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Horse Racing Systems: 5 That Work

Looking for a dead simple horse racing system that will allow you to quit your job and make a living betting the horses in just 10 minutes a day? Good luck with that!

For as long as humans have bet on horse racing there have been system sellers trying to con the gullible into parting with their hard earned money with the lure of easy profits to be made on the sport of kings. Let me let you in on a little secret about these "magic formulas". None of them work.

In the first place, the parimutuel takeout in horse racing is large (over 15%) and the mutuel pools are relatively efficient, so that even systems with a strong basis in reality can't overcome the size of the takeout.

Second, the very nature of the parimutuel system itself means that any profits to be made from following a particular set of rules will quickly be arbitraged away as the followers of that system drive down the odds of horses chosen by the system.

For instance, many speed figure handicappers reported making horse racing profits in the 60's and 70's simply by betting horses with the best last race speed figure. Because speed figures have gained in popularity over the years, anyone following that system now would have trouble coming up with gas money for the ride home from the track.

However, just because systems won't make you rich doesn't mean there's no place for them at all in a horseplayer's arsenal. Most people who love horse racing would be thrilled just to win a little more and lose a little less on their trips to the track.

In that spirit. I've identified some of the most useful handicapping factors that have a proven history of doing much better than the track takeout and put them together with some simple rules that should make your trips to the racetrack more fun and profitable. Just don't expect to quit your day job.

Horse Racing System #1 - In maiden races, bet the horse with the best last race speed figure that has had at least two career starts. This system takes advantage of one of the few glaring inefficiencies in the parimutuel pools, namely that first and second time starters are badly over-bet.

First time starters return only about 60 cents on the dollar, and second time starters are only a little better, returning less than 70 cents on the dollar. It must follow, therefore, that if we bet the best horse that has started at least twice, we stand an excellent chance of beating the takeout, particularly in races that have several first and second time starters.

The horse with the best last race speed figure (whether Beyer, BRIS, or Equibase) may not be the best horse in the race, but he's probably not far off, so we can use that as a proxy for selection purposes.

Horse Racing System #2 - Bet horses that have an excuse for a poor performance in their last race. In most case the public seems to take a horse's last running line at face value. Few bother to even look at the comment line for the race, let alone take the trouble to seek out and watch the replay of the race. This offers opportunity to more diligent players.

Look for comment lines like "bled", "lost rider", "clipped heels", "stumbled", "steadied", "between horses", "rank", and "jumped shadows" that suggest that a horse's last race was not indicative of its true ability. If the tote board suggests that the public is overlooking these mitigating circumstances, make your play.

Horse Racing System #3 - In maiden claiming races, bet the horse with the best pedigree. To the extent that most handicappers use pedigree at all, it's usually to identify horses that may improve when switched to the turf, or those who may be expected to win as first time starters. My computer studies of pedigree, based on nearly 100,000 races, suggest that using pedigree in that manner offers no advantage to the player.

In fact, pedigree does not generally offer wager value with one curious exception: well bred horses do surprisingly well in maiden claiming races. This is somewhat counter-intuitive since you'd expect that horses with good pedigrees that end up in the maiden claiming ranks probably can't run at all. My study suggests that's not the case.

How do we identify the best pedigree, then? If you're using the DRF past performances, use the stud fee as a proxy for quality, and the Tomlinson figure to judge suitability for the distance and surface. With the BRIS pp's you can use the Sire Production Factor in concert with the pedigree rating. The horse with the best combination of the two is the play.

Horse Racing System #4 - Bet low-priced favorites to place. This is another mistake that bettors make: in a race with a clear standout, many people give up on the win pool and bet their choice to place, thinking that they'll get paid even if the favorite wins.

This causes the favorite to be under bet in the place pool, leading to a profit opportunity for us to take advantage of by betting the favorite to place. It should go without saying that you should actually like the favorite's chances after evaluating the race with your own handicapping.

Horse Racing System #5 - Bet Horses breaking from the inside post in route races. One of the few anomalies turned up by Michael Nunamaker in his pioneering computer study "Modern Impact Values", published in 1994, was that horses breaking from the inside post position in route races won more than their fair share of races, and were under-bet by the public. I was able to replicate this result in my own study of nearly 100,000 races conducted a decade later.

