7 Mistakes Horse Racing Bettors Make Every Day

Jockey Riding a Horse Next to an Image of a Fan of Money

Horses are wonderful animals and there aren’t many things in life that compare to spending a day at the track watching them compete. I always enjoy going to the horse track, but I can’t go to the races without placing some wagers in person.

I used to bet on horses based on odds, and even placed a few bets by picking horses that had names I liked. But I quickly learned that I needed to learn how to handicap the races if I didn’t want to lose too much money.

I started learning from my betting mistakes and improved over time. You can improve your horse race handicapping by learning from mistakes as well, and they don’t even have to be your own mistakes.

Here’s a list of seven mistakes horse race bettors make. Take the time to learn from these mistakes so you don’t make the same ones.

1 – Ignoring the Jockey

Amateur horse racing bettors tend to focus on the horses. While you need to learn how to handicap horses based on their abilities, you also need to understand how important the jockey is during a race.

I look at many things when I’m handicapping a horse race. These include:

  • Past results and times for each horse
  • Past results and times for each jockey
  • Past results when the horse and jockey have been paired
  • Track condition and weather of the current race as well as in past races
  • Pedigree of the horse
  • Experience of the jockey

One of the most important things I look for is how much experience each jockey has. Every jockey was a rookie at one time, but being a good jockey is more than just physical ability. It’s like many other professions in that you learn how to improve with experience.

Good jockeys also learn specific things about the horses they ride the most, which can give them an edge in a race.

I still place bets on good horses with jockeys who have less experience, but I lean toward betting on horses with experienced jockeys.

When you’re evaluating jockeys, take a close look at the horses they were on in their recent races. I compare where the jockey finished with the final odds. This isn’t always perfect, but it gives me an idea of when the jockey finishes higher than expected or lower.

2 – Ignoring Starting Position

It doesn’t usually take horse race bettors long to learn that starting position is important. But I still see gamblers ignore it every day, and that’s a mistake.

Another mistake that horse race bettors make is assuming that one position is better than another in every situation. You have to learn which horses perform the best from different positions.

Here’s an example of different horses performing differently from positions:

A horse that comes out of the gate fast has a much better chance to win from the rail than one who starts slow and finishes fast.

A slow start from the rail can bury an otherwise good horse and make it harder to win.

You should also look at how each jockey has performed in the past from each starting position. The performance of jockeys by position isn’t usually as important as the horses, but it can give you an edge that no one else is looking for.

3 – Overvaluing Speed

Speed is important in horse racing, because the horse that finishes first has the fastest speed for the individual race. But there are many more things that go into effectively handicapping a race than past speed results. The mistake many horse bettors make is only relying on speed, or relying on past speed results too much.

If you know nothing about handicapping horses, you can come close to breaking even in the long run by simply betting on the horses that have the best times in previous races. But you’re never going to make a profit doing this.

Learn how to use speed as a part of your handicapping strategy, but don’t make the mistake of relying on it too much. Other things like track condition, weather, and the jockey also come into play.

4 – Placing Bets Too Early

The way the odds and payouts work in horse racing is they’re set based solely on the amount of money bet on each horse. This means that the horse with the best odds isn’t always the horse that has the best chance to win the race.

This is good because it means that smart handicappers can make money by picking horses that have a good chance to win that others aren’t placing big bets on.

Racing Horses Running Around a Bend in the Track

But this also means that the odds on each horse change as bets come in. This means that the early odds on a horse might offer value, but when all of the bets come in the odds change so much that there isn’t any value on the horse.

You only have so much time to get your bets in, but you need to make them as late as possible. This way you have a good idea of the odds that you’re going to get when the race starts. A horse that’s a good value at 10 to 1 might not be a good value at 5 to 1.

5 – Making Long Shot Bets for Fun

Have you ever seen a horse that had odds listed at 50 to 1 and decided to risk a few bucks just because of how much you can win? Most amateur horse bettors have ether done this, or at least thought about doing it.

While long shot horses do win from time to time, the truth is that there’s usually a good reason why they’re long shots. Winning horse race bettors make bets based on value, not based on hoping to get lucky.

When you place a bet on a long shot it has to be because you think it offers value. If you don’t see value, you should never make the bet.

6 – Overvaluing Pedigree

Before I get into the danger of overvaluing pedigree, I want to make it clear that pedigree is somewhat important. The best horses often produce offspring that put up good numbers. But the problem is that some bettors rely far too much on pedigree.

Each horse is unique and is trained by someone and is ridden by a jockey. If you use the world’s worst trainer and worst jockey on the best horse, the horse isn’t going to perform as well as it can.

On the other hand, the world’s best trainer and jockey can’t turn a terrible horse into a winner.

When you’re evaluating horse races, it’s good to know something about the pedigree of each horse, but it’s just one small part of effective handicapping strategy. Don’t make the mistake of overvaluing pedigree when you’re handicapping horse races.

7 – Making Large Bets on Heavy Favorites

Typically at quality online sportsbooks heavy favorites offer low odds. This means that when you win a bet on a heavy favorite your return is smaller than when you bet on horses with longer odds. Does this mean you shouldn’t bet on favorites?

Remember two things you learned earlier. The first thing is every bet you make needs to be based on value. This means that is the favorite offers the best value in comparison to the odds you should bet on the favorite. But when the odds don’t offer value you shouldn’t make the bet.

The other thing you need to remember is how odds work in horse racing. A big bet can make low odds go even lower. This is why I don’t recommend making big bets on big favorites. When the odds are low and you make a bet that makes them even lower, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

Side View of Racing Horses

Too many things outside of your control, the horse’s control, and the jockey’s control, come into play during a horse race. A horse can stumble or get bumped or get trapped during a race, and the split second can be the difference between winning and finishing second.

When you make big bets on heavy favorites you have to win almost 100% of the time to make long term profits. This isn’t the best way to make a profit, because there’s too much risk.


The next time you take a trip to the horse track and place a few bets you can improve your chances to win by avoiding the mistakes listed on this page. Start by evaluating the jockeys and starting positions, and don’t put too much value on speed.

Wait until the last minute to place your bets, avoid the long shots, don’t make big bets on the big favorites, and don’t overvalue pedigree. When you avoid these mistakes you’re going to have a much better chance to leave the track with money in your pocket.