How to bet parlays in horse racing

February 23rd, 2022

Have you ever consider betting a horse racing parlay?

The pari-mutuel wagering offered on horse racing comes with plenty of multi-race wagers to choose from—Pick 3s, Pick 4s, Pick 5s, etc. But these wagers cover preselected races, and they’re not always the races you would like to include in a parlay.

However, if you’re willing to put in a little extra effort, it’s possible to play parlays in horse racing. After all, parlays aren’t really that complicated.

What is a parlay?

Let’s say you’ve analyzed a busy Saturday of racing and identified five horses you wish to bet. The five horses are running in five different races at three different tracks. Let’s say each one is listed at 2-1 odds, and you wish to bet a total of $50 on the five horses.

Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to find a Pick 5 wager covering the precise races you wish to bet. And betting $10 to win on each horse (for a total investment of $50) will only return $150—a solid, but hardly earthshattering profit.

That’s where a parlay can be an enticing strategy. Instead of betting $10 on each horse, you bet $50 on the first horse in action, and then—if the horse wins—you bet the profits on the second horse. If the second horse wins, you wheel back the winnings on the third horse, and so on. By betting larger and larger amounts on each successive horse, you’re eligible to win a massive sum if all five horses visit the winner’s circle.

How much can a parlay pay?

Exactly how much a parlay returns depends on the amount of money you initially invest and the odds of the horses you’re betting. But the more races you play, the higher the profits can rise.

Using the example above, let’s say you bet $50 on the first 2-1 shot. The return would be $150. Then you bet $150 on the second 2-1 shot, for a return of $450. Betting $450 on the third 2-1 shot returns $1,350, which can then be wheeled back on the fourth 2-1 shot for a $4,050 payoff. Investing this sum on the final 2-1 shot brings your winnings to $12,150—far superior to the $150 yielded by betting $10 to win on each of 2-1 shots.

Downsides of pari-mutuel parlays

Of course, there are some downsides to betting horse racing parlays. For example, each win bet you place is subject to takeout, whereas takeout affects official multi-race wagers (like the Pick 3, Pick 4, etc.) only once.

Secondly, seeing a parlay through to the finish requires fortitude. Bet a Pick 5, and there’s no turning back after the first race—either you’ve selected all five winners and will ultimately cash, or you’ve overlooked the winning combination and will lose your bet. But when betting a five-horse parlay, you might be tempted to call it quits after four horses win and you’re sitting on thousands of dollars. Why risk it all on the fifth horse, knowing your profits will be reduced to zero if the fifth horse loses?

Parlays aren’t for everyone, but if picking winners is your strong suit, why not give a parlay a try? Four or five short-priced winners in a row can quickly turn a modest initial investment into a hefty payday.