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Learn to Bet on Horse Racing: How to Play the Balanced Odds Board

A fan at Oaklawn Park searches for a winner on Arkansas Derby day April 1 in Hot Springs, Ark. (Eclipse Sportswire)

By: Tom Amello

Thoroughbred racing is at least at two-part game. The handicapping part and the wagering/decision-making part. A single thread links this series of articles together. If a problem for new fans to horse racing is not knowing how to win and have fun, a solution is helping them understand the Odds Board, which rules the gamble at the core of the game. These Odds Board concepts are intended to help new fans experience winning and near winning, the real fun about Thoroughbred racing.

This week’s discussion focuses on the Balanced Odds Board. This board presents a spread in odds among three contenders: a clear public betting favorite (9-5 +/-), a clear second choice (5-2 to 7-2), and a clear third choice (4-1 to 9-2 +/-). Ultimately, the crowd “likes” one horse over others. From the perspective of odds to win percentage, Balanced Board favorites own a combined 30% to 38% chance of winning. There exists, however, a 60% to 70% likelihood of this Balanced Odds Board favorite losing. This favorite is no “monster,” it might win but may also be a “vulnerable” favorite, and should be treated as such.

Odds and Probabilities: Examine this abbreviated Odds/Win Probabilities Chart


Strategy for Playing the Balanced Odds Board:

Example of a Trackside odds board – field of nine with #3 a clear favorite, #5 a clear second choice, and #1 the clear third choice
1)  9-24) 10-17) 27-1
2)  24-15) 3-18)  8-1
3)  9-56) 4-19) 13-1
  1. Since the Balanced Odds Board favorite is a play-against favorite, a win Bet on the third choice is always the first wager.
  2. A three-horse exacta box using the first three choices is the easiest and simplest second wager. (The concern for this bet is sending an equal amount of money after varying payouts. But that’s a discussion for a later time. This is an easy and fun play.)
  3. An exacta using the third choice second under the favorite and second choice is also a fair play.

THE WAGERs for the above Odds Board:

  • Win bet on #1
  • Exacta box 1-3-5
  • Exacta 3-5 over 1

Race 2 from Oaklawn Park on March 31, 2023 presented bettors with a Balanced Odds Board. Below are DRF graded entries listed from favorite to longshot.


The linemaker saw a clear favorite. Not a short-odds “monster” the crowd could love and not a two-horse race. The #3, to the linemaker, was a horse he believed would be supported by the crowd to favoritism.

As this field of nine went to post, #3 was the clear 2-1 favorite, #6 clear 7-2 second betting choice and #7 Dream Streak was bet from 8-1 morning-line odds to third choice at 5-1.

This situation called for the win bet on #7 Dream Streak, an exacta box 3-6-7, and exactas 3-6 over 7 as the suggested play.


In conclusion, informed and empowered with these understandings of the Odds Board, new fans lacking knowledge of how to win and have fun at the track have a plan to do so.

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