How Horse Racing Odds Work

How do you read the horse race odds and know who pays more? We answer those questions by showing how horse racing odds work.

Reading the odds of any horse race card is essential for any bettors since this will let you know how well a selection will do. Odds are another way of knowing your return should you return a specific selection. In horse racing, odds describe the likelihood of the horse winning.

Read our guide on horse racing starting price (SP). SP betting is a particular type of betting in which punters bet on horses' starting odds before markets move them.

Horse Racing Odds Basics

Horse race betting odds

Horse betting odds are a way for bookies to show the chances for a selection to win and their potential payout. These odds are similar to the ones on Australian, British or American sports betting sites that also determines a wager's odds of coming true and its payoff.

Bookmakers are responsible for setting the odds according to a horse's condition and past performance. A track's going is also considered, which is a track's condition. While regular goings, such as firm and reasonable conditions, allow nearly any horses to run faster without any hitches, specific selections do better on the worst grounds. There are heavy goings that strain a horse's hoofs and legs. With the right trainer and jockey, specific horses can typically perform or reach their peak in heavy goings.

Selections that perform better get a lower price due to the decreased risk for the bettors, while the rest have higher prices. Bookies will give special attention to horses that perform well on certain goings. The most notable horses are underdogs with a massive payout potential if they beat the favored pick, which has an extremely slim chance of happening.

How To Read Horse Racing Odds

Knowing the price of a selection allows you to determine the likelihood of a selection winning. Here are two types of betting odds and how to read them.

Traditional Horse Betting Odds 

A format of traditional betting odds usually looks like 5-3, 6-5, or 11-5. The first number of each odd is the profit you can make with the selection, while the second number is the stake amount required to obtain that profit. For odds of 5-3, you will get a payout of $8 or a profit of $5 for that wager if you stake $3. For 6-5 odds, the payout will be $11 with a profit of $6 if you staked $5 for that selection.

You can spot the favored selection for a track based on the ones with the lowest payout. Considering the three earlier odds, the selection with 6-5 odds is set by the bookie to have the best chance of winning the track.

Pari-Mutuel Pool Betting Odds

Despite the name, there are no odds involved with pari-mutuel betting since bookies do not determine the payout of each selection. Instead, this type of odds fluctuates with a selection's final price determined by the number of stakes right before the race.

Pari-mutuel wagering for horse races is a betting pool where the payout is divided by the total stakes given by various bettors. Due to being a pooled payout, the odds fluctuate throughout the period before the races. A selection that started with 4-1 may end up with 15-6 odds. Note that the track reduces the payout as their commission for hosting the betting activity.  

While there are no bookies to determine the horse's odds, you can still find the favored selection based on the total stake. Sharps or expert bettors will heavily favor high-performance horses on each track. As money follows money, the public will follow sharp's lead. Despite being the fastest way to gauge the market's odds, this is not a reliable method of determining a selection's actual chances of winning.

The race cards presented by online or physical OTBs are the best way to know the true odds of each selection since every relevant piece of information is present. These cards can show the recent results of the horses, including the positions they finished in and the distance they ran.

Quick Guide To Horse Race Odds
Horse Race Odds Infographic

Horse Race Odds Payout Calculation Guide

While reading horse odds allow you to gauge a selection's performance, this section will be about knowing the potential payout of each market.

You likely know that odds of 4-2 will give a payout of $5 when you stake $2. How much can we get if we staked $20? First, we divide the first number by the second. Doing so will give us 2.00. If you are to stake $20 and that selection wins, you get a payout of $60 or a profit of $40. For a stake of $33, your payout will be $99, with a profit of $66.

Sports bettors are likely familiar with this calculation since the odds are similar to the fraction format. Odds of 4-2 can also be read as 4/2.

Payouts for pari-mutuel bets are still the same as those with fixed odds despite their difference. You should note that the payout for the selection will also change. If you back a horse with odds of 5-2 and it changes to 11-8, your payout will be based on the finalized odds.


What is the importance of horse racing odds?

The odds of each horse racing selection tell you the potential payout of that wager and its chances of winning or coming true. Those with higher prices are likely to lose, while lower-priced selections are favored to win.

What does a 10-2 odds mean in horse races? 

10 is the amount you will receive, while 2 is the stake amount required to obtain that $10 profit. If you bet $30 on a selection with these odds, you will receive a $180 payout with $150 in profit.

How are traditional odds different from pari-mutuel betting odds? 

Traditional odds are usually fixed and will remain the same after the race. Odds within pari-mutuel wagering systems are constantly fluctuating.

Why are traditional odds considered fixed horse racing odds? 

Online betting sites have bookies that set the odds of each horse, which is why their prices never change. Due to pari-mutuel wagering being a communal prize pool, the horse's prices change depending on the amount staked on them.

What are the morning line odds in horse races? 

This is the bookmaker's first draft of odds on a race meeting before any wagers are made. Morning line odds are informative tools used by bettors to get a precise gauge of the selection's performance for that day.

A clear understanding of horse racing odds allows you to find a valued wager on the tracks. It pays to research the race cards for that meet to get accurate horse odds.