What Are Win, Place, and Show Horse Racing Bets?

Win, place, and show betting represents the most basic types of horse racing bets. By making one of these bets, you’re putting money at stake based on how a single horse does in a single race. You can win a lot or a little on such bets depending on how the odds for the horses you pick stack up.

Win, Place, Show

Horse racing probably stands as the sport most associated with wagering internationally. For hundreds of years, people have come to watch horses compete to see which ones are the fastest. And for just about that entire time, people have bet on the results.

In the modern age, horse racing still makes a major impact on the betting public. Everything from major events like the Kentucky Derby to a routine weekday race at a small track draws betting interest. The rise of online wagering has only added to that interest.

Yet for many people, horse racing wagering remains somewhat confusing and obscure. They might be confused looking at a racing form and deciding who to bet. And they might also be lost in terms of the lingo used by bettors.

Learning How to Bet on Horse Racing

Figuring out how to take part in win, place, and show wagering is a great place to start horse racing betting. These are the easiest bets to understand and can have you up and wagering on the races in no time.

For some people, win, place, and show wagering will serve as a gateway into the world of exotic horse racing wagers, where multiple horses are involved in different combinations. But there are also many experienced horse racing bettors who limit their wagers to win, place, and show. These folks understand how to make these bets wisely and maximize their profit from them.

In short, betting on a horse to win means just as it says, i.e. your horse has to come in first. Betting on a horse to place means you will win the bet if it comes in first or second. And betting on it to show means it will pay off for you if it comes in first, second, or third.

That knowledge might be enough to get you started with win, place, and show wagering. But knowing how the bets are paid off, what the odds mean, and the different strategies you can utilize with these bets can really put you ahead of the game. The more you know about these basic wagers, the better chance you’ll have of winning big with them.

With that in mind, we’re going to take you through the ins and outs of win, place, and show wagering. We’ll explain everything from how to make the bets to how the system of odds and payouts works. And we’ll take you through some strategies to help you pick some winners and maximize your horse racing betting profits.

Win, Place, and Show Betting Explained

When it comes to horse racing betting, there are basically two types of wagers you can make. There are the bets which require you to bet on a single horse in a single race, of which win, place, and show wagers are the most popular. Then, there are exotic bets, which allow you to bet on multiple horses, either in a single race or multiple races.

Win, place, and show wagering might be the easiest of the traditional horse racing bets to understand on their most basic level. Let’s take them one by one:

  • Win: You win if your horse finishes first in the official order of finish
  • Place: You win if your horse finishes first or second in the order of finish
  • Show: You win if your horse finishes first, second, or third in the order of finish

It’s that simple. But you have to keep in mind that bit about “the official order or finish.”

One of the common mistakes people make when they’re betting on horse racing is that they think the outcome is determined the moment the horses come across the finish line. They might even tear up their tickets if the horse that they bet on their win, place, or show wager doesn’t finish where needed.

The outcome of every horse race needs to be verified by individuals employed by the track holding the race. These officials have different titles depending on the type of racing you’re betting. In Thoroughbred racing, they’re known as stewards. In harness racing, they’re called judges.

In any case, these individuals watch the race and, if need be, they watch a replay as well. If they find that there are any fouls or illegalities that take place in the race, they have the right to change the order before making the race official.

How might that affect you?

Imagine that you wagered on a horse to win but it comes across the line in second. Normally, you would lose your bet. But imagine if the stewards or judges decided that the horse that crossed the line first committed a foul of some sort. As a result, they decide to place it off the board (meaning that it’s not first, second, or third in the official order of finish). Your horse would be placed first in that case, and you would win your bet because your horse would be the official winner.

Basically, you shouldn’t give up on your bet until you see some sort of notification that the results are official. Another way you can know the race is official is that the payoff prices will show up.

How to Make Win, Place, and Show Wagers

Many people now do their horse racing wagers online. Gambling websites can be found just about everywhere, although you should always look for the best ones. If you end up at one that’s unreliable, you could have a bad experience and possibly even lose out on money that’s owed to you.

When you make horse racing bets online, you first have to create an account at a betting site. You’ll then have to fund that account with either a credit card or some other method. From there, it’s just a matter of finding the correct track on the horse racing betting page.

