The win bet is the most basic form of wager in horse racing. Also known as the “Straight Bet” or the “Single”, this is a single proposition on a single horse. You are betting on whether the horse you choose is going to win or not.

If your horse crosses the finish line first, you win the bet. It doesn’t matter whether your horse finishes second or twelfth, if it does not win first place, then you lose the bet. The odds are going to be longest (of all types of single bets) on the straight wager, while the payouts are going to be largest.

Straight Bets And Win Bets On Horse Races

This type of wager can get a little confusing for new parimutuel betters, because the win bet is sometimes referred to by the term “straight bet”. But there is also the distinction between straight bets (win, place, show) and exotic bets (all others at the horse track). If you hear the term straight bet and it doesn’t make sense in a context opposite exotic bets, then the person probably is talking about a simple win bet.

Example Of A Straight Bet

For an example of how a win bet works, I’m going to use the field for the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Instead of giving the list by starting or finishing position, I wanted to number the list by which horses began as the betting favorites and which were the dark horses. I’ve also included which position from the pole each horse started, along with where they finished. The odds posted are the opening betting line. Keep in mind that most of these lines changed by the start of the race.

  • Dialed In – 4 to 1 Odds – 8th Post Position – 8th Place Finish
  • Nehro – 6 to 1 Odds – 19th Post Position – 2nd Place Finish
  • Archarcharch – 10 to 1 odds – 1st Post Position – 15th Place Finish
  • Midnight Interlude – 10 to 1 – 15th Post Position – 16th Place Finish
  • Soldat – 12 to 1 – 17th Post Position – 11th Place Finish
  • Mucho Mucho Man – 12 to 1 – 13th Post Position – 3rd Place Finish
  • Shackleford – 12 to 1 – 14th Post Position – 4th Place Finish
  • Pants on Fire – 20 to 1 – 7th Post Position – 9th Place Finish
  • Twice the Appeal – 20 to 1 – 3rd Post Position – 10th Place Finish
  • Stay Thirsty – 20 to 1 – 4th Position – 12th Place Finish
  • Animal Kingdom – 30 to 1 – 16th Position – 1st Place Finish
  • Master of Hounds – 30 to 1 – 11th Position – 5th Place Finish
  • Santiva – 30 to 1 – 12th Position – 6th Place Finish
  • Brilliant Speed – 30 to 1 – 2nd Position – 7th Place Finish
  • Derby Kitten – 30 to 1 – 9th Position – 13th Place Finish
  • Decisive Moment – 30 to 1 – 5th Position – 14th Place Finish
  • Twinspired – 30 to 1 – 10th Position – 17th Place Finish
  • Watch Me Go – 50 to 1 – 20th Position – 18th Place Finish
  • Comma To the Top – 50 to 1 – 6th Position – 19th Place Finish

So if you decided to place a straight bet on the favorite entering the Kentucky Derby, you would have bet on Dialed-In at 4-to-1 odds. “Dialed In” finished 8th, a losing proposition, but you would have lost had Dialed-In finished anywhere between 2 and 19.

In fact, the only straight bet that would win would have been the one placed on Animal Kingdom, entering the race as one of seven horses with 30-to-1 odds. This single-bet win would have offered a significant payoff, because Animal Kingdom was just part of the pack before the race.

This tells you several things about betting on horses, besides the fact that long shots can win, too. As you can see, having a position on the outside is helpful, as no horse in the Top 6 was anywhere closer than the 11th position from the pole, while the Top 3 finishers started in the 16th, 19th, and 13th position, respectively. Both Animal Kingdom and Nehro may have been helped by the fact that the horse in the 18th position pulled out before the race, clearing a little extra space for jockeying position.

Odds On Straight Horse Racing Bets

As soon as odds are posted, people wanting to place a straight bet are going to make decisions on these odds, influenced by a horse’s post position, the reputation of the rider, the reputation of the trainer, the horse’s personal race history and pedigree, and any news coming out of that horse’s camp. This causes the odds to move in one direction or the other as the week goes on. As in most proposition betting, many serious betters tend to make wagers early after the odds are set, to take advantage of any perceived advantages in the oddsmaking. Late bets often go against the betting public.

In this example, the betting favorites (Dialed In, Nehro) were bet from 4-to-1 to 5-to-1, while Nehro was bet from 6-to-1 to 8.5-to-1, so there weren’t as many wagers coming in on these horses as the oddsmaker predicted. Animal Kingdom’s odds were down to 20.9-to-1 by the start of the race.

Potential Payoffs On Win Bets

The payoffs are some of the best in horse track racing on straight bets, because the chances that any one horse is going to win a race are relatively small. Even the favorite tends to have the odds against it. You aren’t going to win often making straight bets, but if you hit on Animal Kingdom, you were being paid between $20,000 and $30,000 on a $1000 straight bet, which explains why so many gamblers get involved in straight bet action.