Q: Would you explain betting at horse racing or the Kentucky Derby in general? What does it mean to”go off” at 10-1 odds or become a 33-1 long shot?
Ed, of Shiloh
A: Let me break this answer into two parts — the what and the how — so that if I start burying you with too much information (as I sometimes do) you will have a working understanding of these numbers.
What it signifies is easy. The chances — 10 to 1, for example — are merely a ratio or comparison of two numbers. The first number is the total amount of money you’ll win if the horse does exactly what you think it will. The second number is the amount you want to bet to win the first number.So, let us choose your 10-1 example. What it means is that you’ll get $10 in winnings for each and every dollar you bet on that horse if it wins. So, if you place a regular $2 wager, you’ll walk off with $22 — $20 in winnings (two times 10) and also the yield of your original $2. Similarly, if you are feeling as frisky as a colt and bet $100 to a horse with 33-1 odds, you’ll scoop up $3,400 (33 days 100 in winnings and your first $100). If a horse gets 5-3 chances and you bet $30, then you’ll take home $80 (10 times 5 and the initial $30). That’s all there’s to it.
Now comes the more difficult part: How is this stuff figured? Why are some horses given nearly even chances — say, 3-to-2 — while others might begin a race (“go off”) at 50-to-1? It is all the result of pari-mutuel betting, which is the type of wagering used in many horse racing.
Pari-mutuel is merely a high-falutin’ French expression that means”mutual bet.” In golf, for instance, players battle each other for a pot of money provided by a host. But when you bet on the ponies, you are fighting part of a pool of money that has been wagered by each one the other bettors like yourself. You have a mutual stake in it as it were.
A few things should become evident immediately. The more that bettors favor Horse A, the more money they’re going to wager on it. Because of this, they are saying the chances are good that it will win. But in addition, it means that those gamblers will acquire less per dollar bet as you need to divide the total pool of cash among a great deal of people. But if few people are betting on Horse B, they’ll take home a much larger stack of money in case their horse wins as far fewer people are going to have claim to that exact same pool of money.
And to make matters more interesting, these odds can keep changing in the days leading up into a race. As horse pros learn more about the many factors that go into their choice — the background of their horses and jockeys, injury rumors, weather forecast, etc. — they may begin hedging their bets and start laying down cash on other entrances, thereby altering the numbers.
Now allow me to give you an oversimplified example of the way the chances are guessed. Let us state that year’s Kentucky Derby was a three-horse race between Fleet o’ Foot, Not So Fast and Beetlebaum. Now, let us say people wagered a total of $1,000 on those three steeds — $500 on Fleet, $300 on Fast and $200 on Beetlebaum. Here Is What would happen:
First, the people accepting the stakes would take their talk off the top because their fee for providing the service — generally 10 percent to 20 percent. Let’s say it’s 10 percent. That leaves $900 as the payout to be divided among the winning bettors depending on the race’s outcome.
Today we must figure out what they will win. This is the formulation: The odds for each horse are calculated by subtracting the amount bet on that horse by the available payout and dividing the result by the amount bet on that horse. So for Fleet o’ Foot, you’d initially subtract 500 from 900 to receive 400 and then divide by 500. The resulting odds are 4-to-5, which means for every dollar you bet, you’d win 80 cents plus your original buck back if Fleet wins.
Similarly, Not So Fast’s odds would be 2-to-1 (900 minus 300 divided by 300) while Beetlebaum would go off at 7-to-2 (900 minus 200 divided by 200). So the less preferred a horse is, the worse (or”longer”) its odds and the higher its payout as theoretically you are assuming more risk if you bet on it.
Real life, of course, isn’t that simple. This year’s Kentucky Derby had 20 horses along with the overall wagers of $139.2 million shattered the previous record of $137.9 million in 2015. Always Dreaming wound up spending $11.40 on a $2 wager to win.
Bettors also wager on a lot more than just wins. In North Americathere are”place” bets that pay whether a horse places first or second. (In the Derby, Lookin in Lee paid $26.60 finishing second.) Additionally, there are”series” bets that cover if a horses finishes in the top three (Battle of Midway compensated $20.80). Should you feel you have a lot of horse sense, you can risk your cash on perfectas, trifectas and superfectas, in which you attempt to predict the specific order of finish to your first two, three or four horses in a race. And so on.
As you might expect, because these stakes get ever more exotic, the calculations become increasingly complicated although the core principle is exactly the same. Thank goodness modern computers can figure out it in a gallop.
TODAY’S TRIVIA
Which Kentucky Derby winner had the maximum odds in history?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: As of January, 31 states nevertheless can impose the death penalty. Four others now have governors that have put a moratorium on its use. Each of 31 use lethal injection as their primary means of execution but nine can use electrocution, six can utilize the gas chamber, three can use three and hanging could utilize the firing squad, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
More numbers to consider: Since 1976, there have been 1,453 executions, attaining a peak of 98 in 1999. This past year, the United States watched 30 sentenced to death and 20 — all in five countries — were executed. As of Oct. 1, there were 2,902 offenders on death row (54 women). Since 1973, there were 157 death-row exonerations. Former Gov. Pat Quinn abolished Illinois’ death penalty in March 2011.

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