You’ll then find dropdowns which will get you to the right race and the right bet. If you’re comfortable with technology, win, place, and show betting online should be the best way to go.

If you prefer to do your betting in person, you can go to either a race track or an off-track racing wagering facility. There, you can go up to employees known as tellers. The tellers will then take the money that you want to wager from you and print out a ticket.

This ticket will include all the necessary information about your bet. You will return with this wager if you happen to win your win, place, or show bet. If you do, you will be paid according to official prices.

Remember that you will need five pieces of information when you go up to a teller to make your win, place, or show wager. They are:

  • The track that you’ll be betting
  • The race that you’ll be betting
  • The number of the horses that you’ll be betting
  • The amount of money that you’ll be betting
  • The types of horse racing bets you’ll be making

When you walk up to the window, you might say something like this:

“Aqueduct Race 5, I’d like to bet $2 to win on the #7 horse.”

That sentence identifies the track (Aqueduct), the race (Race 5), the money ($2), the kind of bet (win), and the horse that you want to bet (#7). When the teller prints out a ticket, you should always check it to make sure the information is correct. If you wait until after the race is over and find out the ticket is incorrect, it will be too late to do anything about it.

You will generally need to wager in right until the moment the race begins. Race tracks will show you how much time is left until post time. Sometimes, there are delays which allow you a little more time.

Coming up too late to the betting window will cause you to miss out on your bet. That’s also known as getting “shut out,” which can be especially frustrating if you would have won the bet. Give yourself enough time to get your win, place, or show wagers done with time to spare.

Odds and Payback for Win, Place, and Show Wagers

Reading the Prices Board

When the race is complete, official prices will be revealed by the track. If you’re watching the race in person, you can usually see them listed on a board known as the tote board that is often located on the infield. Or, if you’re watching a simulcast of the track, the prices will show up on screen right off the race goes official.

Here’s what a prices board will generally look like:

4 – Taking Cover 4.40 2.60 2.10
5 – Superstar 8.40 6.00
2 – My Speedster 4.40

In the first row, the official winner of the race is listed, followed by the prices for horse to win, then to place, then to show. The second row shows the second-place finisher, followed by its prices to place and show. Finally, the bottom row shows the third-place finisher and how much it pays to show.

You will notice that the winner of the race, Taking Cover (the #4 horse), pays out for win, place, and show. That’s because it finished first, which satisfies the condition for win, place, and show bets. But you will only get paid for the bet that you made.

In other words, if you bet Taking Cover to win, you will only get paid the $4.40. You won’t get paid the prices for place and show, unless you made those bets on the horse as well. That’s called an “across the board” bet, and we’ll talk about that more when we get to strategy.

The prices listed on a tote board are based on a $2 wager. That’s generally the minimum amount of money allowed for any horse racing wager.

But you can bet more than that on a win, place, or show bet. If you did, it would affect your payback. You just have to do some multiplication to see how much.

For Example

Let’s say that you bet $10 on Superstar, the #5 horse, to place. For a $2 wager, it paid $8.40. But you bet $10, which is five times $2. Therefore, your winnings would be multiplied by 5 as well. For a $10 place wager, you would receive 5 times $8.40, or $42.

How Win, Place, and Show Odds Are Determined

Horse racing wagers like horse racing straight bets are paid based on a pari-mutuel wagering system. This system awards winnings based on the amount placed on each bet compared to all other wagers.

This is opposed to fixed bets, which was the system for traditional horse racing bets in the early days of the sport and still survives in some areas today. With a fixed bet, you lock in the odds the moment you place your wager, and they remain unchanged no matter what other bets come in. That places the pressure on bookmakers to judge the odds just right or else potentially suffer a big loss.

Pari-mutuel racing replaced all that, for the most part, with a system of pools. Every dollar bet on a race is separated based on the type of bet it is and the horse (or horses) involved into a particular pool. The size of the pool then determines the payout for each particular outcome.

Pari-mutuel wagering also differs from fixed odds in that the odds always are changing. You might bet a horse to win when the odds sit at 6 to 1. But by the time the race starts, the odds could have risen or dropped based on what other people bet.

Let’s take an example to show you how this works. Imagine that a total of $20,000 worth of win wagers are placed in a single race. Before odds are determined, the track gets its cut, also known as the takeout.

