Betting on Horses: The Secret Formula to Long Term Profits

Betting on Horses

Photo courtesy of fdecomite.

The quest for the Secret Formula to Profitable Betting on Horses started when the first bet was made on a horse race.  Over the years hundreds of “betting systems” have come and gone, none of which solved the mystery, that is until today.  I have found the Secret Formula and I am going to share it with you but before I do that I want to discuss the betting systems that do not work.

Tout Sheets

The first “betting system” most horseplayers are introduced to are Tout Sheets.  Basically these are the selections from a self-proclaimed expert offered for a couple of dollars.  On any given day a Tout Sheet might produce a profit but long-term they will not.

Many Tout Sheets claim to be money-making machines but that is because they take credit for winners even if they did not pick the horses in the correct order.  If their second or third choice wins they take credit for the win.  How many people bet two or three horses to win?  Not many and no one I know does.

In a similar vein many Tout Sheets take credit for giving out an Exacta when their second and third choices run one-two or a Daily Double if any of their three selections win two consecutive races.  I do not know about you but I never go 3 x 3 in a Daily Double.

One last point must be mentioned regarding Tout Sheets.  I am not sure if this still happens but in the past Tout Sheets were edited or printed after the first couple of races were run and not surprisingly they correctly selected one or more winners in the early races.  This level of deceit should not be permitted and maybe it does not happen any longer but it was a common practice in the past.

The bottom line is do not waste money on Tout Sheets.  The people producing them are not experts and your money is better spent at the windows on your own selections.

Betting Systems

There are hundreds of betting systems on the market ranging from blindly following so-called experts selections to computer programs that generate selections based on the criteria entered by the user.  They may all produce positive results over short periods of time but none of them produces long-term profits.  If they did everyone would be using them and the odds of winners would plummet to unbettable levels.

Do not waste money on expensive betting hot-lines, computer programs or subscriptions to a so-called experts selections.  None of them can produce guaranteed long-term profits and I would never advise someone to pay for someone else’s selections.

Betting Angles

Over the years I have accumulated dozens of betting angles and many of them are legit.  Horses that showed speed in a route cutting back in distance are good bets.  Horses moving from turf to dirt often improve.  Two sprints to a route, third start off a layoff, maiden special weight to maiden claimer, I could go on and on.

Many betting angles have some merit and many will produce winners but none are full-proof.  Betting blindly on a horse because it fits the profile of a one of your betting angles will result in long-term losses.  Use betting angles but remember none of them is the magic bullet that will always come through.

What Works

Now that you know what does not work let’s discuss what does then I will reveal the Secret Formula to Long Term Profits when Betting on Horses.

Document and Follow Your Handicapping Process

As I mentioned in my post “One Step to Improve Your Results at the Track in Under 5 Minutes” documenting and following your handicapping process will result in consistent success at the betting windows.  Knowing the process that results in selecting winners is required to make money when betting on horses.

Record Keeping

Record Keeping is vitally important to all successful horseplayers.  Knowing which types of races and which types of bets produce the best results and which produce the worst will provide a framework for successful betting.

Record Keeping will allow you to focus your time and money on the situations that consistently produce profits and avoid the situations that consistently deplete your bankroll.

Being Selective

As a result of good Record Keeping you can target those situations that are most likely to produce positive results for you.  The race track adage “You can beat a race but you can’t beat the races” is true.  Betting every race will deplete your bankroll and sooner rather than later lead to tapping out.

Money Management

A weakness of many horseplayers is knowing how much to bet on a race.  It is easy to bet the standard $2 Exacta box or $1 Trifecta box but it takes skill to know when to bet more or less on a particular situation.

It goes without saying that you should bet more on the situations you excel in and when your confidence level is at its highest.  This is a skill that takes time to master but is worth the time and effort because in the long run you will be much more successful.

Evolve/Embrace Change

Survival of the fittest applies to horseplayers just as it does to all species on this planet.  Embracing new technology and streams of information is a must if you want to stay ahead of the competition.

Evolution has a funny way of weeding out the weak so you must adapt to the ever changing landscape of betting on horses.  The days of betting against long layoff horses or horses with no published works are gone.  Similarly ignoring the vast amount of information available through various publications and websites will be detrimental to most horseplayers.

