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The Kentucky Derby and Preakness are in the record books, leaving only the Belmont Stakes in June to complete horse racing’s Triple Crown. If you are already prepared to bet on the race, this is for you.
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Even a small bet can turn into a big payout if you pick the right horse – and make the right bet – and it’s not impossible to turn a $5 bill in your pocket into $100 or more. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you pull up at the Churchill Downs window, stop by the outside betting site or log into your favorite betting website.
Once you’ve narrowed the field down to a few horses you like, it’s time to find out what the experts think about your choices. Check out the morning line – the odds given to each horse by professional track handicappers before anyone starts betting on the race.
This shows that he will win the handicaps. If Quick Sam has short odds, perhaps 2/1, the handicappers think he has a good chance of winning the race. If Slow Poke’s morning line odds are 50/1, the handicappers suspect that every other horse in the field is ahead of him. The morning line odds are usually indicated next to the horse’s name in the program or online race card with the notation “ML”.
Let’s say you decide to bet on Speedy Sam as he looks a sure winner with odds of 2/1 on the morning line. If he wins, your $5 bet will only return you $15: twice the amount of your bet plus your original bet.
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But if Slow Poke works a miracle at 50/1 and somehow finishes first, your $5 will net you $255 – 50 times your bet plus the bet. The problem with this bet, of course, is that you are more likely to have a worthless bet when the race is over than money. The pundits have made him a 50/1 longshot for a reason – he will run against much better horses.
The question then becomes whether you want to play it safe or make a substantial return. Even a “gesso” – a horse considered so good that it goes for even money or less – will give you a return on your investment if it wins. It just won’t be close to $100.
The morning line rarely, if ever, accurately reflects what a horse will pay if it wins. As race time approaches, each horse’s odds shift slightly up or down as people across the country — and in the case of the Derby, the world — place bets on him.
Keep an eye on the bookmaker and minute odds as the race approaches. It’s that big sign in the field if you’re actually at Churchill Downs that’s usually lit up with twinkling lights. If you are betting online, you can check the current odds on the race card next to the name of the horse.
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Post-time betting odds reflect actual game activity on each horse. The more bets are placed on him, the shorter his odds become. If the bookmakers give up on him, his chances increase.
You get paid based on how you win, if you win, not what the pundits think when they hit the line in the morning. If bettors see something they like in Slow Poke and bet on their 30/1 odds, your winning $5 ticket will pay $155, not $255, no matter what the morning line says.
In this respect, betting on horses is different from betting in other sports. If you place a bet on your favorite team to win the Super Bowl at 20/1 before the season and the odds drop to 7/1 as the season progresses, your odds are locked. Your payout on the horses is based on the starting odds of the race, not when you bet.[x]
Here’s a tip: If a Slow Poke drops from 50/1 odds to 20/1 or less in a few seconds, it means bettors are making significant bets on a horse somewhere. Either they know something you don’t or they’ve had too many mint juleps.
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“Straight” bets are your least complicated option and are the safest. This involves betting that your horse will win, place or show, meaning that it will come in first, second or third place respectively.
If you bet on him to win and he does, so do it. If he finishes second or third, he loses. But if you bet on him on the spot, you will win money if he wins or finishes second, and if you bet to show, you will win money if he finishes first, second or third.
Of course, there is a caveat. The odds of betting on a horse are the “odds of winning”. That’s what it pays if you actually win. The payment of second and third place depends on how many people bet on it, and also which horse finishes first, so they are much more difficult to calculate.
Suffice it to say that the winners are always less than he had won the horse. A third place pays less than a second place.
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The bottom line is that you are unlikely to win $100 or more if you bet on Fast Sam, because even if he wins or comes in second, you will only get third place. And remember, it went with 2/1 odds, so it doesn’t pay much to begin with. Slow Poke will pay much better than the show bet because of its long odds, but not $100.
So how do you make a straight bet to maximize the capitalization of your bet? One option is to bet on your horse “on the edge”.
Shows This is technically three separate bets, so the value of your bet has just increased from $5 to $15. But if your horse wins, you will collect three times – on the winning bet, the bet and the show – and each payment it will, of course, be more than your $5 bet.
You can lose some money if you land in third place, because you would bet $15 to cover all the odds, but only collect the third place payout. Fast Sam could pay $6.50 to see $5, because he loses the difference. Again, if Slow Poke finishes third and you bet on him, you can get your initial $15 back because of his great odds. Don’t just win $100.
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“Exotic” bets pay the most for a reason – they are hard to beat. They involve betting on more than one horse, so Fast Sam and Slow Poke would both have to finish in the money to win.
Exact betting means picking the first and second place horses in order, and this will usually pay much more than winning straight betting tickets on one or both horses. The winnings will be substantial, more than $100 for an exact bet of $5 if Slow Poke manages to finish first.
And here’s some encouraging news: Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, offers $1 precision boxes. You can bet on five different combinations of horses on this $5 bet to increase your chances of winning $100 or more .
Let’s say you add I’m Pretty Good to the horses you like. You can make an exact bet with Fast Sam and I’m Pretty Good, one with Fast Sem and Slow Poke, another with I’m Pretty Good and Slow Poke, and maybe throw in a few more horses for good measure.
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For some bets in 2019, Exacta paid well. Bettors who chose Longshot Country House (65-1) and Code of Honor (14-1) – 1-2 finishers – won $3,009.60 $2 to be exact.
You can choose some other exotic bets if you feel a lot about your horses and want to win big instead of playing it safe. Betting on a trifecta means selecting the first three performers in order. It’s complicated, but it pays a lot more than being accurate. In 2019, with Tacitus finishing third, a $2 bet paid $11,475.30.
The Superfecta is the granddaddy of them all, one of the hardest bets to win in horse racing. It involves choosing the order of all four horses. But if you are right – and according to the probability of the horses involved – you may be able to
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