Most tracks advertise the amount they will take out on each wager, usually in the form of a percentage. This allows bettors to make the most informed decisions about whether or not their win, place, and show wagers are cost-effective.

Let’s say that this track has a 20% takeout for win wagers. That means that $4,000 will be taken out by the track ($20,000 times .20). $16,000 is left in the pool.

Now, let’s say that of that $16,000, $1,000 has been wagered on the #2 horse to win. When you divide $16,000 by $1,000, you get 16. Thus, the odds to win on the #2 horse are 16-1.

Place and Show Odds Compared to Win Odds

Place and show odds are computed the same way. The tricky part with place and show wagers, though, is that their odds are not listed as win odds are.

When you bet on a horse to win, you can usually look on the screen and see what those win odds are. They’re often listed right below the horse’s number on the tote board as well.

As we said, these odds will be changing right up to the moment that you bet. As a result, you can’t really count on the odds being anything in particular based on what they were when the wager was made. That’s why many people wait until the last minute to bet, since they want to see the way the odds are trending.

But at least the win odds are shown, ever-changing though they might be. The place and show odds are never listed in any way. Is there any way you can know what to expect in terms of payout?
Well, if you’re at the track, you can usually see the pool amounts for win, place, and show betting. For example, you might see something like this.

Win 450
Place 350
Show 82

That lets you know there has been $450 bet to win, $350 to place, and $82 to show on the #1 horse in that race. Those totals will keep rising until the race begins and the final odds are set.

You can use these pools to estimate what the place and show payoffs might be. For example, imagine that you happen to look and see that the #3 horse has only a few dollars in the place pool for a particular race. The other horses, meanwhile, have significantly more money in their place pools.

From that, you can deduce that the odds will be long for the #3 horse to place. You would have to do some quick math to see exactly what they would be, which would probably be a waste of time since they’re constantly changing. But at least you can use the pools to give you the kind of estimation for place and show odds that the listed win odds provide.

One thing you have to realize is that the listed win odds have no bearing on place and show odds. Many people see the win odds and expect them to govern the place and show odds. In other words, they think that a favorite won’t pay much to place and show or that a long shot will.

But the pools are what determine the payouts in every case. It’s even possible for a horse to pay more to show than it does to win, even though it’s much easier for a horse to show than it is to win.

Handicapping Horses for Win, Place, and Show Wagering

You can’t even start to think about coming up with good strategies to make win, place, and show bets until you learn how to handicap horse racing. By handicap, we mean the process of looking at a particular race and determining which horses have the best chance of performing well.

There are a number of ways handicapping can be done. Some people look at the daily racing form to study the statistics of each horse in each race. Others rely on the “eye test,” watching the horses in previous races to see their form.

Here are some of the things you could focus on when handicapping horses to win, place, and show.

  • Record: This refers to the horses past races in terms of wins, places, and shows. It would indicate its chances of doing well in the coming race.
  • Class: The caliber of opponents in past races is an important factor in horse racing. If a horse is dropping down in class, it could mean it’s poised for a good performance.
  • Pedigree: Many horse racing handicappers look at the parents and grandparents of a horse. Ideally, this will show the potential of the horse in question in the current race.
  • Human Element: The ability of the jockeys (in Thoroughbred racing and jump racing) or drivers (in harness racing) to guide horses plays a key role in the outcome. You should also be aware of the horses’ trainers, since they can also have a major impact.
  • Post Position: Generally, it’s better for a horse to be on the inner half of the field, regardless of what type of racing it is. But you also have to consider the distance of the race and the track condition (fast or sloppy) when looking at post position.
  • Racing Style: If one horse in the race stands out in terms of style, it can work in their favor. For example, if there was a single horse with early speed in a field of closers, the horse with speed might be able to get away with an easy pace. That would increase its chances of doing well.

These are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the factors that can help you determine your win, place, and show bets. You should come up with some sort of system of handicapping that you will use consistently. This will make the process go much smoother and take less time each race.

Strategies for Win, Place, and Show Wagering

Once you have an idea of how the horses are going to perform, you can start to look at how to play the odds to end up with the best possible win, place, and show wagers. Here are some of the methods that handicappers often use.

Playing a Horse Across the Board

We touched on this bet a little bit earlier. In order to place a bet on a horse across the board in a race, you have to bet it to win, place, and show all in the same race.