Horse Racing

Photo courtesy of Bob Rosenbaum.

The Secret Formula to Profitable Betting on Horses

So now you know what does not work and what does work when it comes to betting on horses.  If you made it this far you are probably eager to hear what the Secret Formula is, if you skimmed down to this section I encourage you to scroll back to the top and read all of the preceding information.

I will not waste anymore of your time, the Secret Formula to Profitable Betting on Horses is….. sorry to burst your bubble but there is no Secret Formula.  If there was someone would have found it by now.  Many smarter people then myself have searched for it only to come up empty handed.

To be successful at betting on horses takes hard work, dedication and extreme patience.  There is no easy button or computer program that will spit out the winner of every race.

Betting on horses is challenging, it involves a great deal of thinking and a little bit of luck.  If mindless gambling is what you desire stick to slot machines.  If on the other hand you enjoy an intellectual challenge then horse racing is for you.  Just know that less then 10% of horseplayers make a profit each year.  Yes it is that hard but it is also extremely rewarding.

Watching your horse cross the finish line first, cashing your first “signer” and looking back on a successful year at the betting windows is very fulfilling.  This game can be beat but there is no easy way of doing it.  Hard work, dedication and patience are the trademarks of a winning horseplayer.  If that describes you then welcome to the greatest sport on the planet, if it does not then do not waste your time and more importantly your money.

No one in the horse racing industry will say that but I thought you should know what you are getting yourself into because if you know the road that lays ahead you will be more likely to stay the course.

So the question is are you willing to put in more time then the guy or gal sitting next to you?  Are you willing to pass race after race until the perfect situation presents itself?  Are you ready for the most difficult intellectual challenge you will likely ever face or are you going to take your ball and go home?

Halfhearted efforts will result in failure so think long and hard before you decide to bet a single dollar on a horse race.  Sure it can be a couple-a-time-a-year-hobby but if you want to make real money or if you ever dream of doing this full-time then put everything you have into it.

I will see you at the betting windows or will I?


  1. I am a senior turf writer who has written a plethura of articles and columns on horse racing, handicapping, you name it. Over the years I’ve done thousands of handicapping seminars and never have I misrepresented myself or any publication I may have written for. The most important thing of all when it comes to handicapping is preparation. I used to shake my head on entering the racetrack and see how many patrons were buying the Racing Form on entry. Right then and there I knew I had an edge. And no, I did not win all the time. Nobody does. For years I developed trip notes. I’ve never been a numbers man, or a sheets man, because I felt both the numbers and the sheets were flawed. Let me give you an example or two. Seldom are horses which are caught three wide between horses on a “live” pace given an adjusted number for negative positioning during the course of an event. One of the better angles a horseplayer can obtain is to make note of a horse who was pressured on a fast pace and managed to stay in the right until the final 60 yards. Should that same horse draw a positive outside post the next time out, he or she might get a more comfortable trip.

    Trip can mean winning or losing. By this I mean a horse who is packed out most of the way, usually will lose his will in crunch time. Years ago a crack handicapper I know named Don Kieger was into Sartin numbers. In a capsule, it was the number a horse got while negotiating a turn. That’s when it’s most difficult for a horse to make headway during the course of a race. Many horses will not change onto the proper lead and others may have issues in their mouth or with a bit. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Horses with good “turn times” are going to be major next out contenders.

    I don’t want to sound like a know it all, but I have won and lost great amounts of money over the years. What I can relate to new players is do your homework. Learn how to make your own morning line so that you will be able to spot “value” on the spot.

    One of the more most productive ways to win a bet is when one recoginizes a race where your notes or prior observations lead you believe he is not deserving of the low opening odds. Betting into a false favorite is an art, and a solid way to collect more than you lose.

    I can’t cover the gamut, but the one thing I can tell you is if you bet exotics, you need to have the ability to throw in some horses who are rank outsiders. To simplify what I am saying. Lett’s assume you have done the work. You have a good idea what kind of a pace it’s going to be. You know the horse you want to key on. Here-in is where you need to loosen up a bit. Box the horses you like but toss in one or possibly two horses at big prices. Believe me it’s difficult to do because you may have a definitive opinion, but sometimes it enhances the end result.

    There are a number of ways to approach the business of handicapping, but nothing is more important that the preparation.

