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The History and Future of Horse Racing

Mitchell South

by Mitchell South

Updated May 16, 2024 · 7:52 AM PDT

Horse racing isn’t the same sport as it was when our grandparents were young. The rising growth of the horse racing betting market (and the subsequent explosion in handicapping strategies) have dramatically changed the sport’s fundamental nature over the last few decades.

While the idea of picking winning horses has remained the same, the evolution of live horse racing and online betting has been dramatic. In this article, we discuss the differences between horse racing history, horse racing today, and provide some racing tips for tomorrow.

How Betting and the Internet Have Changed Horse Racing

There are so many ways that the betting industry has changed—and recently, too. Not only has the range of bets available exploded, but also modern technology has allowed horse racing news and data to be available at the touch of a button. What was once a regional sport has become international, thanks to easier and faster conveyance of information.

Types of Horse Bets Available

At one time, there was only the bookmaker, the track, and the patrons who wagered. Unlike casino gaming (where either the house or bettor wins), horse racing results don’t matter much to the racetrack because they use parimutuel betting. In this form of gambling, all bets are placed into a pool, the house takes a percentage off the top, and payoffs are determined by dividing the remaining money for whatever horse finishes first. The house gets their cut regardless.

While all horse racing betting uses a parimutuel system, the number of ways to wager has skyrocketed in recent decades.

At one time, there were only three bets: win, place, and show. A winning bet required you to select the horse that finished first, while a place bet could be collected if your horse finished first or second. A show bet – where the payoffs tended to be very low – required you to pick a horse that hit the board, finishing first, second, or third.

How Have Exotic Wagers Changed Sports Betting?

The first forms of exotic wagering were the daily double and exacta. The double, traditionally available on the first two races of the day, is similar to a two-race parlay. For your bet to be graded a winner, you must correctly choose which horse will finish first and second, in the correct order.

The popularity of exotic wagering is on the rise, and fans looking for more than $5, $10, or $20 payouts that win bets can provide.

Horizontal wagers, a type of exotic, require picking winners in consecutive races. In this sense, they’re similar to parlay bets. Three straight is a Pick 3, four is the Pick 4, and so on. Pick 6 is often considered the most difficult type of horse betting, as it’s nearly impossible to choose six winners in a row.

The exacta is the simplest form of a vertical bet, requiring bettors to predict the first two horses to finish a race. A trifecta is choosing the top three, and a superfecta requires bettors to predict the order of the first four finishers in a single race.

For bettors, the degree of difficulty and odds of winning work in unison. Some like lower risk and more frequent winnings, while others prefer to go for the big payout. For a more in-depth break down of horse bet types, read more here.

Horse Racing in the Age of the Internet

Horse betting used to be a matter of guessing who would win one race at a time, and with a limited amount of data available. Today, not only are there lots of ways to wager, but also the amount of horse racing news and numbers available to the average handicapper are extensive.

Analytics in sports, whether it’s baseball’s Bill James or basketball’s Sam Hinkie, have transformed sports. A generation ago, the idea of relief pitchers, defensive shifts, 40 three-pointers in a game, or live online betting was unimaginable. Today innovative tactics across a wide variety of sports are commonplace.

Though lots of information is available in normal past performances, the influx of options and types of data you can now acquire is dizzying. While horse racing today varies significantly from the past, it is important for handicappers to determine what information is useful, and what is not.

From workout reports to breeding information and everything in-between, horse racing today has a lot of data available for handicappers, the difficulty is in deciphering it all.

The Daily Racing Form’s Formulator allows users to prioritize and evaluate whatever type of information they are looking for. Equibase’s Stats Lense and True Odds help to evaluate what the odds of a race should be, based on tempo, class, and other difficult-to-factor criteria. Jim Mazur’s Progressive Handicapping guides are the most in-depth information on trainers on the internet today.

The Future of Horse Racing Betting: Exchange Wagering

While the parimutuel system has advantages, the future of horse racing betting is exchange wagering. Popular in Europe, and available in limited jurisdictions in the U.S., betting on an exchange combines prop bets, friends hanging out and making side wagers, and traditional horse racing.

Essentially, exchange wagering allows two users to bet anything agreed upon against each other, with the betting operator taking a small percentage.

If two parties who have an account on the exchange agree on the parameters of a bet, they can make the wager. If one person thinks the favorite will finish outside of the top three and someone else says they will give them 4/1 on a $10 bet, then they can make that wager with the operator taking something like 10% off the top.

Maybe the most innovative part of exchange betting is that it has incorporated live, in-game wagers into the platform.

Big match-up bets single out two horses and bet simply on which of the two finishes first. Of course, a 10/1 horse beating a horse at 3/1 will need to get odds, and whoever proposes and accepts the bet must agree on those details.

Maybe the most innovative part of exchange betting is that it has incorporated live, in-game wagers into the platform. And just like in-game live sports betting, exchange betting allows account holders to bet with each other while the race is running.

Of course, odds change by the second in live exchange betting. If a horse gets off to a poor start and you think he will rally, there’s an opportunity to bet on him at a better value than before the race began. If a longshot breaks great and you bet quickly, you can still get a good price (assuming you don’t wait too long).

Get Started Today!

While the “Sport of Kings” is essentially the same as it has always been, the way we bet on famous racehorses is very different than today. How we wager on horses in the future will continue to change over the coming years, too!

With more options comes greater opportunity, especially depending on whether you prefer live horse racing or Horse racing betting apps. To learn more the basics of horse racing you can wager on, check out our 101 horse racing guide on the subject.


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