Simple Ways to Play

By Joe Kristufek 

The past couple of seasons, Arlington Park has allowed me to take education to the fans. During the live season,’s Brian W. Spencer and I conduct semi-regular “Learn to Win” seminars on the Apron level near the entrance to the park area. 

During the course of these assignments, we cross paths with horseplayers of all kinds, from beginner to intermediate to advanced. Regardless of your experience, learning in this game should be continuous and it’s how we apply that knowledge that will ultimately determine our level of success. 

Analyzing the race is only half the battle. The other half is constructing tickets that give you the best chance to win. 

You know what really bugs me?

When people come to the racetrack and wager against themselves.

Sometimes they bet three different horses to win. Other times they bet one horse to win, another one to place, and yet another to show.


Why do they do this?

Simply put, they don’t know any better. Their goal is to cash a ticket, not maximize their potential to win. 

For newcomers, it’s important to get your feet wet and find some success. Once you understand the fundamentals of wagering and cash a few tickets, you can move on to more intricate wagering strategies. 

For the sake of examples, let’s say your bankroll is $20 per race. Your goal is to enjoy a day at the races, pay your food and adult beverage tab and still leave with more money than you came with. Here are a few simple wagering strategies you can employ. Notice I use the word “investing” instead of “betting” or “gambling.” We are here to win, aren’t we?

Situation #1: I like one horse in a short field (7 horses or less). 

Invest in the horse to win, but invest more on that horse to place. 

The fewer the horses, the smaller the across the board payoffs will be, especially if the favored horses run well. Investing in a horse to show in a race with a short field doesn’t make much sense, even if you like a longshot. If the favorites run first and second, even if the “longshot” runs third, that horse isn’t going to pay very much to show. 

The Bet:
If you like one horse in a short field, regardless of the odds, consider investing $5 to win and $15 to place. If the horse runs second, you’re likely to make a small profit. If the horse wins, you cash BOTH tickets!

Situation #2: I like one square-priced/longshot horse (7-2 or higher) in a race with a larger field (8 horses or more). 

Approach: Stack your across the board investment. Invest to win, more to place, and even more to show. 

Reasoning: In a larger field of horses, if you’re able to pick a horse at a decent price that winds up finishing in the top three, the win, place and show prices should all pay well. 

The Bet: For example, say you like a horse at odds of 5-1 in a 10-horse field. Consider investing $2 to win, $5 to place and $10 to show. Let’s say he runs third, and pays $4.00 to show, we still make a small profit. Under the same scenario, if the horse wins or places, we’ll do even better. 

Situation #3: Finding a horse we really like in every race is impossible. Often times, we find ourselves torn between two horses, and choosing one can be painstaking. This is where the best bet at the track comes in – the Exacta partial wheel. It’s inexpensive and very hittable. 

Approach: If you like a couple of different horses in a particular race, key BOTH of them on top in the Exacta. Decide for yourself which of the remaining horses can run second, and use them in the place spot. 

The Bet: For example, if I like the #1 and the #4 equally, and I think #2 and #7 are also good enough for second, I would construct my Exacta ticket this way: 

$2 Exacta partial wheel 1-4 with 1-2-4-7 = $12 invested. Even if the favorites finish first and second, you’re still likely to make a small profit. If the Exacta returns $50 or $100, which is quite possible, you’ll make a nice score. 

If you play Exacta partial wheels all day, and hit every other race, you have a wonderful chance to attain the goals we discussed earlier. 

Determining which horses are going to run well in a particular race is just half the battle. Constructing tickets that maximize your chance at a profit is the determining factor as to whether you win or lose. Good luck, and have fun!