Win, Place, and Show wagers are the bedrock of betting on horses and undoubtedly the most accessible entry point for the beginner. Every tote board in the country displays win odds prominently, and often place and show pools as well, making it easy to identify which horse or horses to put your money on. With knowledge of how these three wagers work, you’re more than ready to make your foray into the world of horse betting.
A win wager is exactly what it sounds like; you’re betting on a horse to come in first place. Typically you would place a win wager on one horse, however it is possible to bet multiple horses to win, though of course only one can actually win (unless there’s a dead-heat) and there is usually a $2 minimum bet.
All payoffs you see are based on a $2 wager (because that’s the standard minimum bet), but the odds are usually presented before the race in terms of each dollar wagered. For example, if you were to bet $2 on a horse at 3-1, which is what you’d see pre-race, you would then see the post-race payoff as $8 if that horse were to win (in other words, three times $2, plus the base $2 bet).
Betting on horses to win is the bread and butter of any serious or casual bettor. In order to be successful at it, you must be able to identify what are known as overlays, or horses whose actual chance of winning is greater than their odds suggest. To be profitable long term, it’s not sufficient to just bet the horse you think is the most likely winner, as often times these horses end up as underlays (i.e. their chance of winning is less than what is implied by their odds) because they are obvious to most people and tend to attract more money than they should.
Consider the flip of a coin. If you were to be given 8-5 odds on heads (an overlay) and 3-5 odds on tails (an underlay), the choice would be a no-brainer given the outcome is truly 50-50, meaning fair odds on both would be 1-1. Successful win betting requires you not just to pick who you think will win the race, but to also consider the probability of that horse winning. Once you’ve weighed those two factors against one another, if you believe you’ve found a horse whose chance of winning exceeds what the odds reflect, you should make a win bet.
Making a place bet means that you are wagering on a horse to finish in either first OR second. If the horse you bet to place comes in first, you win, and ditto if they come in second. Regardless of where they finish, first or second, you will receive the same payout, which is almost always less than a typical win payout.
The reason for the lower payouts is that there are more winning tickets, since two horses in every race get paid out in the place pool. The payout is also dependent upon the two horses that occupy the top two spots. For instance, you may bet a big longshot to place that comes in, but if the horse in the other slot is a heavy favorite, one who accounts for a huge chunk of the place betting, you might receive considerably less than you think you deserve.
To bet on horses to place successfully, the same principles as win betting apply: you are looking for horses who have a greater chance to come in the top two slots than what is implied by their odds. Unfortunately, a major obstacle in finding overlays in the place pool is having to calculate what their odds even are, as place odds are not readily available the way win odds are since they are dependent upon another horse.
A show bet is betting on a horse to finish in any of the first three slots – first, second, or third. As with place betting, the show payout is the same regardless of which slot your horse finishes in, and instead depends on the horses who occupy the other two slots.
Generally, show betting is the most popular wager among newcomers to the racetrack as it offers the least amount of risk of any bet. The downside to this is that there is virtually no value in betting to show. Sure, you’ll likely cash a lot of tickets, but if just one or two of your selections fail to come in the top three spots, you’ll quickly see your bankroll evaporate. Over the long term, betting to show is a losing proposition.
Occasionally, the payouts to show can be super inflated. This happens when a horse, usually an overwhelming favorite, has taken an extraordinary amount of money in the show pool and then finishes off-the-board. These situations are called minus show pools, as bettors (otherwise known as bridge jumpers) are looking to capitalize on the guaranteed payout for what they perceive to be a sure thing. This dramatically boosts the payouts for all other horses in the show pool if that horse doesn’t come in.