How to Handicapping a Horse Race

In a horse race, humans perched on horses’ backs compel them at breakneck speed toward a predetermined destination. This is a far cry from the herding instinct that drives wild horses to safety in the company of their herdmates. In a racetrack, horses learn to distrust the people who ride them, and many of those humans are not well-adjusted. The sport’s problems include human violence and cruelty, injuries to horses, and a lack of new would-be fans.

The first organized horse races took place in the British colonies of North America in the late 1600s. Colonists were importing horses from England, and the breeders wanted to develop a racehorse that was as swift and compact as the English model. The result was the American Quarter Horse. Janus, a quick and compact son of Pretty Buck, is credited as the foundation sire of this breed.

Before long, races began to look very much like today’s. Winners got a premium for their performance, fillies received allowances and the concept of the futurity was being used (that will be explained later). The early races also were flat, with no hurdles or steeplechases involved.

A horse’s race form, or chart, identifies its ability to win a given race by calculating its potential for speed and stamina. It is a complex calculation that takes into account several factors, including the horse’s past performances and its current workout pattern. A good chart can be a useful tool for handicappers.

Adding up the winning bets on each of a horse’s possible finishes in a race produces a total bet called a “total.” A horse is considered to have won a race if it has a total bet of at least $10.00, and lost if its bets were lower.

The total bet consists of two parts: a win bet and a place bet. A win bet pays out three ways if the horse wins, and a place bet pays out two ways if it finishes second or third. The total bet is then divided by the total number of bets placed to produce the pari-mutuel payoffs. The remaining money is split among the track, state and breeding or other funds in varying proportions.

The sport’s safety record is improving, but it has been a slow process. In 2020, Congress passed legislation requiring that safety standards be applied to all racing tracks. The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority, which oversees these new standards, began enforcing them last July. In addition, the industry has adopted a series of measures that it says will help reduce the risk of injury and death to horses. This is an important step, but it will not be enough to revive the sport’s struggling customer base. Most of the industry’s customers are older, and would-be racing fans have been turned off by scandals involving horse abuse and drug use. In addition, the soaring cost of racehorses makes betting unaffordable for some. The loss of this audience has been a serious blow to horse racing’s business.