NJ Horse Racing – How It Works And Where To Bet

For horse racing bettors of all skill levels, there are a multitude of ways to wager on the Sport of Kings throughout the Garden State.

For the majority of the calendar year, horseplayers can head to a trio of New Jersey racetracks to test their handicapping prowess. Those on the run can play the ponies on a wide assortment of mobile platforms, while those who prefer to stay home can bet from their couch online. With today’s technological advances, placing a trifecta on your favorite app is just a fingertip away.

New Jersey Tracks

Thoroughbred

Standardbred

  • Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment (Harness Racing)
    • Address: 1 Racetrack Drive, East Rutherford, NJ 07073
    • Also home to the FanDuel Sportsbook at The Meadowlands
  • Freehold Raceway
    • Address: 130 Park Ave, Freehold, NJ 07728
    • Sportsbook coming in late 2020 through a partnership between Penn National Gaming and Greenwood Racing

Betting on Horses In New Jersey – a Newcomers’ Guide

Pay Attention to the Experts

Before arriving at the window, there are handicappers everywhere who can guide you on the most effective ways to formulate your bets. There are numerous factors that dictate the outcome of a race, ranging from track condition, pace and weather to post position, trainer form and the jockey aboard each mount.

Quite often, the top handicappers in the sport can spend hours on a given night pouring over the most minute details impacting the outcome of a race. Leave it to them to complete the dirty work. In some cases, you can save an inordinate amount of time and wind up padding your winnings by simply listening to the pros.

Monmouth Park in Oceanport is home to one of the top handicappers in the nation. For years, WFAN talk show host Mike Francesa devoted a lengthy segment on the Friday before each leg of the Triple Crown to a breakdown of the race with handicapper Brad Thomas. At Monmouth, Thomas serves as the track’s lead handicapper for its summer meet. Thomas’ eponymous, “Brad’s Pro Picks,” features his predictions on the top 3 finishers for each race on the Monmouth card.

Reading The Form

From the official program for the 2017 Breeders Cup program (Photo by Matt Rybaltowski)

For newcomers, reading a racing form may appear as daunting as translating the Rosetta Stone. Remember, practicing patience pays dividends. It is critical to break down a page of the form into a number of sections, instead of reading through the entries hastily at a breakneck speed. By taking a more methodical approach, there’s a better chance that you will retain the most essential aspects of a race.

First, spend some time reviewing the header

Here, you will learn crucial information on the the following, for example:

  • distance
  • purse amount
  • weight limits
  • class restrictions

For example, a quick glance at the following race stipulations can give you valuable insight on how to devise your wager:  $15,000 claimer for four-year olds and upward, non-winners of two races at a Mile and over.

With a relatively low purse such as $15,000, several trainers may experiment with a drop in class to earn an elusive trip to the Winner’s Circle. A horse who has lost eight consecutive graded stakes, but has still been relatively competitive could be worth a play. The restriction on winners at a certain distance also presents an intriguing dynamic. Similarly, when a trainer looks to stretch out a sprinter to a longer route, the entry should receive a closer look. A horse attempting a longer distance for the first time may be comfortable going from sprint to route.

There are other areas of the form that should not be glossed over. A bullet workout leading up to a major race could indicate that a horse is primed for a big day. A six-furlong workout in under 1:10 (a furlong is the equivalent of an eighth of a mile), as well as a five-furlong effort below 59 seconds are both considered extremely fast.

Certain states also have race-day restrictions against the use of Lasix, a medication designed to treat bleeding in the lungs. Typically, when a horse receives Lasix before a race it will be noted in the form under the symbol “L,” that is written next to a jockey’s weight. In many instances, when a thoroughbred accustomed to running on Lasix competes in a non-Lasix jurisdiction, the horse could struggle.

Bet Types

Win/Place/Show

Horseplayers enjoy visiting the track due in part to the wide array of wagering options available on a race card. Conservative bettors may opt to play it safe with a straight win, place (second) or show wager (third), while more adventurous ones can take on added risk — and big upside — with exotic bets.

  • Win: As the name suggests, a win bet is a wager on a particular horse to finish first in a race.
  • Place: By contrast, a bet on a horse to place or finish second gives bettors additional payout options. A bettor with a place ticket will receive a payout if the horse crosses the line in first or second (although ‘place’ wagers usually pay less than win bets).
  • Show: When it comes to a show bet, or a wager on a horse to finish third, a bettor will earn a payout if the selection finishes the race in the Top 3.

Exotics

While exotic wagers carry a larger payout, the bets also have a much lower probability of hitting.

  • Exacta: A bettor placing an exacta picks the top two finishers in order
  • Quinella: These tickets result in a payout if a bettor picks the first two horses regardless of the order of finish. In effect, a quinella is the same bet as an exacta box, but half as costly, and usually pays less.
  • Trifecta: A trifecta asks bettors to pick the top three horses in order.
  • Superfecta: These wagers require a bettor to predict the top four finishers.

