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

By: Tom Amello

Tapit Trice in the March 11 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is a great example of an Odds Board featuring a “monster.” (SV Photography)

If the problem for new fans to racing is not knowing how to win and have fun, one solution is providing an understanding of how the gamble at the core of the game works. My solution begins with the Odds Board.

Today, we flesh out one of the four pictures presented to bettors by the Odds Board.  First, several supportive research-based facts:

  • The pari-mutuel Odds Board is a relatively efficient “market.”  Efficient means the betting favorite wins more than the second choice, the second choice wins more than the third choice … and so on.
  • Approximately 90% of winners are ranked among the public’s first 3 to 5 betting choices. (Note larger fields like the 20-horse Kentucky Derby and 14-plus-horse fields for big days may expand to include the first seven choices.)  
  • For all races, the public betting choice, the favorite, wins 30% to 38% of the time. 
  • Heavily bet favorites in the 3-5 to 6-5 odds range win at more than 40%.

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

































A “monster” at odds of 4-5 holds a percentage of the crowd’s parimutuel wagering pool giving it a near 56% probability of winning. One could say the Odds Board is a form of “racetrack love.”

In that context, the “Monster Race” is a one-horse race. The crowd “LOVES” a single horse. It’s the “kiss horse.” The crowd loves this horse so much they could “kiss” it.

All things being equal, statistics give the “monster” a high win probability. But statistics predict; statistics don’t determine. And, at the racetrack, all things are never equal. The favorite should win and is almost certainly capable of a second-place finish, but it could also lose and finish out of the top three.

Strategy for Playing the Monster Board:

Example of a trackside tote board – field of 10 with #4 a “monster”
1)  8-15)  30-19)  5-1
2)  50-16)  6-110) 10-1
3)  15-17)  12-1 
4)  4-58)  8-1 

When the “monster” wins, exacta payouts with second and third choices to finish second are often not worth the risk. Under our concepts, the most reasonable wagering option, then, is to concede the win to the “monster” and eliminate the second and third betting choices. The best wager is an exacta with the “monster” to win on top and use longer odds runners ranked fourth, fifth, and sixth choices to finish second. We concede the win to the “monster”; play to beat the second & third choices with others.

THE WAGER for the above Odds Board: 4 over 1,8,10

Most recently, on Saturday March 11, 2023, the featured Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs presented bettors with a “monster” in #6 Tapit Trice.

Second betting choice #6 Classic Legacy finished third.

The next three choices were close at double-digit odds. The third and fourth choices in the betting failed, while the fifth choice in the public wagering, #2 Classic Car Wash, ran second at 13.10-1. Exacta bets with 6 over 2,9,12 would have been the proper play.

In conclusion, informed and empowered with this single understanding 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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Last updated: February, 2024

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