Nunamaker reported that the inside post in dirt route races won at a 20% greater than expected rate, and lost only 10 cents on the dollar, much better than the track take. The inside post in turf routes actually showed a small profit, but this was based on a small sample size and cannot be relied upon. My own studies have shown a similar advantage for the inside post in routes.

Instead of blindly betting all horses breaking from the inside, you might use this to supplement your handicapping, paying particular attention to the inside horse, and betting it when you like the horse on other handicapping grounds. The inside post combined with early speed is a particularly potent combination, since the horse will not have to exert himself as much to gain his preferred position at the front of the pack.

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None of these systems will make you rich, or even guarantee that you will make a profit. They will, however increase the chances of a profitable day at the races by ensuring that your wager dollars go where they have the best chance of success. Thanks for reading, and see you in the winner's circle.


the grandmeister on October 22, 2013:

i will give 2 things garnered after 50 yrs of racing .the ecuador system -- if a jockey,trainer , win 2 races .bet them rest of card .you'll usually get another winner. also when the money is split on the favs = bet the longshots. also there are some who chart the ex payoffs etc .they spot a figure they think is a lot lower than it should be ,they play it. i don't subscribe to that 1. of course know your home track combos ie at bel. rice & cornelio velasquez, jacobson & cohen etc etc. pletcher red hot winning with everything use. nice column should help new players & old timers too. all i do now is make spot plays . i've been doing pretty good. was waiting for gourmet dinner, paid 9-1 sometimes i don't bet for days . but when i do i usually am in contention thru stretch g/l all GM

Dan Lynch on August 28, 2013:

Hi , My father advised me, "When you are fishing aren't you happy to catch one fish at a time?" Thanks, but I'll stick to his advise.

Kenneth Claude from Ohio on March 30, 2013:

never bet a horse that debuts in a cheap maiden claimer, regardless of pedigree. a good horse starts in special weight. well written hub

Jed on November 08, 2012:

Make sure you're obtaining the top price bet or as close to it as possible, it is the biggest keys to winning in the long term, make shopping for the best price your pursuit. Do not bet with pari mutuals or the tab, they are robbing you by taking 15-18%. Anyone that tells you "any price a winner is a good price" is a losing punter, steer clear of them.

Rog17 on July 23, 2011:

Great hub and sound advice. The last one does have some variance from track to track though--it's always wise to know your home track's bias.

guysilat on July 03, 2011:

Comes down to hard work really. Discipline, dedication, and a system definitely!

caswell.dw on April 26, 2011:

I don't think your system matters a lot, other than it picks around 40% winners or better.

It is more important to have a good staking system.

The point about punters soon taking a price is true. However, like ju jitsu, the wieght of money forces favorites into false favorites and shorter than their true odds. That means there are horses that should be 3/1 or thereabouts that are actually between 4/1 and 8/1.

I don't know what the winning percentages are in the USA for all favorites , except that you must go broke because you are taking unders too often, but with careful staking, that 4/1 and out range lets you survive because you are almost always taking overs.

Richard Reese on February 08, 2011:

I would add in horse system #1 that you shouldn't discount a maiden horse that has one start under their belt and performed so-so to blah...maiden horses with one start in their career, many times move up 8 to 11 beyer speed points in their 2nd career start.

Natural Horsemanship on March 28, 2010:

NIce... thanks for the tips... It is really helping me..

BILL on February 18, 2010:

I would add to wheel the 5 longest horses in any maiden turf route, especially mdn clm. The longest prices come from those races. I love to use them in pick 3 and pick 4 bets because they are unpickable. You can go 5 deep in those races and not find them. Early speed is the key too.

bonetta hartig from outback queensland on February 12, 2010:

picked the first 3 in the Melbourne Cup once, put everyone else's bets on and then forgot to put mine on - liked your hub gonna show it to an old friend of mine - he is a pick 4 man -does alright sometimes

hattersmen on January 15, 2010:

Great hub. It really is possible to make a living from horse betting , when you put your heart into it !

Mike on September 12, 2009:

good advice, it is smart to pick medium range favorities to place!

yamanote from UK/Spain on August 08, 2009:

haha, your first para really made me laugh. i am going to stick with poker myself as at least you will win as long as you beat the rake and are better than your opponents.

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