  2. Warren,

    Your are 100% correct, without putting in the effort up front you will not be successful at the betting windows. It does not matter how you get there just that you find a process that works for you and you use it each and every time you handicap a race and make a bet.

    • Even when I do my homework the task at hand is still difficult. Some of us hardened veterans of the pari-mutuel world believe the influx in illegal drugs and roids have made the task even tougher. Having written about drug abuse in horse racing over 40 years has led me to believe the offsprings have been affected negatively. The only clean game that I know of Hong Kong where they have zero tolerance for drug use.

  3. The single most important variable in successful betting on horses (or anything else) is money management. A good money manager with otherwise inferior knowledge will outperform a ‘sophisticated’ handicapper every time in the long run.

    • You are right on. Even if you have the ability to find a winner, it’s the way you use that horse that counts. And opinions vary as to what the best approach might be. Should I, or shouldn’t I. Having the ability to know when the price on the horse you like is “value” is super important. I’m not a chalk guy to a fault, but there are times when a chalk play might be value as a favorite. I won’t go into particulars, but I think you know what I mean.

    • Tinky,

      Well said, no matter how good you handicap it is all for naught if you don’t bet correctly.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have a different view of this. If a person doesn’t
      have a high enough win percentage, it’s not going to matter how they manage money , they’ll still lose. The object should be pick enough winners and be consistent with the bets– keep them at the same unit for a season.

  4. If you play to win only you are throwing your money to the track since the beginning of horse racing we are told to play win only on one horse ,thats is why we all are losers. you have to play two or three horses to win on tri and super thats the only way youwin daily

  5. Due to the state of current horse racing, day to day success at the track is a tough grind. One sees the same faces, it’s incestuous. One has o be very patient to find an edge and good value. However, God’s gift to horseplayers, “Investment’s Perfect Storm” happens one day a year on the first Saturday in May. Tons and tons of unsophisticated and “dumb” money. Getting fifeen to thirty to one on horses that should be 7-2 is not unusual. Time to bet with both hands. Have hit six of last seventeen with this philosophy. The Kentucky Derby should be treated by horsseplayers as retailers treat xmas.

  6. G. William says:

    One of the best pieces of advice to anyone thinking of betting the horses is to treat it as a hobby where you break even and do not lose money. Treating it as some kind of long-term money-making proposition is ludicrious. I suspect (and statistics appears to be on my side) that most of the so-called “whales” and “winning horseplayers” are nothing more than degenerate gamblers who greatly inflate their winnings or outright lie about it. It doesn’t help that most of the “Winning horseplayers” that have the most exposure to new players are outright shills for various betting services, etc.

    Bottom line, if you enjoy horse racing, then play the game to enjoy it. If you want to make more money go get a second job.

  7. Don Magiera says:

    The article and comments are spot on. However , I assume that if we are on this website reading this , “we ” are not newbies. This is preaching to the choir. The most difficult thing in the game is trying to get a gambler (myself included) to change the way they do ANYTHING. To combat this tendency I have been participating in “contests” of the free / fun type first at the tvg community and now at wire to wire forum. I have found out a lot about who I am /was as a horseplayer. When your picks are on the site and someone keeps an accurate record of what you have done, there is much to learn. Turns out I am a grinder. I have learned to find races where I need to step out of my comfort zone and ” Take a Shot ” as they are prone to say on the TV shows. My feeling is if I am going to make it to Vegas/NHC I’ll need all the practice I can get without going broke in the process of learning how to play the tournament game.

  8. Joey Beg says:

    I agree with everything Lenny and Warren says. I have made a profit at the track for the last five years, after being a consistent loser for twenty some years! I have really changed my handicapping by doing the paperwork and finding out where my sweet spot is! I still wouldn’t recommend anyone take up this habit because the tracks continue to take out more and more money and make it hard to show a profit! I believe 15 % should be the limit for take-outs and then the tracks would thrive! Money management and record keeping with tons of preparation and you maybe able to make $2.00 an hour betting the thoroughbreds!

