Horse racing odds are presented differently in all parts of the world, depending on the jurisdiction. In North America and Japan, betting is pari-mutuel, meaning done on a pool system based on morning line odds. In the United Kingdom and Australia, it can be done with bookmakers, where odds are offered at different prices and the bettor can choose the outfit that best suits their needs.
The odds for the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2021 were last updated on March 18, 2021:
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Pari-mutuel betting – or fixed odds betting - in horse racing is a kind of betting where all of the bets of a particular type are put together in a single pool. The “house” or host racetrack takes a cut which can then be used as purse money, and then the rest of the pool is divided between the winners. It is often referred to as a Tote (short for tote board or totalizator) system because the odds and payouts are calculated and displayed automatically.
When the Tote system opens for the day, wagers are accepted on each race. Horses are given morning line odds, which are the “starting” odds for each horse that day. The line makers use a mathematical formula to decide who will be the favorite in the race and work from there. The odds are then changed as the pool grows, with money coming in on different horses.
As soon as the gates open for the race, the wagers for that race are suspended, with no more money being accepted into the pool. Depending on the odds of the winning horse and the amount of takeout on the particular bet, payouts are then calculated and made official.
43 states in the United States allow pari-mutuel betting. The states that don’t are Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Utah. Canada and Japan both also use the pari-mutuel system, which was first developed in 1867.
Wagers available to bettors start with simple win, place, and show wagering. Win is picking a horse to finish first, place is first or second, and show is finishing in the top three. Playing a horse “across the board” is playing them to win, place, and show. This bet costs $6, as it is $2 for each finish position.
Exotic wagers include exacta, trifecta, and superfecta wagering (called exactor and triactor in Canada), where bettors pick the top two, top three, or top four horses in order. Boxing these horses means that they can finish in any order, such as an exacta box being two horses that can interchangeably finish first or second, or a trifecta box where three or more horses can finish in the top three spots in any order. Bettors can add as many horses as they want to these boxes, but the price will increase with each horse added.
Multi-race wagers include the daily double (picking the winners of two races in a row), the pick 3, pick 4, and Pick 6. Payouts can be big, especially if one or two wagering favorites do not win.
A minus pool is a pari-mutuel pool – often a show pool - where one horse is so heavily wagered on that after deductions there is not enough money left to cover the prescribed minimum on each bet. This results in a minus pool, where the track is forced to pay out to cover the cost.
A scratch or non-runner is when a horse is originally entered in the race but is taken out either on the advice of the veterinarian, or the owner or trainer’s wishes. The wagers placed on that horse are then refunded, or in the event of a multi-race wager already in play, the bettor receives the race favorite. The Stewards are the officials of each meeting who determine the outcome to be final and will demote any horses that race erratically or bump or impede others. If a horse stumbles from the gate or loses its rider, the wagers are not refunded. A horse is declared a “non-starter” when something happens at the break, such as being held in the gate accidentally or refusing to start the race at all. Those wagers would be refunded.
An overlay is when a horse is going off at bigger odds than its lifetime form and recent workouts suggest it should be. An underlay is the opposite; the odds are too low and wagering opportunities abound for the handicapper.
A dead heat is when two or more horses finish right together on the wire. In that instance, the pool is divided between any bettors that had both winners, which means the return is half of what it could have been if the horse had won the photo finish outright.
If a horse is disqualified in North America, any winnings are forfeited by the bettor, who loses their wager. But in the United Kingdom, bets are settled due to the First Past the Post rule, where a horse can win, be disqualified, and still payout unless it was carrying the incorrect weight on its back.
Bookmakers and Odds
Other countries, including those in the United Kingdom and Australia, use bookmakers. Often called “bookies” for short, these organizations or people take and pay off wagers at different odds than those presented by the racetrack or the pari-mutuel tote. This practice is illegal in the United States.
Whereas North America has win, place, and show wagering, the United Kingdom offers “each way” wagering, where one half of the stake goes towards winning, and the other half goes towards the second and third place, or even fourth place if there are over 16 runners with a quarter or fifth of the odds. Online betting sites have even given the option to go to fifth or sixth place with reduced odds.
Standalone shops – formerly known as turf accountants - are prevalent on many streets in the United Kingdom. These shops offer wagering away from the racetrack, much like an Off Track Betting facility in North America. They offer horse racing, greyhound, football, and even virtual racing with animated horses.
In 2001, a betting exchange was unveiled for the first time in England. Bettors were able to make wagers on horses that they were backing to not win, rather than win. This is called “laying” the outcome. This was revolutionary because, for more than 100 years, handicappers were only able to choose what horses they liked to win, not lose.
Backing a horse is liking it to win, and laying a horse is wagering on it to lose. The betting exchange requires people on both sides of the transaction, or it doesn’t work. This type of wagering can also be done during the race, rather than before the gates open.
An accumulator – or parlay bet - is similar to a Pick 3 or Pick 4, where bettors are asked to string together winners from multiple races. The difference, however, is that bettors can select their own races, as opposed to in North America where the multi-race opportunities are selected and printed in advance.
Best Bookmakers for Horse Racing Odds
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