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Learn to Bet on Horse Racing: Playing the Monster Odds Board

By: Tom Amello

While racehorses are the primary focus once the starting gates open, keep and eye on the odds board to give you an idea what to expect in advance. (Eclipse Sportswire)

To recap, if the problem for new fans to racing is not knowing how to win and have fun, one solution is understanding the Odds Board. The plan is to first learn to bet, then learn to handicap. The Odds Board is the starting point. Thoroughbred racing is a game of opinion, and the parimutuel Odds Board presents that opinion.

We began this series discussing the “Monster Board,” the one-horse race, the “kiss” horse, the heavily bet favorite so loved by the crowd they could kiss it.

The “Two-Headed Monster Board” is the second type or Odds Board picture. This board presents a less clear opinion of public favorites. The crowd reduces the race to two runners but can’t make up its mind which one it would rather kiss. The betting problem is like that facing Robert’s Frosts narrator in his classic poem “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both …

Like the traveler, players face a choice over two paths. But, unlike the traveler, since the paths are near inseparable, the player at the track can pick both.

From the perspective of odds to win percentage, the two heavily favored horses often own a combined 65% -80% chance of winning.  Using the chart below, for example, two runners at odds of 8-5 (38%) and 9-5 (35%), respectively, combine for a 73% probability of winning. One of them is extremely likely to win. But which one?

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

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


Strategy for Playing the Monster Board:

Example of a Trackside tote board – field of nine with #3 and #5 “Two-Headed Monsters”

1)  7-14) 10-17) 27-1
2)  24-15) 6-58)  8-1
3)  9-56) 4-19) 13-1
  1. Concede the win to both favorites, eliminating the 2nd and 3rd choices from running second.
  2. The wager is an Exacta with both Monster favorites to win on top, using longer odds runners ranked 4th, 5th, 6th betting choices to finish second. 

THE WAGER for the above Odds Board: 3-5 over 1-4-9


Race 6 from Gulfstream Park on March 18, 2023, presented bettors with a Two-Headed Monster Board with #3 Strong Embrace and #5 True Blue Pearl. Morning-Line Oddsmaker Pete Aiello signaled a 2-horse race. Below are DRF graded entries listed from favorite to longshot. Note the short odds on #3 and #5 and the spread between those two and 3rd choice #6 at 5-1:

After scratches, as this field of seven went to post, 3rd and 4th choices were near equal odds and 5th choice #4 was 20-1. This situation called for Exactas 3-5 over 4-6-9 as the proper play.

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Last updated: February, 2024

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