse’s career for months and have his family tree memorized back three generations or if you pick the one whose jockey’s wearing the cutest silks you still need to sound knowledgeable when you place your bet.

Only the first three horses to finish will win money for you. That’s called finishing “in the money”. First place is Win, second is Place, and Third is Show. You can bet your horse to Win, Place, or Show and as long as they finish at the level you selected or better you win money. Now of course you win more the more accurately you predict the results of the race, and that’s where it gets fun. An Exacta is when you pick both the Win and the Place horses – an Exacta win will get you the big bucks. Increase your odds of hitting this type of wager by betting on several different combinations of horses. For instance, if you think the 2 horse and the 5 horse are both great and the rest of the field (all the other horses) looks like dog food, then you may want “a $2 Exacta box with 2 and 5”. This means you’ll pay the nice man $4 and you win if the horses come in 2-5 or 5-2. Got it? Now what if you think there’s one horse that’s just going to win by a mile and the few other horses in the race just shouldn’t have shown up? That’s when you want to bet “a $2 Exacta wheel with 5”. If there are four other horses in the race this will cost you $8, but you will win the Exacta as long as the 5 horse wins – it doesn’t matter who comes in second because you’ve bet them all! The Trifecta is when you pick Win, Place, and Show, and that’s just a little too exotic for me – I don’t take a calculator to the track. And you’ll notice I mentioned the horses by number, not by name. The number is their post position. Don’t go up to the window and ask for a $2 bet to Show on Happy Henry. You may not see them roll their eyes, but it’s happening, trust me. How much money will you win if you pick the right horses? It all depends on their odds at the start of the race. Odds can change tremendously during the last 30 minutes or so before a race as bets placed are taken into account. A favorite may go off at 5:2, which means if you bet $2 and he wins you get $5. Not too impressive, huh? But look at that field horse that’s going off at 20:1. Place a $1 bet and you get $20! Sometimes you just have to be optimistic and bet the long shot (especially if it’s got a clever name and the jockey’s wearing cute silks).

My favorite way to bet on the Derby from the comfort of my own home is TwinSpires.com. They are the official online wagering company for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, and we’ve really enjoyed using their services the past couple of years. If you’re considering placing real bets at your Derby Party check out the TwinSpires site right away – there is a several-day delay from the time you open your account until the time you can use it. But you know what can be just as fun? Type up all the names of the horses, cut them out, and let everyone pick a horse and throw $5 in the pot – winner takes all. It’s all about having a horse to cheer for.
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3 thoughts on “Parimutuel Wagering 101”

  1. WOW! Thanks for the lesson. I feel a little more knowledgable now…but I still don't know a darned thing about horses or racing or betting….but if I ever have the urge, i know who to ask 😉

  2. What a great lesson! I love betting the long shots, but mostly I bet by the most unusual name or if a grey is running. If I don't cash a ticket I've still had fun.

  3. did I ever tell you the story about how I won $75 on a wheel bet? Then, I promptly lost it later at the bar …. sigh.

    Good job with the explanation!

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