  9. Race to Wire says:

    What is the Secret Formula? Lenny made a good point in this game if you play “You Must Put Everything you got to learn this game” is not hard but the problem is people are Lazy not to offend others but at the race track I see same people week after week doing the same thing only with a program, some is to cheap to buy a program and most important the Racing Form then again the same people are cursing when they don’t Win. why is that? because people want a quick fix. asking other people who will Win.. Wow! that is real smart, well not really.. This game took me a long time to learn and still learning a new thing each day but it’s all worth it.. You will make money in horse racing If you have 1.) Patient 2.)Self Discipline 3.)Learning from mistake – why did my horse lost? If you can analyze why.. then your learning. 4.)Buying Books that you think will improve your game. Simple.. There’s A Saying Money Makes Money.. this is true Don’t Be Cheap.. If you think you save money by not buying books or program or racing form or not trying hard to learn the game.. Stop.. then this game is Not for you.. Want to Play? Money makes Money! get it?

  10. Andrew Izzo says:

    Hello. I Have Played Horses All My Life I am fourty nine years old I Have stombled on this site looking for new angles. doing so I have found all that you have said to be true the good news for me is That what i have done is corect regaring pace speed and class. Reading of all that good advice you are giving on hard work I Hade a flash back that is me then and now spending hours and hours a day. evry chance i get I am emerged in to a rasing form. triel and error and recoards of what you do is king. To be able to go back and se wy and wher you went wrong. It took twenty years of my work just to fiend it all in a nut shell on your web site Amazing. hear is a piece of advice to all you dedicated horse players take this advice from this web site as the gospel of horse Racing. Now I will Answer the question if I am a winnig Horse player. no I am Not yet.
    But I am not a loosing one. bank rool up some dayes down Others but end of last year and this year just about even its a griend. But for me its a winner After loosing for 30years of betting. I could go on and on But will end hear. Remeber Take this Advice from this Web site. Class Speed and pace to start.

  11. Rio de la plata says:

    Thanks for having this interesting article and follow-up discussion. It’s funny how I found this page today, especially after talking to some experts yesterday about my current project idea, which is to develop a ‘sophisticated handicapping tool’ to get better insight in horse races.
    Just as a recap, I got interested with horse racing 20 years ago when I started to work with a few colleagues who were horse racing enthusiast and also helped their bookies/relatives during race days. I then learnt some basic handicapping methods to benchmark and standardize past horse performances so as to be able to compare different races. Yes, I found that so interesting that I decided to study after working-hours to improve my skills and knowledge. After completing a Bachelor degree in IT and Statistics and a Masters degree in Computational Science and Mathematical Modelling, I was able to obviously improve our handicapping method to a great extent.
    I won’t forget the times when my model would find horses at 50/1 as winners even if they finished last and far from the winners in their previous performances. Before the race I had a hard time to try to convince my fellow bookie friend who wouldn’t hesitate to tell what he thought of people backing such long shots. Thanks to my pace analysis and simulation models, I was among the only few smiling after the race.
    To cut a long story short, with what I’ve learn since then I believe that to win at the races you need to be very selective as pointed out in Lenny’s article. Statistically speaking, whenever you are risking your money on something that involves a degree of uncertainty … you will lose in the long run if your horse is over-valued. Just imagine tossing a fair coin and getting $8 if you win and giving away $10 if you lose (due to tax/commission deduction). Now in horse racing, if the public perception is on a specific horse to win, that doesn’t help as that horse will definitely be over-valued. So, always try to get an edge against the public (unless you rely on a sequence of early luck and then quit the game definitively).
    This raises the point which is why you wouldn’t find any very successful software or handicapping tool in the public domain even as paid membership (remember, the game is to find an edge against the public to get better odds value).
    Well, my original idea was to go public myself to offer handicapping services, e.g. mainly to find more real value or probability of each horse to win (using methods I didn’t find mentioned anywhere on-line). However after talking to a few renowned statistician/mathematician who mentioned their own experience with big private horse racing professionals, I think that’s not the way to go.
    Good luck anyway!

    • I’ve been at this handicapping business probably longer than 90 percent of your readers. It’s run the gamut, from doing a graded handicap for papers like the Pasadena Star News and San Gabriel Valley Tribune, to a call in 900 best plays line for years.

      The single most important key to finding a winner, or at least to put the odds in your favor, is to identify a “false favorite” or a horse you feel confident is not deserving of the play he’s certain to get. Try not to be among those who follow the norm.