As a result, you would have to bet at least $6 at stake. Why $6? Because the minimum for each bet is $2, and you’d be making three separate bets. Thus, that equals $6.

You can also increase that bet. For example, $5 across the board would cost $15, $10 across the board would cost $30 and so on. That would, of course, increase your potential winnings as well.

An across the board bet can work in your favor in a lot of ways. First of all, it’s a way to hedge your bets. You will still be getting something in return if your horse finishes second of third even if it doesn’t win.

On top of that, it can boost your winnings. When you bet a horse across the board, you will get paid for the win, place, and show bets all at once if the horse wins the race, since it satisfies the requirements for all three bets.

Imagine that you bet $2 across the board on a horse. That horse wins the race and pays off $10 to win, $6 to place, and $4 to show. You would get a return of $20 (10 plus 6 plus 4), making a $14 profit on your original bet.

Of course, an across the board wager costs a little bit more. Imagine if that horse above had come in third. You would only receive $4 back for a $6 wager, which means a net loss of $2.

Still, across the board bets are an excellent way to go if you’re really confident in a single horse. Use them with favorites to help get more out of what can be sparse winnings. And, if you hit an across the board bet with a long shot, you can really amplify your profits.

Favorites Versus Long Shots

In horse racing, the favorite is sometimes called the chalk. This goes back to when odds were written on chalk boards by bookmakers. Many horse racing bettors like to play the chalk because it’s their best method to obtain some kind of profit.

For example, there are many bettors who love putting money on the favorite in a race to show. In doing this, they give themselves the absolute best chance of making a profit.

Of course, that profit might be minimal. If you put $2 on a favorite to show, he might only pay off $2.20 or even $2.10. You would be winning just a few cents in the race.

The other way to utilize that approach is to bet a significant amount on the favorite. If you were to bet $1,000 on a favorite to show, and it paid $2.20 to show, you’d end up with a profit of $100. It can be a risky way to play, because just one loss can really put a dent in those profits.

There are other horse racing bettors who don’t want small profits. They want a lot for a little in their win, place, and show bets, which is why they only play long shots. A long shot, especially to win but even sometimes to place and show, will generally give you a solid return on even a small bet.

You have to decide what kind of risk you want to assume and what kind of reward you want to achieve when deciding between favorites and long shots. It’s all about what you want out of your gambling investment.

Following the Money

Many people don’t pay much attention to anything other than the odds boards and the pools when making their win, place, and show bets. Their strategy is based on the belief that following the money will show the way to the winner.

Those that follow the money believe that a surge of betting on a particular horse means the horse is getting backed by so-called “smart money.” Often, smart money comes in at the very end of the betting process.

That’s why you’ll often see people running up to the window at the very end of the betting process. They’re waiting till the last possible moment so they can see the change in the odds.

This process isn’t all that different from when football bettors watch how a particular betting line moves during the week to determine the team they want to back. Following the money is probably something that a novice bettor shouldn’t try because it’s a complex and imperfect science. But there’s something to it.

If you really want to do it right, you should chart the betting at a particular track over time. This might show you some patterns you can use to help you in your horse racing straight bets.

Test Your Skills on Win, Place, and Show Betting

If I Bet on a Horse to Show and It Wins the Race, Will I Get Paid?

Yes, because a horse wins a show bet if it comes in first, second, or third. But you will only get paid the show price.

How Much Would It Cost for Me to Bet a Horse $5 Across the Board?

You’d be betting $5 on the horse to win, place, and show. That means $5 times 3, or $15.

If I Bet a Horse to Win at 3-1 With 10 Minutes to Post Time, Can I Expect to Get Paid Back at Those Odds for Sure?

No. Pari-mutuel wagering ensures that the odds can keep changing right up until the race begins because they’re affected by other bets coming into the pools.

Conclusion on Win, Place, Show Horse Racing Bets

Horse racing wagering need not be a confusing matter, no matter if you’re doing it in person or using a horse racing betting site. If you simplify betting down to its basic elements, you can figure it out quickly even if you’re new to it. And win, place, and show provides you with the best method of simplifying.

When using win, place, and show bets, you only have to follow the outcome of a single horse in a single race. And simplicity isn’t the only thing beneficial about these wagers. If you use sound strategy and do your handicapping work, you can make an excellent profit from these bets as well.