The COVID-19 pandemic touched every aspect American life, and in the grand scheme of things, pursuing entertainment – and the almighty dollar – by wagering on horse racing certainly took a backseat over the past year and a half to the essential tasks we all focused on to keep ourselves and our families safe and help our neighbors as much as possible.
Still, a lot of us had time for leisure, and those who are passionate about horse racing had to pursue other options while racetracks prohibited attendance. It’s been the mission of America’s Best Racing since it was founded to promote what’s best about this sport, and for us as well as most everyone else, that’s attending the races in person. Nothing else matches the excitement of gathering with friends, enjoying a perfect-weather day, partaking in local/regional food and drink faves, and witnessing up close the beauty and intensity of racehorses competing. Over the past few months, we've been able to make tentative steps back to the track, and as of June 2021 many racing jurisdictions have either opened up completely or partially, allowing fans to return.
Thankfully during the pandemic, most tracks kept running races even without attendance, and fans and horseplayers were able to transfer their devotion to the complex and captivating practice of handicapping and wagering to an online format. Over the past 15 years, ADW (advance-deposit wagering) companies have established a permanent, and growing, foothold in the industry, constantly rolling out new technologies and promotions that have expanded the ways people can bet.
Most of the basic principles of handicapping horse racing are just as valid when using an ADW account as they are at the track, but there are other aspects that are unique. Missing out on watching Thoroughbreds in the paddock and warming up before a race in person is a definite minus. On the other hand, having your laptop at the ready means a wealth of information is at your fingertips that can give you a big advantage.
Even as tracks welcome back fans, many folks are now accustomed to making online bets, and tracks such as the NYRA venues and Churchill Downs continuously promote their ADWs as alternative options. Online wagering will only continue to grow in the years ahead, so here at Team ABR, we've tweaked our guide to betting the horses online (originally published in March 2020) to serve as a handy introduction for those who still need to sharpen that “particular set of skills” (quoting Liam Neeson) and dive right in.
Bet to Win
It’s tempting to make across-the-board bets, especially when you land on a longshot, and when you have all of the entries pulled up right in front of you on your laptop, it’s easy to spot more than one overlay that you like. There is something to be said for being rewarded when a bomb clunks up or hangs on for a minor spot, but in general you are better off playing straight win bets if you’re not trying to crack a Pick 4 or Pick 5. If you make three substantial win bets on horses at a solid value, you only need one winner to make a profit. If two-thirds of that money is tied up in place and show bets, you might need all three to run well. –Mike Curry
This is difficult because most gamblers like the action of having a few bucks riding on the event they are watching, and most ADW accounts allow you to pull up more than one live feed of a track at a time. It takes discipline to pass on a race, but if you like quite a few runners on a particular racecard, but love two or three, you should bet the majority (or all) of your bankroll on the horses you feel most strongly about.
If you’ve budgeted $100 or $200 for the day, why would you bet $5 or $10 per race when you’ve clearly identified your best bets? If you love two or three horses, build a strategy keying those two or three horses ... or simply bet most of your bankroll on those horses to win. –Mike Curry
Use The Tools at Your Fingertips
Most wagering sites will not only offer rebates for past performances (which basically allows you to access past performances of horse for free) but most will also offer predictive data that can often be useful. On TVG, for example, you can find “Power Ratings” for each horse, as well as speed and class figures that you can factor into making your picks. –Dan Tordjman
Those Tools Include Replays!
All legal US wagering sites also allow you unlimited access to race replays, which are extremely important in identifying horses who might be positioned to improve or regress off of the trips they received in previous races. If there’s one thing I spend more time on than anything else when I’m handicapping, it’s watching replays. The ultimate goal is to find a potential overlay (a horse who’s odds are higher than they should be) who had an excuse for running poorly in a previous race which you would’ve only spotted had you watched the replay. –Dan Tordjman
Take Advantage of Offers … to a Point
Most ADW accounts will offer a sign-in bonus, a limited amount posted to your account that you can use to bet. Sample the offers and read the fine print before choosing. Once you’ve signed in, the offers will keep rolling in – some offering bonus cash for wagering on certain tracks, others restricted to a specific bet such as the Pick 4 or Pick 5. By all means, take advantage of any offer coming your way that dovetails with your usual strategy and money-making goals – but always prioritize your best bets for the day over any promotional offer. –Patrick Reed
Use Your Home as a Handicapping Command Center
If you can shield an area away from family members, the extra space in your home provides options for laying out past performances and organizing races based on budgeting and best options for making a profit. Be sure to have your laptop close showing live feeds of the one or two tracks you’re betting so you can keep track of post times. –Patrick Reed
Stay Disciplined – Focus on Your Favorite Tracks
ADW accounts provide even more options than your local racetrack’s simulcast feed, offering practically every North American track holding a card that particular day, and many international tracks. Don’t be tempted: stay honed in on the racing circuits you know the most about and would bet on during a normal day at the track. –Patrick Reed
Don’t DWI While ADW:
‘D’ for ‘Deposit’ in both cases. It’s hard to resist imbibing at the track with friends, but in the online betting environment, concentration and discipline should rule the day. The goal is to find overlays and construct bets with a diamond-cutter’s attention, not to keep hitting the deposit button in a fit of booze-fueled bravado and slowly fall down the well when a bad beat or two (or three) occurs. There’ll be time to enjoy a glass of bourbon or whatever you prefer when the laptop’s shut – or better yet, when you're back at the racetrack. –Patrick Reed