betting horse racing odds

Betting on a horse race has the power to transform it into a thrilling event. It can also turn into a very profitable pursuit if you develop a flair for picking winners. First, you need to know how to read horse racing odds.

This guide will explain the difference between pari-mutuel payouts and fixed odds. We will teach you how to read horse bet odds and how to calculate your potential winnings, while breaking down the most popular bet types. Read on to learn more about calculating horse racing odds.

How do Horse Racing Odds Work?

Horse racing odds essentially tell you two things: a horse’s implied probability of winning the race; and the payout you would receive by placing a winning bet on that horse. They can be presented in various formats, so we have broken them down for you on this page.

Horse Racing Odds Explained

The majority of horse racing bets placed in the United States will be calculated on a pari-mutuel basis. This is also known as pool betting. All the money wagered goes into a pool. The industry takes a cut, and the pot is then divided between winning bettors.

You will see a dividend payout for the various markets – the win, place, show, exacta and so only. We have explained what these bet types mean further down this page. The dividend will highlight the winnings available on a $2 bet for most markets, and a $1 bet for exotics such as trifectas and superfectas.

For example, a $2 bet on Rich Strike to win the 2022 Kentucky Derby paid $163.60. That means you would have received $1,636.00 if you had bet $20 on him. A $2 place on Rich Strike paid $74.20, whereas a $2 place on Epicenter – the favorite, who finished second – paid $7.40. A $2 exacta paid $4,101.20.

Belmont Stakes tips - Rich Strike

How to Read Horse Racing Betting Odds

Some betting sites will also offer fixed odds betting on the biggest races, often several days or weeks before they begin. Fixed horse racing odds differ to pool betting, because you know precisely how much you stand to win, which is not the case with pari-mutuel bets.

Fixed horse racing odds can come in three different formats – American, fractional or decimal – but they will invariably be presented in the American style at US racebooks. That means they will begin with a plus or a minus.

If the horse bet odds start with a plus, it explains the payout you would receive from a winning $100 bet. For example, if a horse is priced at +400, a $100 bet would win $400. You also get your bet amount back on winning fixed odds wagers (whereas the return of your bet amount is already built into the pari-mutuel dividend), so you need to add that on for a total return of $500.

If the fixed horse bet odds start with a minus, it tells you the amount you must risk to win $100. For example, if a horse is -120 to win a race, a $120 bet on it would be required to generate a $100 profit. Your return would then be $220. You can choose any bet amount you like – within the betting site’s parameters – as the numbers are just a guide. For example, bet $6 at -120 to win $5.

Horse Racing Odds: Bet Types Available

Horse racing bets can fall into two broad categories: straight bets and exotic wagers. Read on to learn more about them.

Straight Bets

Straight bets are the simplest wagers you can place on a horse race. These are the options:

Win

This is a simple bet on which horse will cross the line first. It is calculated on a pari-mutuel basis for most races, but you will also find fixed horse racing odds on Triple Crown Races and Breeders’ Cup races at the best online betting sites. Sometimes the pari-mutuel payout is larger, and sometimes the fixed horse bet odds are better.

For example, the fixed horse racing odds made Rich Strike an +8000 (80/1) outsider for the Kentucky Derby in 2022, meaning a $10 bet paid $800 in profit and returned $810 in total. The pari-mutuel dividend was $163.60 for a $2 bet, so a $10 bet earned a slightly better return of $818.

Place

This is a bet on a horse to finish either first or second in a race. It does not matter whether it wins or finishes runner-up, as your payment will be the same in either case. All place bets are calculated on a pari-mutuel basis. Sportsbooks like BetOnline, Bovada and BetUS only offer fixed horse racing odds on the winner of a major race, and not on the place, the show or exotics.

Show

This is a bet on a horse to finish either first, second or third. Once again, it does not matter where in the top 3 your horse finishes, as the payout will be the same.

Across the Board

This is actually three bets – one on the win, another on the place and a third on the show – so a $10 across the board bet would set you back $30. If the horse wins, all three bets pay out. If it finishes second, only the place and show parts of the wager pay out. If it finishes third, just the show pays out. This bet gives you a degree of insurance in case your horse does not quite win.

Exotic Bets

Exotic bets require you to select two or more horses. That makes them less straightforward than wagers like the win, place and show. They are harder to nail, but you get a much larger payout if you can come up with winning exotic picks. These are the most popular options for anyone thinking about horse racing odds:

Exacta

An exacta requires you to predict the winner of the race and the runner-up. You need to specify the exact finishing order, hence the name. Payouts are pari-mutuel, and they are determined by how popular each horse was.

For example, a $2 Rich Strike-Epicenter exacta in the 2022 Kentucky Derby paid $4,101.20, as Rich Strike was a huge underdog, whereas a $2 Early Voting-Epicenter exacta in the 2022 Preakness Stakes paid a far more modest $25.80, as both horses were among the favorites.

Quinella

A quinella allows you to name the top two horses in a race, and they can finish first or second in any order. It does not matter which way around they finish, as your payment will be the same.

Trifecta

A trifecta requires you to pick the first three horses to finish a race. You need to name the precise finishing order. A $0.50 trifecta of Early Voting, Epicenter and Creative Minister paid $33.25 in the 2022 Preakness.

There are additional options, such as boxed trifectas and boxed exactas. They allow you to group several horses together and place a series of trifecta or exacta combinations on the horses in that group.

Superfecta

This bet requires you to name the winner of a race, the runner-up, the third-place horse and the fourth-place horse, in that exact order. It normally pays a lot more than the trifecta. For example, a $1 superfecta on the 2022 Preakness paid $162.90.

Daily Double

This bet requires you to pick the winning horse in two separate races. It is usually the first two races on the card, but many betting sites now offer a late daily double too.

If you want to push, you can go for a Pick 3 or a Pick 4, which require you to pick the winner of 3 or 4 consecutive races at the same racetrack.

How to Sign Up and Find the Best Horse Racing Odds

It is very easy to sign up with a horse racing betting site. Follow these steps:

  1. Just click here to visit the BetOnline homepage, as that is the best online racebook according to our experts, with high-quality fixed horse racing odds. Click the “Join” button to open the sign-up form.
  2. Provide basic information and then hit “Create Account”.
  3. A link will be sent to your inbox to verify your email address. Click on that link to complete your account registration.
  4. Select the green “Cashier” option to make a payment. Choose a deposit amount and banking method, enter your details and click to complete the transaction.
  5. Use a promo code to claim BetOnline’s new player welcome bonus, which can earn you up to $1,000 in site credit. It is for the sportsbook, but you will also receive a $25 risk-free racebook bet.
  6. Click “Racebook” on the main menu to see the pari-mutuel betting options.
  7. Select “Sports” on the main menu and then “Horse Racing” to see if any big races with fixed horse bet odds are available.

The Best Sportsbooks for Horse Racing Odds

We set out to uncover the best horse racing betting sites for US bettors right now. After an intensive reviewing period, we settled on these elite sites for the best horse racing odds:

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Marty

Marty is a sports writer and handicapper based in Pennsylvania. He has worked in the online gambling industry for more than a decade. He provides betting guides, picks and various long-form pieces for AFP.