The Four Legs Of Horse Racing Betting

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While team sports such as football and basketball basically restrict the sports betting fan to winning about as much as he bets, horse racing betting offers the opportunity for a life-changing experience. That said, turning $20 into $20,000 in a single afternoon (yes, it's been done) not only requires overcoming vigorish of more than 20 percent on multi-horse bets at the best betting sites but a measure of skill, discipline, and, of course, luck.

There are dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of factors that go into analyzing and betting on a horse race. However, professional gamblers usually concentrate on these four legs that comprise the basic handicapping and betting table. Let's look at those legs:

Speed (Beyer Speed Figures)

“It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet,” wrote Damon Runyon. Yes, clearly, the horse on which you bet must be fast enough to win the race. How do you know if he's fast enough? Years ago, when there were no such things as Speed Figures, bettors “class handicapped,” choosing horses who they thought were of a greater quality. But quality largely is determined by speed so when a horse displayed his “quality” by being faster than his opponents, it usually was too late for a bettor to reap those rewards.

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Then came the “sheets,” a reliable but expensive way to chronicle a horse's speed. Finally, in the early 1970s, Washington Post writer and thoroughbred racing author Andrew Beyer developed the Beyer Speed Figures, which now are available in Daily Racing Form, the indispensable “bible” for horse racing betting enthusiasts. The Beyer Speed Figures provide a “fig” of how fast a horse ran, relative to track conditions (more about that later).

The horse you bet doesn't have to have the highest Beyer Speed Figure in the race but his numbers should at least be comparable to the top figures in the race. Savvy bettors also look for a pattern of improving or, at least, consistent Beyer Speed Figures. Remember, your horse doesn't have to be the fastest horse in the race, he just has to be the fastest horse in the race that day.


Since most horses aren't superior enough to win irrespective of tactics, how a race is run often determines the outcome. Look at the quarter times for two separate mile races below:

24                     48                     1:12                  1:36

22.1                  45.4                  1:10.3               1:36

Although the final times (1:36) are the same, the races were run quite differently. In the first example, it was an evenly run race and the winner likely was near the front of the moderate pace. In the second example, the first half of the race was far faster than the second half-mile and the winner probably came from off the pace to catch the tiring front-runners.

This is where handicapping is essential. Bettors should try to determine how the race will be run and which horses will benefit most from that scenario.

Track Bias

There are two types of track biases, tactical and positional. A tactical bias means that the racetrack is favoring a particular running style, such as on the lead or coming from behind. A positional bias provides an advantage to a horse based on his location on the track, either inside or outside. Often, the two biases work in tandem such as “inside speed” or “rallying wide.” Most often, track biases are caused by a series of atmospheric conditions, not the least of which is moisture in the track surface.

Clearly, if you've been able to identify a bias—and they can change from day to day—it's wise to try to bet a horse who meets those conditions. So, if a track is favoring speed, look to horses who have shown a fondness for going to the lead, etc.


Professional bettors understand that betting the race's most likely winner is not as important as making a good bet. So value, the price of a horse in comparison to his chances of winning, is a crucial factor. A horse who has a 50/50 chance of winning is a horrible bet at odds of 1/2 while a horse who has a one in three chance of winning is a much more appetizing bet at odds of 5/1. For long term success, don't try to pick the winner; make a bet that has value.

For horse racing betting fans, speed, pace, track bias and value are the four legs of a successful betting approach.