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Reading the odds board

by Tom Law

Success at the races involves many factors, including a good understanding of the odds.

Odds in the pari-mutuel system are based on percentage of the net betting pool placed on each horse in a particular race. The net betting pool is determined by the total amount bet, minus standard deductions from the racetrack known as takeout.

Takeout varies according to the type of bet. Win, place and show wagers, along with some horizontal bets like the Pick 6 and Pick 6, usually offer the lowest takeout at about 15 to 17 percent. Exotic bets – exacta, quinella, daily double, trifecta, superfecta, Pick 3 and Pick 4 – usually feature a larger takeout.

The odds display on the tote board or on close-circuit television monitors at the racetrack or simulcast outlet are typically up-to-the-minute and for the win pool. Tracks in North America display odds rounded to the nearest dollar, although final odds are calculated in decimals (cents). For example, a horse listed at 2-to-1 on the odds board could actually be 2.30-to-1.

The tote board will display a great deal more information, including post time, the number of minutes until post time, time of day, track condition, running time, track condition and scratches and changes.

All races feature a morning line, predicted odds from an individual hired by the track. The oddsmaker uses a mathematical formula for the morning line and attempts to gauge the ability of the horse and the likely odds as determined by the bettors. Simply put, the morning line is a prediction of what the final odds of a race will be, if all the horses remain in the race, from one individual’s viewpoint.

Some odds are displayed fractionally, such as 5/2, 7/2 and 1/2. Use this chart for a better understanding of the odds and payoffs:

Odds Payout

Even (1/1)$4.00
30- 1$62.00

Better yet, to figure out what a winning bet will pay for a $2 wager, take the odds of your horse and multiple the first number by 2, divide by the second number and add $2. It’s that simple.

About the author

Tom Law is a native of Saratoga Springs, New York, who grew up going to the races at historic Saratoga Race Course. He started his career in racing as a sports writer and public handicapper for The Pink Sheet, the daily racing publication produced by The Saratogian during the Saratoga meeting. He also spent nearly 15 years on the editorial staff at Thoroughbred Times, an international racing publication based in Lexington, Kentucky, and served a six-year stint as president of the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters. A multiple award-winning writer, including the prestigious Eclipse Award for coverage of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, Law now serves as managing editor of ST Publishing, producers of The Saratoga Special, back in his hometown.

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