When placing a superfecta, consider the size of the field before arriving at the window. A race with a 14-horse field contains more than 24,000 superfecta combinations (14 * 13 * 12 *11, etc.).

By comparison, a race with 10 horses has around 5,000 different combos. Many tracks give bettors the option of placing a minimum 10-cent superfecta wager. If a bettor places a 10-cent superfecta box on every entrant in a 10-horse field, the bet will cost $504 (5,040 options times 0.10). The same $1 superfecta will cost a bettor $5,040.

Using a “box” 

If you bet a straight $1 exacta box, you are picking the first two horses to finish precisely in that order: Horse No. 3, Horse  No. 8 for example. That’s one formulation.

With a 3-8 exacta box for $1, you would pay $2, because you are essentially betting on either outcome in which the 3 or the 8 finish at the top. Thus, a win by the 8 and a place on the 3 becomes a winning outcome for you.

Each horse you add to the “box,” or the horses included in your bet that would produce a winning ticket, is treated as its own unique bet. For example, if you pick three horses for your trifecta and box it, you would be paying for these outcomes for the trifecta box:

  • 1-2-3
  • 1-3-2
  • 2-3-1
  • 2-1-3
  • 3-2-1
  • 3-1-2

That’s six bets.  So a $1 trifecta box would give you an opportunity to hit paydirt with any permutation of those three horses finishing in the top three positions. A $1 trifecta box with six different combinations costs $6.  If you increase the bet size to $2 on your trifecta (and thus the size of the potential payout), that would cost $12…a $3 trifecta would be $18, and so forth.

How exacta, trifecta and superfecta payments are calculated 

As with all pari-mutuel wagering, payouts for exotic wagers are shared equally among the winners of each pool. In the event of a dead heat (essentially a tie) in a trifecta, a player must have both horses in the dead heat to win, along with a wager on the show horse, according to William Hill house rules at Monmouth. When a bettor plays a trifecta box during a dead heat, he will receive a winning payout twice, the house rules state.

Using round figures, let’s take a race with $1 million wagered in the trifecta pool at Monmouth. Since the takeout at Monmouth is 25% for trifecta pools, there will be $750,000 remaining in the pool once the track receives its cut. The remaining amounts in the pool are divided among the winning trifecta tickets. During the 2019 Haskell Invitational, a $0.50 trifecta paid $22.60 from a total pool of $427,597. A $1 trifecta in the same race paid $45.20.

The same pari-mutuel concepts apply for exacta and superfecta wagering. At the 2019 Haskell, Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto, the two overwhelming favorites, finished 1-2 as expected. Consequently, a $1 exacta paid only $6. A chalky finish also produced a low payout for the $1 superfecta of $185.70. By comparison, a $1 super in the 2019 Kentucky Derby paid more than $16,500. Country House, a 32-1 longshot, was declared the winner after stewards disqualified Maximum Security.

There are also numerous multi-race options that bring attractive payouts

  • Daily Double: A bettor will hit the Daily Double when he correctly selects the winner in two consecutive races.
  • Late Double: A Late Double features the same format as the Daily Double, but is offered several races later on a daily card.
  • Pick-3: Correctly select the winning horse in three races in a row.
  • Pick-4: Correctly select the winning horse in four races in a row.
  • Pick-5: Correctly select the winning horse in five races in a row.
  • Pick-6: Correctly select the winning horse in six races in a row.

Since your chances of hitting a Pick-6 are relatively low, you may want to opt for a Pick-3 or Pick-4 instead as a hedge. Just as with single-race exotics, you can “box “multiple horses in a race to increase your chances of producing a winning ticket. For instance, a $1 Pick 4 with two horses in Race 1, four horses in Race 2, five horses in Race 3 and a single in Race 4 will cost only $40.

Basic Horse Betting Angles

Trainer Form

One easy way to increase your Return On Investment (ROI) is to focus closely on trainer performance. An attentive bettor may look at a trainer’s form on a particular track to spot an angle that might escape others. For instance, if trainer Kelly Breen is winning at a 12% rate on the year but at a 23% clip in sprint races at Monmouth, the trends indicate that Breen might own a home-field advantage at the Oceanport track.

You can go one step further. Pay attention to other trends such as trainer performance following a layoff. A trainer’s win percentage may be higher in starts when his horse receives a rest of 61 to 180 days from the prior outing. One metric tracks a trainer’s success rate on the second or third start following an extended layoff. By spotting obscure trends, your chances of hitting on a pick with double-digit odds could increase exponentially.

Jockey Performance

By the same token, another strategy lies in your ability to identify the hot jockeys. Few people, with the exception of possibly the trainer, know the tendencies of a top thoroughbred better than the jockey in the saddles. Certain jockeys who can form a proper rapport with their mounts will often flourish, while those who lack chemistry may produce disappointing results. In some cases when a horse is being shipped across the country for a big race, there is a strong likelihood that he may not be piloted by his regular rider. A jockey change in those instances could provide a compelling reason to toss a selection from your picks.

