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Learn to Bet: How to Win Betting on Horse Racing Using Simple Strategies

By: Tom Amello

If asked, “how does one who knows little about Thoroughbred racing have a fun day at the racetrack”, my answer is to reverse the traditional path. “First, learn how to bet, then learn how to handicap.”  This series discusses the concept of the Odds Board as the path to understand the gambling that is at the core of Thoroughbred racing and have fun at the racetrack.

My introduction to the racetrack came through my father and uncle, two New York City horseplayers who never met a favorite they liked. They took me to the New York tracks. In days long before Off-Track Betting and simulcasting, they took me out of high school for a trip to place a bet on a horse shipping from Aqueduct Racetrack in New York to Laurel Park in Maryland. The horse lost, of course, but the trip was hysterically memorable. Pops and Iggy were results charts, horse-for-the course handicappers. They fed me horses to bet while at college in upstate New York, home to Saratoga Race Course. They helped me understand the gamble at the core of the game. Scratch most race trackers and you’ll find a similar story. Someone was directly responsible for introducing them to racing … a mentor. This series intends to “mentor” racing’s newest fans. So, what does a new fan need to know about how to win?

First learn to bet; then learn to handicap. Applying a series of simple wagering strategies to an understanding of the Odds Board leads to winning and being close to winning. There is no need at this point to use traditional past performances. First learn to bet; then learn to handicap.  While not intended as a strict methodology for winning, these concepts offer a clear path to understanding how wagering on Thoroughbred racing works. Understanding the crowd’s opinion expressed through the odds board is the core principle.

The concept is “Playing the Odds: The Tote Board as Gateway to the Game™.”  Simply, the “live” Odds Board represents the collective opinion/wisdom of every player invested in the wagering pools for that race. Near everything players think they know about horses in a race is factored into the “live” odds.  Said another way, the Odds Board represents the collective wisdom of the crowd.

Additionally, the Odds Board informs by illustrating a “picture” of the type of betting race facing the crowd. And there are only four pictures generated by the “live” odds. Each Odds Board picture dictates which simple wagers those new to the game, without an opinion of their own, should make. Wagers will be made into Win and Exacta pools.

The four Odds Board types are:

  • The Monster Board – A single heavily bet favorite at very short odds of 7-5, 6-5, 4-5.Strategy: Exacta Bets
  • The Two-Headed Monster Board – Two heavily bet favorites both at 2-1 odds or less.Strategy: Exacta Bets
  • The Balanced Board – A clear favorite (9-5), clear second choice (3-1). and clear third choice (9-2).Strategy: Win Bet and Exacta Bet
  • The Chaos Board – No clear favorite with three or more runners at similar odds.Strategy: Win Bets and Exacta Box Bets

As post time approaches, identify the board. Apply simple wagering strategies. Have fun.

Our next installment will further develop the four types of races and wagering strategies.


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.

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Last updated: February, 2024

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