Win, Place, Show: Finding Value in the Basics
Level: Intermediate
By Chris Rossi, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

You’ve just handicapped the next race, but how do you transition from the handicapping strategy to the wagering strategy? It’s important to remember that these are two separate endeavors that don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand.

First things first: You’re not going to get life-changing scores playing horses to win, place or show because of the simplicity of the wager itself — one horse doing one thing in one race. Because of this simplicity, you’re generally not going to play multiple horses to win, place or show in a single race, as you might do in multi-race and single race exotic wagers. It must be noted, though, that there are abnormal circumstances when it might be wise to do so, such as playing against a prohibitive, odds-on favorite with a smattering of longshots.

With this in mind, price is paramount in determining when to jump into the mutuel pool. So how does one determine when the price is right? Ask ten people and you might get ten different answers, but the general idea behind those answers is what I’ll call finding value.

Everyone’s definition of value is different. Some say any winning ticket is value, regardless of price. Others will not wager unless the odds meet their minimum requirement. Here’s this handicapper’s strategy when looking to see if the time is right to play in the mutuel pool.

Initially I’ll make my own notes regarding which horse or horses I think will run well, maybe even win. I then note what the morning line or expected odds are on those horses. Lastly, I’m keeping my eye on the tote board to see if any of the horses I’ve initially noted are taking action.

If, at post time, a horse that I like is higher than the expected odds, an opportunity could await. For instance, say a horse that I think will run well is 5-1 on the morning line, and I also think that that morning line is a reasonably acceptable price. Come post time, if that same horse is 8-1 on the tote board, that’s my definition of value.

Now that I’ve found value, I want to play. There is no harm in passing on a race I’ve handicapped if I don’t find any value or if an opinion is not particularly strong. As I’ve noted at the outset, handicapping and wagering are two separate endeavors that are not always connected. In this case at 8-1, the odds are high enough to consider playing this horse across the board, because I think that this horse will run and I might as well ensure that if the horse does run well but doesn’t win, I can cash a ticket or two. At this particular range of 8-1, I’ll play a little more underneath in the place and show pool than I would in the win pool, for example $2 to win, $4 to place and $10 to show. This is considered to be a conservative play. Others might eschew the show pool altogether with the idea that 8-1 is too short, and the payout on a show bet would be too small to make the wager worthwhile.

Generally, the shorter the price on the horse I like, the less I’m inclined to get involved in the place or show pool and the more inclined I am to take my chances in the win pool only. The higher the price, the more interest I have in the place and show pools, even sometimes more interest than the win pool.

The key to this strategy is aligning your opinion with an expected fair price and then acting accordingly when that fair price is at or above what you expected.

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  • Love the site. We, at Del Mar are a huge proponent of bringing in the new fans….so keep up the good work.

    Would you mind is we post this article during our meet this summer on We would give credit.

  • Thanks Walker! We’d love to work with Del Mar, and any track, to help new fans and players have a better and possibly profitable on-track experience!

  • If I place a $3.00 WPS bet what is the total cost? Would it be $9.00?

  • Yes Jean, that’s correct!

  • I just wante to pick 3 horse , what is that call, also to finish in any of the top 3 places, in any order, and how much can I win on a 100 dollars bet,

  • Hi Pierre – that bet is called a trifecta box. The payout is dependent on the odds of the horses and how much money was wagered. If you’re thinking about playing the trifecta in the Belmont Stakes, there will be much more money wagered on that race than a regular race, which will help the payouts if American Pharoah wins.

    If you’re going to spend $100 on a trifecta box the payout would not be on a $100 ticket. Let’s do a real world example, say you played the winning trifecta in the 2015 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness as a $15 box of three horses. The bet would cost you $90.

    The payouts on $2 bets (traditionally how payouts are listed) were:

    Derby: $202.00
    Preakness: $985.00

    You’ll notice that there’s a pretty big difference in the amount of the payouts. In the Derby the first three horses were at low odds and the Preakness the 2nd place finisher was the longest price in the field. In order to determine how much you get on your $15 ticket you multiply each of these payouts by half of your ticket as these payouts are listed for $2 tickets.

    Derby: $202.00 x 7.5 = $1,515 payout on a $15 trifecta box.
    Preakness: $985.00 x 7.5 = $7,387.50 payout on a $15 trifecta box.

    Here are a couple of posts to help you understand the basics wager types:

    And here’s a post by our Kevin Martin on how he’d bet $100 in the Belmont. Good luck!

  • I want to bet $100 straight trifecta also $100 super trifecta head Belmont I also want to box my super trifecta and box my trifecta from my understanding to what you sent me back in the text because of the odds being basically low on the number 5 2 9 horse my payout would not be as big as if all three horses where long shots and The Longshots have come in first second and third in the order that I pick and likewise for the superfecta

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