A jockey’s riding style is also an important factor. Certain jockeys specialize at coming off the pace and knifing through traffic to pull off a thrilling rally. Others prefer to be on the lead while guiding a front-runner to a wire-to-wire victory.

Also, focus on specialists and track bias. A jockey who hits the board with high frequency on a sloppy track could be a strong option on a day with torrential rain in the forecast. On some days, the inside part of the track could be playing faster than the extreme outside. Calvin Borel, a three-time winning Kentucky Derby winner, has affectionately earned the nickname Calvin “Borail,” for his ability to scrape the paint on winning, inside trips. When a track displays a clear inside, rail bias, keep an eye out for jockeys such as Borel.

Speed Figures

Over the last several decades, a number of top handicappers have developed complex models as a comparative tool for judging a horse’s performance. With dozens of factors at play, variables such as weather, track condition and early speed can impact the final time of a race. A horse who finished the 2018 Kentucky Derby in 2:04.8 in sloppy conditions, might have put forth as strong of an effort as one who crossed the line in 2:02.5, years earlier on a fast track.

By reviewing the prognostications from handicappers that produce their own speed figures (Beyer, TimeForm US and Equibase etc.) you will get a good sense of how a horse performs regardless of the conditions. Created by Andy Beyer, a former writer with the Washington Post, Beyer Speed Figures have been a staple of the sport for decades. As a rule of thumb, anytime a horse records a triple-digit Beyer there’s a high likelihood that it will be among the fastest performances of a season.

Pedigree

Many sharp players like to study a horse’s bloodlines to gain another edge. Champion horses tend to pass down their most valuable traits to members of their offspring. Consider Charlatan, one of the top horses to emerge out of the 3-year old crop for the 2020 racing season. Trained by Bob Baffert, Charlatan is reputed for his early-speed out of the gate and ability to dominate a race with his front-running style. It is no coincidence that Charlatan is the son of Speightstown, the 2004 Eclipse Award winner for champion sprinter.

Although the sire is a key indicator of a horse’s long-term success rate, dam-side pedigree is a component that is often overlooked by bettors. A horse’s pedigree on his mother’s side may wind up being a strong predictor on the thoroughbred’s future on the track. Cees Tizzy, the sire of Tiznow, had a modest career with three victories in six overall starts — none in a graded stakes race. But Tiznow, a two-time Breeders Cup Classic winner, is out of Cee’s Song, a descendant of Seattle Slew. In 1977, Seattle Slew joined a select group when he became only the 10th horse ever to win the Triple Crown.

Fixed odds

New Jersey bettors can also wager on their preferred horse at fixed odds for select races. Unlike pari-mutuel wagers, bets with fixed odds allow players to receive a pre-determined price on a certain horse prior to a race. With fixed odds wagering, a horseplayer can lock in odds of 10/1 on Maxfield to win the Kentucky Derby months before the Run for the Roses. If Maxfield is bet down on Derby Day to 4/1, ticket holders of a futures wager on the son of Street Sense will still receive a payout at 10/1 odds. New Jersey bettors can engage in fixed odds wagering on the Betfair Betting Exchange.

Takeout percentages

In 2016, Darby Development, operator of Monmouth Park, lowered the takeout rate for its Monmouth-at-Meadowlands meet, a turf-only meet that runs for 14 days each fall. A track’s takeout rate is the percentage of dollars that it removes from each pool before winning payouts are made. Takeouts at New Jersey tracks are among the lowest in the country.

Here are the current takeout rates at Monmouth:

  • Pick 4/Pick 5 — 15%
  • Win/Place/Show — 17%
  • Exacta/Daily Double — 19%
  • Jersey Shore 6 — 20%
  • Pick 3/Trifecta/Superfecta — 25%

The takeout rates are similar at The Meadowlands, with the exception of Pick 3 and Superfecta wagers which have a takeout of 20% each. The Meadowlands Racetrack holds races for standardbreds, i.e. harness racing, from November until August each year. Freehold Raceway holds two meets a year: from January until May, then another one that is held from September until mid-December. Freehold also offers simulcast races from numerous tracks throughout North America.

Monmouth Park, home of the Grade I Haskell, typically holds its annual meet from May until September. The Haskell is one of the nation’s most lucrative races for 3-year olds.

Triple Crown race calendar: New dates and lengths for 2020

  • Belmont Stakes (Belmont Park) — June 20, 2020 (1 1/8-miles).
  • Kentucky Derby (Churchill Downs) — Sept. 5, 2020 (1 1/4-miles).
  • Preakness Stakes (Pimlico Race Track) — Oct. 3, 2020 (1 3/16-miles).

Note: In every other year when there is not a pandemic, the Kentucky Derby has been held first in May, the Preakness three weeks later, and the Belmont in June. This year, in light of the overhauled schedule, officials have shortened the distance of the Belmont Stakes from its traditional 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/8 miles.

In 2021, we expect a return to the normal Triple Crown calendar.