How do I bet on a horse race? - A guide for beginners.
For beginners going to the track can be a bit intimidating, yet it doesn't have to be. Here we will break down all the types of wagers you can place on the horse races.

What is pari-mutuel wagering?

Pari-mutuel wagering (a type of gambling designed for horse races) is the most common form of betting on North American horse racing and throughout the entire world. This means simply that every dollar that is bet is combined and put into a common pool. In other words you are not actually wagering against the track. You are in essence betting against your fellow gamblers at the racetrack.

The money all gets combined and put into a pool. The track simply takes a cut of this money, a percentage if you will, off the top. Then the remaining dollars are calculated into winning payoffs and redistributed at the end of the race to the winning ticket holders.

The amount of the track's cut (it's called take-out to be fancy) varies from track to track and from wager to wager. They actually take out less money on Win, Place and show bets than on more exotic wagers, like the trifecta and superfecta.

Simple Bets

The most common and simplest types of bets you can place are Win, Place and Show bets. Keep this simple rule in mind, all bets at the track are figured in $2 denominations. This means simply that all wagers are calculated for the standard $2 minimum bet. Why? that's simply the way it's been done since the beginning and they continue to calculate them that way today.

The most common type of bet is called a Win bet. If you bet a horse to Win then it must finish first in the race. Normally there is only one winning horse, however some races end up in a tie. They call this a dead-heat, this means that 2 or more horses actually tie for first. So in this case, they pay more than one horse to win. Luckily this rarely happens. Remember you have to bet at least $2 to win, you can bet more if you want to.

To place a Win bet, walk up to the teller and say I want "$2 to win on the #4 horse". This tells the teller that you want to bet $2 to Win only on the #4 horse. You only collect if the #4 horse finishes 1st in the race. If he finishes 2nd or worse you lose. How much you win if the #4 wins the race is determined by his win odds.

The Odds

Like I stated earlier the odds are determined by the bettors, so they can change right up until the betting stops. This is similar to how the price of a stock can fluctuate from minute to minute. As people bet more on a particular horse, then the odds will drop. You find out the odds by looking at the tote board.

The tote board is the big board out in front of the main part of the track. It has large numbers at the top 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,etc. these denote the horse numbers in the race. Below the number for each horse you will see lighted numbers that are the odds. These numbers should be changing if you watch them right up until the post time (the start time) for the race.

If you find #4 on the board and it says 6-1 underneath, then this means that you will win approximately $6 for each dollar that you bet to win. Now remember i told you that the payoffs are figured in $2 amounts, so if i bet $2 to win on the #4 horse and he went off at 6-1 odds. Then i win $6 for each $1 that i bet. So i will win around $12 in total, plus i get my original $2 wager back. This is why a 6-1 horse pays around $14 to win.

Below is a list of what a horse will pay to win (approximately) for each $2 win bet.
Odds: Payout (for each $2 wagered)

1-9: $2.20

1-5: $2.40

2-5: $2.80

1-2: $3.00

3-5: $3.20

4-5: $3.60

1-1: $4.00

6-5: $4.40

7-5: $4.80

3-2: $5.00

8-5: $5.20

9-5: $5.60

2-1: $6.00

5-2: $7.00

3-1: $8.00

7-2: $9.00

4-1: $10.00

9-2: $11.00

5-1: $12.00

6-1: $14.00

10-1: $22.00

12-1: $26.00

15-1: $32.00

20-1: $42.00

50-1: $102.00

Place and Show bets

If you want a little more leeway than just finishing first then you may want to consider a place or show bet.

A Place bet wins if your horse runs first or second in the race. So the first 2 finishers in the race are the Place horses. On a place bet you collect if your horse finishes 1st or 2nd.

A Show bet gives you an even better chance of collecting than a place bet, as a show bet wins if your horse finishes 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the race.

Now generally a horse pays less to place than to win and less to show than to place. This is almost always the case, but is not always the case. That's because someone could place an extremely large place or show bet on a runner and by this change the odds.

Across the Board Bets

For a beginner, this is probably your best way to go. Walk up to the window and tell the teller that you want $2 across the board on the #4 horse. You just bet $2 to Win, Place and Show on #4. This way if #4 Wins you collect all 3 bets. If he places you collect the Place and Show bet. If he Shows then you still get a little something back.

An across the board bet just means that you want to bet the horse to Win, Place and Show. You could say "$2 to Win, Place and Show on #4" but you will sound a lot more savvy if you tell the teller $2 across the board on #4 instead. You won't look like as much of an amateur either.

How to read the results board

Below is a typical horse race result, I'll break down how to read it for you.
10th race - Gulfstream Park 04/03/2011
# Horse Win Place Show
7 Dialed In 7.80 4.80 4.00
5 Shackleford   36.60 15.20
2 To Honor and Serve     4.20

Ok, in this example the #7 horse Dialed In finished 1st. He pays $7.80 to win for every $2 you bet. $4.80 to place and $4.00 to show.

#5 Shackleford finished 2nd. You can win on a Place and Show bet on him. If you were lucky enough to bet to Place on #5 then you get $36.60 for every $2 you bet to place. If you bet to show then you get $15.20 for every $2 you wagered. (this was obviously a longshot)

#2 To Honor and Serve was the show horse. If you bet $2 to show on #2 then you get back $4.20. By Kerry Zangara