7 Step Checklist for Betting on Horse Races

Image of Horse Racers and Sportsbook Background

Horse racing is popular in the United States and around the world. In fact, horse racing is one of the few real money online gambling activities that have been expressly legal in most of the United States for years. But just because it’s popular doesn’t mean that it’s easy to win.

Winning horse race gamblers develop their own handicapping system. One of the things that can help with a good system is a checklist. That’s why I’ve put together this checklist with seven steps to help you get started with your own horse racing handicapping system.

1 – Focus on Value Using Simple Bets

When you look at all of the available betting options at the horse track it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Some of the more exotic wagers with long odds show high pay outs, which lead many inexperienced gamblers to place small bets in hopes of getting lucky.

Smart horse racing gamblers don’t rely on hope when they place bets. They have a plan and try to use their plan to make bets that return a long term profit. Some winning horse gamblers make bets on long shots, but only if they determine that the wagers are profitable.

When you start evaluating horse races you should stick to simple traditional wagers. Start using win, place, and show wagers and keep using them until you learn how to make profit with them. Then consider looking at win/place and win/place/show bets to see if they help or hurt your profits.

Horse Racers in the Snow

After proving that you can make a profit, you might look at quinella wagers and trifecta wagers. These are bets on the top two and top three finishers in a race. But be careful of making box bets with multiple horses, trying to lock in a profit.

I see horse racing gamblers making box quinella and trifecta wagers with five or six horses. The problem with this is the bet costs so much that even when they win the return is usually small.

Focus on finding value with simple horse racing wagers. If you improve your handicapping skills enough, you might find that you never need to look beyond the simple wagers to make good long term money.

2 – Speed Is Important, But Not the Only Consideration

If you’re not using speed when you evaluate horses you’re not winning on a consistent basis. Speed is important in every horse race, because the fastest horse in every particular race wins. But the horse with the fastest times in the past doesn’t always win the next race.

I ran an experiment several years ago using speed almost exclusively with across the board bets. In the experiment I basically broke even. Of course, breaking even isn’t the goal. Making a profit is the goal.

The reason why I share this experiment with you is to show you two things. The first thing is that you can’t win using speed alone. The second thing is that you can’t win without using speed as a large part of your handicapping system.

3 – Track Conditions Are Important

Every race track in the world is unique. Some tracks are turf and some are dirt, but even within each of these two types of tracks there are considerable differences. The weather also comes into play when evaluating track conditions.

In order to handicap horses effectively, you have to know as much about each horse and their performances as possible. You’re going to learn more about tracking past performance in the next section, but I want to completely cover track conditions here.

It’s important to know the temperature that each race was run at, as well as the precipitation. How much was it raining and how long had it been raining? Was the track mud or just wet? Was it a downpour or a light rain?

It’s not enough to know the basics. If you want to have the best chance to win you need to become a true student of the horses you bet on and the tracks they run on.

4 – Comparing Past Competition

Some horses run the same no matter how good or bad the competition is. But some horses tend to run with the competition. The bad thing is that horses that tend to run with their competition don’t usually win. But occasionally you find a horse that can run strong based on the competition and is able to win several races.

You should always look at the level of competition each horse has faced in past races. But there’s a more important reason to consider the competition in past races.

Just because a horse was able to dominate a group of average horses doesn’t mean the same horse can compete in a race with better horses. A mistake that most horse racing gamblers make when they look at past race results and see a horse that has a string of high finishes. They just assume that the competition was the same as in the upcoming race.

If you want to make a profit betting on the horses, you have to dig deeper and spend more time evaluating horses and races than most gamblers. Instead of taking a quick look at the racing program and making a guess, figure out why each horse performed the way they did in each past race.

5 – Starting Position and Speed to the First Turn

One of the tricks I use when evaluating horse races is to track the speed to the first turn in previous races and look at what this means based on their starting position in the current race. It’s helpful if a horse has started from the same position in a previous race, but often you don’t have enough data to use this.

If a horse is able to win the first turn they’re in a strong position to show or better. Of course, you also have to rank horses that are strong finishers who can come from behind to win. Do your best to see if a strong finisher should be able to get out of the gate well enough to avoid getting buried.

6 – Properly Evaluating Jockeys

Jockeys are a challenging ingredient to use in sports handicapping. Most jockeys are good enough to win with a great horse, but they key is figuring out the ones that can get the most out of horses that aren’t as good as some others in the field.

I always look at the jockeys in each race, but I only use them to make small adjustments. The horse is always the most important factor, so don’t get distracted by looking at other things like the jockey and trainer too heavily.

7 – Buying Tips

I’ve bought just about everything you can imagine over the years when it comes to horse racing. I’ve bought systems, tips, advanced statistical packages, and software that was supposed to help me win.

While some of these things have helped me learn something new, for the most part they were a waste of money and time. I’m going to let you in on a secret that can save you a lot of money.

You shouldn’t buy anything that’s supposed to help you win more money betting on horses until you don’t need it. In other words, until you figure out how to be a winning horse racing handicapper you shouldn’t spend a penny on systems, software, or tips.

Picture of Jockey and Racing Horse

Once you figure out how to win consistently you can look for things that can improve what you’re doing. But it’s a waste of money to buy anything until then.

I do buy some advanced statistical reports from time to time, but the ones I use are extremely inexpensive. My total cost per race is less than $5, and I don’t always buy them.

Once you develop your own profitable system, you can use software to help you crunch numbers. But there’s not any software or system that’s readily available that’s going to help you turn a profit. Why would anyone sell you a profitable system or software instead of using it to make money betting on the races?


Use this simple checklist when you’re evaluating horse races. These seven steps will help you pick more winners. Stick with the simple betting options and use speed as a big ingredient in your evaluations. But don’t rely on speed numbers too much, because the fastest horse in past races doesn’t always win.

Never buy tips or systems because they’re a waste of money and time. Instead work on building your own horse handicapping system and keep revising and refining it until you consistently win.