Horse Racing Academy

Calculating Horse Racing Odds, Payoffs, Tote Board

CALCULATING HORSE RACING ODDSIf you are reading this you are either brand new to horse racing or trying to better familiarize yourself with everything going on including calculating horse racing odds. Either way, welcome and here at LHR we try to give you the information you need in order to navigate the mind field that is handicapping. The LHR Academy was created to help people that are new to horse racing or just want to learn more about how to wager, calculate winners, or just better understand what is going on at the track. Longshot Horse Racing is here to explain calculating horses racing odds for you and your friends. In this addition we are going to talk about odds, the tote board, and payoffs. 

If you have ever been to live racing or just watched the races on television or the internet, you have noticed a large display usually in the infield of the racetrack. On that display are a bunch of numbers and information. That is the tote board and it is loaded with information. These boards do come in many different shapes and sizes but there is some information always readily available. Some of the information you can find on any tote board includes Race Number, MTP or Minutes to Post, Post Time, Track Condition (firm, muddy, sloppy, yielding etc.), Fractions, Final Time, Unofficial or Official, Pools, Odds, Will Pays, and Pay Outs.

As you absorb what is on the tote board most people find the odds section fairly easily but do not quite understand what those odds actually mean and how calculating horse racing odds works. There are all types of possible numbers up there from 30-1 to 9-5 or even 3-5 but what does that mean? Those numbers are not exactly what a bet on that horse will pay you but rather what profit you can gather and what it just might cost you in order to get that profit. Let’s use an example to explain what I mean. 30-1 implies that for every $1 you bet you will get a profit of $30 while 3-5 means that for every $5 you bet you will recoup a profit of $3. The lower the return on investment for a particular horse the higher the probability of winning determined by the betting public. This is horse is also referred to as the post-time favorite.

Most track have a minimum wager amount of $2 on a Win bet so let’s use that and look at 30-1 again. Since you cannot bet $1 then the profit on your $2 bet would be $60. But wait, that does not include your actually initial investment of $2 which makes the return $62.


Things are never that straight forward and if that was the case then the track would not survive.  The odds on the tote board are rounded numbers so 30-1 might have actually been 29.7-1 or 30.3-1. The rounding is called breakage and is explained in a different part of the LHR Academy. Basically it means that not every wagered dollar is put back into the payouts. This is referred to as the “take” and it is where the track makes its money. The general rule of thumb in North America is a “take” between 14-20 percent.


If you want to know where your odds actually come from you have to refer back to the good ole tote board again and be prepared to do a little math. From the tote board you need to look at the total money wagered in a specific pool, in this case it will be the Win pool. You will also need the amount of money wagered on a specific horse. The example below is used to break down the calculations using a “take” or 20 percent.

Calculating Odds Image


Hopefully this breakdown calculating horse racing odds will help you better understand what is going on, what you are reading, and the horse racing terms that broadcasters may throw out on air. Stay tuned for more editions of the Longshot Horse Racing Academy. Good luck and happy handicapping.

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