The purpose of today’s post is to help you get started with the absolute basics of horse race betting. I’d have to write a book if I wanted to take you through all the ins-and-outs of racing. Today, I just want to get you started with the basics and show you how to think like a winning handicapper.
This post is meant for all the newbies out there. I was there once too and it felt so overwhelming to run a search on Google for horse racing tips. Hopefully, this post provides you with a foundation that you can then build on with your own research and reading.
1. Bankroll Management
Bankroll management is my number one tip in all forms of gambling. No matter how good you are at gambling, nothing will save you if you don’t practice bankroll management. Having an edge isn’t enough; you must also have enough of a bankroll to survive the natural swings of variance.
Think about it like this. If you were to take a bet that offered you a 5% advantage, you’d have a great bet on your hands. Place that bet over and over and you’ll eventually amass a fortune. But if that bet had a bit of fine print that said “you must wager at least $500 on each bet” and all you had was $1,000, you would have a losing proposition. Even though you still have the advantage, you wouldn’t be able to overcome the natural variance.
Poor bankroll management can turn winning bets into losing situations. You need to have strict bankroll guidelines (and stick to them) to have any long term success in horse race betting.
The recommended bankroll for horse racing varies based on a few factors such as:
- How serious you are about growing a bankroll
- Types of bets you like to place
- Professional vs. amateur
First, some of your bankroll guidelines should be based on how serious you are about sticking with horse racing with this one bankroll. If you want to grow a bankroll without ever depositing again, you should stick with a more conservative approach. If you don’t mind depositing or reloading from time to time, then you can get away with something more aggressive.
Second, the types of bets you like to place have a big impact on your variance. Low risk, low payoff bets tend to give you smaller ups and downs. The jumps in your bankroll aren’t as extreme. High risk, high payoff bets put you through all kinds of extremes. You’ll go through long dry stretches punctuated by the occasional large win. You need a bigger bankroll to deal with the extremes.
You may even consider keeping two different bankrolls for different types of bets. For your small, basic bets, you can keep one bankroll with its own guidelines. For your big-risk, big-payout bets, you can keep a separate bankroll with its own set of guidelines.
Third, your bankroll should be dictated partially by how invested you are in horse racing. Do you use horse betting to pay the bills? If so, you’re a professional and I would assume you already have a bankroll system that works for you.
If you’re an amateur and interested in one day going professional, you should start practicing like a pro now. Be conservative. Understand that you’ll have to regularly withdraw from your bankroll one day. You need a much larger bankroll to deal with the added stress frequent withdrawals place on your bankroll.
Again, there’s no single rule of thumb for how you should manage your bankroll. But if someone put a gun to my head and told me to pick a number, I’d say 2%. That means if you have a bankroll of $500, each wager should constitute no more than $10.
2. Dirt vs. Turf
Take a little time to read up on the differences between dirt and turf tracks. The vast majority of horses perform well on either dirt or turf, but not on both. The horses that run well on turf rarely rack up significant wins on dirt – and vice versa.
Get into the habit right now of always taking surface into consideration. Every time you’re looking at a bet, take note of the surface and check the daily racing form to see the horse’s past performances on dirt, turf and wet tracks. If the race is going to be on turf, check that horse’s Tomlinson Turf Rating and look for a number of 280 or higher. This is an indication you might have a strong turf horse.
Eventually, you will want to learn more about the differences between dirt and turf tracks and how to pick horses based on track conditions. But for now, just knowing there’s a difference and seeing how your horse performed on dirt/turf in the past is a good start. Most people don’t even look at these things.
3. Take Your Time
Don’t ever feel rushed to place bets either in person or on the internet. If you’re running out of time and are afraid of missing a big bet, don’t stress it. It’s better to hold off and do better research than it is to get into the habit of placing last-minute, poorly-researched bets. Yes there’s a chance you will miss out on something big, but don’t let “what-ifs” throw you off in the future. A big portion of the gambling game is mental.
It’s especially easy to get caught up in the frenzy when betting online. It’s all too easy to be looking at a dozen different tracks, have about fifteen tabs open in your browser and feel like there are just too many good bets to pass up on. Slow down, take your time and make your bets methodically.
One thing you learn in gambling is that there is always more action tomorrow. Nothing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Take your time, do your work and place smart bets. That’s how you win over the long term.
4. Go Read a Book
There are some excellent horse racing betting books out there. The little tips articles you find on the internet (including this one) are good, but they don’t give you the deep, gritty details that separate elite handicappers from all the losing casual bettors.
What I recommend is to head over to the Amazon website, search for horse racing books and read the user reviews. The 5-star rating system at Amazon tends to be pretty accurate. Start with a basic book, read through it and then slowly add new books to your collection as you get comfortable taking your game to new levels.
5. Learn and Use the Daily Racing Form
I mentioned the Daily Racing Form (DRF) earlier but didn’t explain what it was. If you had no idea what I was talking about, click on the link below for an excellent tutorial. The DRF is a little piece of paper chock-full of information about upcoming races, the horses in those races, past horse performances, horse background information and more.
You absolutely must make the DRF your friend. It has all kinds of juicy information and is well worth the price. You can get one at the track for a few bucks or visit the DRF website for other places to buy it online. It’s an awesome resource and will pay for itself many times over.
The following link will take you to an interactive tutorial that explains every number and symbol on the DRF. Bookmark it and refer back to it from time to time. You’ll always find new uses for it.