      In my later years, which I am definitely in, I’ve gone away from the higher classifications and the better horses when it comes to racing conditions. I spend most of my time looking at maiden claiming races where the scrutiny of the sheets players and the real pros are not going.

      When I find a race where I feel like I’ve got an edge, whether that be do to a “trip note” or a “productive race” angle I usually get interested. I throw the shorter priced horses out, to a fault. And that’s okay since I’m betting mainly the ten cent superfectas.

      What we have learned for certain is if you play the superfecta, your chances of cashing are enhanced when you hit the “all” button at least in the fourth position. Lately I’ve also been hitting the all button for the second position, which is the “place” position.

      You can be defining to a fault when choosing the horses you intend to use in the key positions. Many times I will not have the “favorite” in either the first or second position, and sometimes I leave the chalk out completely. Like I said, it’s not going to enhance your bankroll that much, but I hate favorites and it shows in my wagering combinations.

      What I do know is this. A maiden claimer exiting a race that has produced two next out winners is a strong candidate to be used in my combos no matter how badly he or she might have been beaten in the last running line.

      I spend a great deal of time looking for what I call “lanky” bodied horses. It’s something that has worked for me. I look at the head-on shots and if I don’t like the horse’s action at all, then I may elect to toss that horse on my observation. I fully realized many players do not have the background to know what a fluid stride or a horse who appears to be more of an athlete.

      Long to short is something I always give extra points to when I pick and choose the horses who will be used in my superfecta. It has to do with conditioning, and over the years it has produced. So, I continue to look at horses who are being shortened up. The lengths beaten line may be forgiven when using this angle.

      I have made some of my biggest scores by using horses who have slow 3/4 or 7/8 mile works back to back. I don’t put a lot of thinking into the final clocking. I do know that when a horseman has drilled a horse 3/4 or longer back to back that many times they are going to run well.

      It’s okay to play a lot of races when you are into the superfecta arena of wagering. You don’t have to be the Houdini of handicapping to come up with a huge payoff. What you have to learn, through the school of hard knocks, it’s okay to pitch the “favorite” or the horse that the majority will be using in their wagering.

      Last but not least. Play the racing venues where the sharks are not likely to be playing. I had to learn this hard lesson years ago when I knew some sharp gamblers were putting so much money into the High Five that almost all of us were at a huge disadvantage. It’s called taking a goodly share of the combinations, or robbing the pool. It’s done by those with deep pockets.

      Since I no longer have the deep pockets, nor do I play thousands a day, I find the ten-cent superfecta play when there are 10 or preferably 12 starters, the place where I will take a shot.

  12. Mr.Chadsworth says:

    The vast majority of handicappers(even ones like Warren with decades of experience) will never achieve long-term profits.The mastery of non-linear mathematical complexity required to successfully handicap races will forever elude them.This situation is very similar to the “quants” that trade equities.The majority BET THE FARM and wind up BROKE.However at least with equity trading one can carryforward capital losses to be used against capital gains at a later point in time.Handicappers do not enjoy this advantage.One should approach handicapping as a HOBBY TO HAVE FUN.and not as a long term profit endeavor.By all means use mathematical modeling software to improve your game.My credentials? I have been a 25 year successful self employed business owner(7 figure revenue) in two different industries(not horseracing) In addition I have for the past number of years successfully traded equities using modeling programs as A SIDE INCOME.See you at the races. P.S. My post does not apply to those singular geniuses who have an innate mathematical gift to handicap races.They are 1 out of 1 million,and YOU and I are not one of them.Mr.Chadsworth

  13. “Handicapping, is the practice of assigning advantage through scoring compensation or other advantage given to different contestants to equalize the chance of winning.”-Wikipedia

    Look at the big picture. Two variables are present average mutuel and precent hit. Profitability will be present, if either is in higher proportion than average.

    However, to analyze 10 tracks with 10 races with 8.4 runners and 0-12 running lines, trainer percent, Jockey wins, surface/distance/class to the n th degree. It would be impossible to measure with any consistency.

    To quote Barry Meadow “Its not your handicapping its probability, if you put 4 blue socks, 2 red socks and 2 black socks in a bag. what are the chances of pulling a blue sock 1-1. so get 2-1 or 3-2.

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