Thoroughbred horse racing is facing many challenges. For example, as of October 2011, wagering on U.S. races declined by 7.4% year-to-date, and U.S. race days were down 4.68%. Some of this is the result of weak economic conditions, but generally, competition from other activities, gambling and non-gambling, has been siphoning off both existing and potential fans.

Hypotheses and research have been published to help explain the reasons for the decline. In addition, various efforts and innovations have been undertaken to stem the downturn, like the creation of TVG and HRTV, new betting options such as the Pick 6 and the 10-cent Superfecta, and Churchill Downs’ creation “Downs after Dark.”

Competition from alternative gambling–primarily the rapid proliferation of casinos–is most likely the biggest factor in the erosion of racing’s share of the gambling dollar. (As reported by the McKinsey & Company report to the 2011 Jockey Club Roundtable, commercial casinos grew 34% between 2001 and 2011.) When compared to betting on horse races, games at casinos offer little down time, and for the most part, less complicated betting. For example, one can just push a button on a VLT.

The racing industry needs to offer more alternative betting options (as well as less time between races) to spur fan interest. A play that, to my knowledge, has never been used, is an adaptation of the over/under (O/U) from sports betting, and centers around the time of the race.

This bet would allow a participant to place a wager based on the estimated or “par” time of the race as set by the track. It could be structured in two ways. First, a straightforward O/U based on the fractional times and final time of the race. Second, a more sophisticated O/U based on the fractional times and final time of the race, wherein the bettor wagers on the exact time to a tenth of a second, with corresponding odds.

These wagers offer racetracks and advance-deposit-wagering outlets a solution to a major problem; providing the betting public with multiple options in short fields. Even a three-horse field yields numerous betting options, and in larger races, betting options proliferate.

Here is how this suggestion could work. The simplest wager allows an O/U bet on the par time set for the race by the track. The odds would depend on how much is bet on the under, par, or over. The sophisticated O/U offers wagers for multiple times, in 0.1 second intervals for the under or over as well as the par time.

As an example of the sophisticated O/U, suppose the track sets the par time at 1:22.0 for a 7-furlong race, as well as establishes the odds for the par time. In addition, it offers odds and times for 0.1 second times faster or slower than the par time. The par time might have odds of 2-1, while 1:22.1 could be 5-2; 1:22.2, 3-1; and so on. Or, for a faster time, 1:21.5 might have odds of 10-1. Also allow betting on split times and this race has a plethora of betting options.

Downsides to this wager are minimal. Trying to fix a race to collect on an O/U bet would be unlikely, as getting a horse to run a specific distance in an exact time is nearly impossible. Tracks that implement such a bet would need some modification to their tote boards, and software, but it should be easy to adapt to an ADW platform. It also provides a hedge bet against a long shot. Who cares if the 50-1 shot won? You cashed on the Over-Under!


John G. Veitch of Saratoga Springs, NY has been a horse-racing fan for nearly 40 years. He is a TOBA member, owner in several partnerships–including Bourbon Lane, Big Horse, and Pennywise Stable–and his family’s racing history dates to the 19th century.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business


  1. I’ve often wondered why racetracks don’t do a bet like this. Great idea.

  2. A track could not offer too many times or else there would not be sufficient money on each side of the bet. This bet is good–because it would attract people who do not want to handicap.

  3. Bill Shanklin says

    John’s got a strong commercial idea with this bet. It would introduce an entirely different handicapping angle. One would have to evaluate how the race would develop, in particular the pace, and factor in track conditions. This is the type of thinking that can help to revitalize pari-mutuel wagering. One new bet by itself would not turn around handle, but every successful innovation would add up.

  4. Bill Shanklin says

    Another thought: One of the categories in the more complex of the O/U bets would have to be a catchall. For example, suppose the final race times that bettors could wager on were 148 through 150 in increments of 0.1 (148.1, 148.2 etc.) The catchall category would, in effect, be “None of the listed times.”

  5. Won’t be coming soon to your local racetrack anytime soon. Managment is stuck in the 50s.

  6. Sorry, there is zero interest in this bet. Repeat, zero.

    Betting exchanges in Europe handle millions of dollars, yet there has been an extreme reluctance to do this on a widespread basis in the U.S. (because every race will be fixed by the criminal owners and trainers and jockeys!).

    Geez, what is wrong here? We have a proven successful model that bettors love but can’t much traction here, and instead we get a plan where everybody in the grandstand is going to be yelling, “Come on 1:10.4”!

    How much will this proposed bet handle–$125 per race?

    I am shaking my head.

  7. Barry Meadow does a splendid job of catering to serious bettors and I’ve read his work and found it useful. However, racing also needs bets for people who don’t want to devote the time and effort to in-depth handicapping. Not everyone views betting on horse racing as a serious endeavor and like to bet horses by picking numbers etc. To say that there is “zero interest” is a sweeping generalization. Mr. Meadows’ is shaking his head because his frame of reference is the professional rather than the leisure player.

  8. Mr. Meadows,
    Are you saying or implying that when exchange wagering comes to the USA soon that “every race will be fixed by the criminal owners and trainers and jockeys”? Is this what is happening in Europe? If so, what is your evidence for such a statement?

  9. Ireland,

    The statement “every race will be fixed…” was meant ironically, as a joke. I was simply expressing the fear I’ve heard from the powers that be in the U.S. to explain their reluctance to move this successful idea forward.

    As for Reez’s comment about the leisure player, we’ve had simplistic bets offered such as odd-even which were supposed to captivate the lottery crowd–only they were pulled after minuscule handles.

  10. John Veitch says

    I never expect this wager to overtake current betting options.
    But, a major aspect of this bet is that it solves a recurring problem in horse racing, small betting options in short fields. How often has field size for a race or multiple races been reduced when a race come off the turf or other reasons?
    Couple that with an overwhemling favorite – and fans lose interest in the race (s). But – by providing multiple bets on the splits and final time, the winning wager could provide a 10:1 or higher payout even if the 1:9 fav. wins.
    Create a bet that allows wagering on splits (like a triple) and a 3 horse field could produce a 200:1 payout. Do you think bettors would ignore that??

  11. Tom Byers says

    If you could, think about what you propose, Mr. Veitch. A jockey who sits on an ‘easy winner’ developing, can decide to either continue asking his charge, or completely ease it to the line. Is he to be derided or heavily criticized for doing either? Yet, if the wager materialized, another area of dissatisfaction is created. Please don’t implement such a ridiculous wager. Sports betting…points shaving….ughhhhhh. Enough already.