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The Shocking History of Horse Race Betting

Horse racing’s most dramatic moments in sports betting history


While you might think that football, baseball or basketball claim the prize for the ultimate in competition drama, it is actually horse racing that is the stand-out for some of the most amazing moments in sports betting history. Since there are so many races each day, there are more opportunities for dramatic upsets. PostitPlayit takes a look back at some of the pivotal moments in horse racing that have influenced the sports betting industry and shares tips on how you can evaluate upcoming races before you place your next wager.


Understanding the upset

Everybody loves a huge upset when it comes to sports and even more so if you are the one who bet on the underdog. The term ‘upset’ was derived from the horse racing industry when a horse named Upset beat a horse named Man o’ War, an undisputed champion, in 1919. The race outcome was so unexpected that the term ‘upset’ became commonplace in all of the sports bettings.


Kentucky Derby Upsets
The crown jewel of horse racing, the Kentucky Derby, has seen its share of dramatic results since the first Run for the Roses took place in 1875. One of the most memorable upsets happened in 2009 with a horse named Mine That Bird that had 50/1 odds when the race started. Mine That Bird had a slow start running at the back of the pack and only passed a few horses as they were tired. Mine That Bird had a few previous wins in Canada and placed fourth at a race prior to the Derby in New Mexico. While no one was paying much attention to Mine That Bird for most of the race, he made Derby and sports betting history by blasting down the final stretch for the win.


Two years later, in 2011, another major upset happened at the Kentucky Derby with a horse named the Animal Kingdom that won with 21/1 odds. The favorite in the race was a horse named Uncle Mo that developed an infection. Uncle Mo’s jockey John Velazquez switched to the Animal Kingdom, a longshot prospect for a win because the horse had never run on a dirt track. On the final leg of the race, Animal Kingdom dashed past the frontrunners to take home the Kentucky Derby win by three lengths.


Breeders Cup Upsets
The Breeders Cup gets a lot of sports betting attention because the race is a strong indicator of the horse that will be the standout for the year. Like the Kentucky Derby, the only predictable factor in the race is the unpredictability of the horses. One of the biggest upsets in Breeders Cup history happened in 2002 with a horse named Volponi that had 44/1 odds. He crushed the predicted favorites of War Emblem (a Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ), Hawk Wing (a European champion) and Medaglia d’Oro (a Travers Stakes winner). Volponi had only ever raced on grass, not dirt, so with the odds and expectations stacked against him the Breeders Cup win turned the horse racing and sports betting worlds on their heads.


Betting on Horse Races
Beyond the great stories that have come out of horse racing history, there are important lessons for sports bettors. These dramatic upsets give insight into the factors to consider when placing a wager on horse racing that goes beyond focusing on the favorites.


Weigh the value of the bet. Oftentimes, placing a bet on horse racing has less to do with the odds of a favorite than it does odds that are just inflated. They get that way when the favorite to win has so many bets that it skews the overall odds. When this happens, the value of the horse that is considered a longshot might actually be better for your wager.


Mind the turf. As shared in the examples above, evaluating the turf that a horse is used to is important because it is not just a predictor of where they can race well, but it could provide insight into a horse that might perform exceptionally well on a different surface. Horses that regularly run on grass (like Volponi in the Breeders Cup win) are more inconsistent and therefore might just excel on different terrain.


Watch the weather. It is difficult to predict how a horse will react to weather conditions like wind or rain but be mindful before placing a wager that these factors can impact all of the horses, including the favorites.


Weigh the rest periods. Even champion horses will wear down if they do not get rest. It is important to evaluate the rest periods of the horses before a big race. Horses tend to do better after a period of long rest with a race or two before the big day to get re-acclimated to their run.


The history of horse racing shows that dramatic upsets are inevitable, and frankly, they make the sport that much more exciting to watch. As a bettor, the wins and losses can be tough but fortunately, there are so many races that take place during the year that you can test your strategies on smaller races before placing wagers on the bigger ones.


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