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In the Money: Psychology of Horse Racing Betting

The study of gambling is an excellent tool for understanding the effects of risk taking, decision making and personal gains and losses inside the human brain. Much like athletes who participate in sports that are dangerous, gamblers must balance risk against reward. Unlike slots and roulette, horse racing includes a plethora of statistics for gamblers to analyze and decipher. While every gambler has their own system, horse bettors typically fall into one of two camps: Satisficers and maximizers.

Maximum Risk, Maximum Reward

Maximizers research and study trends and statistics to make the best possible bet. They have specific criteria that must be met prior to placing a bet. This approach remains objective throughout, but it still doesn’t guarantee a win. horse race betting

Maximizers are interested in hitting the optimal payout; a situation in which the reward would outweigh the risk involved. They believe that they can work out the race scientifically, but horse racing isn’t a perfect science. There’s lots of chance and luck involved. Maximizers may miss out on potential winnings simply because the conditions under which they will bet may be few and far between. There’s no gut-impulse betting with maximizers.

Satisfaction from Satisficing

Satisficers will spend less time analyzing a horse race. They may have a set of criteria that a horse must meet, but will be less stringent about following those guidelines. These gamblers will pick from a pool of likely contenders and typically incorporate a personal view into their choice. They may also be more likely to integrate subjective factors like jockey and trainer performance when placing a bet.

Extreme satisficers may miss very important data that may affect the outcome of a race. Satisficers are more prone to blindly back the favorite and follow tipsters’ advice without conducting their own research. There may be solid data that would point them toward another horse, if they had taken the time to review it for themselves.

Backing a Winner: Analyzing Horse Races

When betting on horses, bettors are given so much information that it’s easy to overthink things. There are also many different ways to place a bet. The following table provides basic information on the most common types of bets found at North American race tracks.

Win A bet on a horse a win the race.
Place A bet on a horse to come in second or better.
Show A bet on a horse to come in third or better.
Exacta You pick two horses to finish first and second in exact order.
Exacta Box You pick two horses to finish first and second in any order.
Trifecta You pick three horses to finish first, second and third in exact order.
Trifecta Key You pick one horse to win and two horses to finish second and third in any order.
Trifecta Box You pick three horses to finish first, second and third in any order.
Superfecta You pick four horses to finish first, second, third and fourth in exact order.
Superfecta Key You pick one horse to win and three horses to finish second, third and fourth in any order.
Superfecta Box You pick four horses to come in first, second, third and fourth in any order.
Daily Double You pick the winners of two races in a row, usually the first two races of the day.

There are also different types and classes of races. Most people are familiar with the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Those races are the pinnacle of horse racing. Most committed horse bettors see smaller races.

Maiden races

Maiden races are for horses that have yet to win a race. This is the lowest class of race and is a subsection of claiming races.

Claiming races

In a claiming race, all the horses are available for purchase. To purchase the horse, you claim the horse out prior to the race. At the end of the race, the old owner receives any purse money and the new owner gets the horse.

Allowance races

Horses are not for sale in allowance races. There are certain weight, age and other conditions for horses running in these races. Allowance races feature horses who have not yet won an allowance race, but may have won in claiming or maiden races.

Stakes races

Stakes races are the top level of horse racing. These races have the highest purses. There can be no conditions placed on the horses other than age or sex.

There are many factors to consider when betting on horses, which is why so many gamblers develop a system or superstition to help determine the horse they want to bet.

Dark Horse: The Ugly Side of Gambling

Gambling can be addictive. The thrill of winning and the anticipation of a big payoff are powerful motivators. Winning has a similar chemical affect in the brain as drug use. For this reason, it’s very important that gamblers play responsibly.

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction, it’s not too late to seek help. Call the National Problem Gambling Hotline at 1 (800) 522-4700.


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