Can you transfer your betting skills to horse racing?

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Sports betting is huge right now and as the sector continues to grow across the US, more betting fans are trying their hands at betting on different sports – this may lead to an increase in interest in one of the oldest forms of sports betting: horse racing. 

Horse racing may not have the same profile as the NFL or the NBA, but across the US, there are top racetracks and the US stages some of the world’s most prestigious thoroughbred contests, such as the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup.

Betting on horse racing has a solid base of support from racing fans who regularly try their luck on the racing action, from Lucky 15 selections to trying to land the trifecta, superfecta or quinella. 

To those who are not familiar with the world of horse racing betting, it can seem intimidating, and you may be skeptical about how easy it is to switch from betting on other sports.

But while there are many aspects of horse racing betting that require you to adopt a different approach, many of the skills associated with regular sports betting are transferable. 

Transferable sports betting skills

Some of the basic skills and requirements for successful sports betting are easily transferable to the world of horse racing – starting with good money management. 

Bankroll control

A fundamental rule of sports betting is to always remain fully in control of your stakes and your bankroll. At a basic level, you should never bet with money that you can’t afford to lose, whether you are betting on horses, the NFL or water polo at the Olympics! 

Making a profit at sports betting is hard, and you will undoubtedly lose much of the time, so you need to have a bankroll that is manageable and that, ultimately, you can lose in its entirety without impacting the rest of your life. 

And, as with any other sports betting endeavor, you have to adjust your stake to the overall level of your bankroll, your expectations of success, the type of race you are betting on and your temperament. If you’re going for a lot of underdog bets, long losing runs are inevitable and you should stake accordingly. 

Psychological factors

Mastering the skills required to find value in a betting market is not that difficult, and with a little time and effort, most sports fans can reach this level. The psychological aspects of betting, however, are a lot tougher to come to terms with, and mastering this level of betting expertise is a challenge. 

Understanding that you will lose at least as often as you win, even if you are a successful bettor, takes a while to fully embrace, and it is natural to feel confidence rise after a winner or two and sink after a string of losses.

Chasing losses and hunting for winners are examples of poor psychology. Ideally, you want to be able to retain a level of equanimity while betting, to stick to your plans, to focus on finding value rather than counting winners, and to take an objective view of your betting. 

One way to help ensure you remain psychologically balanced and in control is to consistently keep records of your bets. While this may be tedious from time to time, it can increase your psychological and practical control over your betting, whether you are wagering on the NHL or the Kentucky Derby. 

Horse racing skills you need to master

As with every sport, there are some particular quirks, rules and arrangements that are unique to horse racing, and mastering these will take time. 

Pool betting

One of the biggest differences between betting on horse racing and betting on other sports is that with horse racing, you will be betting using the pari-mutuel system, which is a form of pool betting.

When you bet on the NFL for example, the sportsbook operator sets the odds and you decide whether to bet – this is known as fixed-odds betting and is the standard model for sports betting. 

With horse racing, you will usually be betting into a pool. In this case, the odds are not set by a bookmaker but simply change according to the weight of money in the pool. With pool betting, you are not competing with the bookmaker and their odds compilers but with all of your fellow bettors.

In this type of betting, it is important to be constantly looking for new angles, so that you can be betting against rather than with the crowd. 

Horse racing technicalities 

Another hurdle to clear when you are moving to horse racing betting is the sport’s terminology and rules. All sports have their own regulations and quirks, but whereas many of us have picked up a passing familiarity with the major US sports, horse racing is not something you get to experience in high school! 

When it comes to horse racing, there is a wealth of information to absorb, ranging from the categories of races to the race terminology, and above all, you need to be able to understand and analyze the information presented in the racing form and results guides.

Fortunately, there are plenty of online guides that can help you to get to grips with the details and bring yourself up to speed. 


There is no reason why an experienced sports bettor could not switch to horse racing from their regular sport, as many of the betting fundamentals are transferable.

However, if you want to succeed at horse race handicapping, it is important to remember to treat horse racing with a degree of respect and take your time to learn all of the nuances and rules before you consider yourself a horse racing bettor.