What are racing future wagers, and should you bet them?

October 13th, 2021

For the most part, the pari-mutuel wagering widespread in horse racing is focused on day-to-day betting opportunities. But once in a while, the sport steps outside the box with more creative options, such as future wagers.

Future wagers allows horseplayers to bet on the outcomes of far-off events, rather than an upcoming race, where entries have already been drawn. For example, the popular Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pools allow bettors to wager on potential Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders months in advance of the first Saturday in May.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of betting futures? Let’s explore both sides of the equation.

Advantages of future wagers

The main advantage of a future wager is the possibility to lock in high odds that won’t be available on race day.

If you’re ahead of the pack to recognize the talent of an unheralded racehorse, the payoffs can be lucrative, because the final odds from your future wager won’t change based on subsequent developments.

When eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah claimed the 2015 Kentucky Derby, his 29-10 odds on race day produced a $2 win payoff of $7.80. But the previous November — before he’d dominated the Rebel S. (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) to emerge as a clear Triple Crown threat — American Pharoah closed at just less than 13-1 in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1. Bettors who played American Pharoah in the future pool received a $2 payoff of $27.60.

Disadvantages of future wagers

There are a couple significant drawbacks to future wagers.

There is no guarantee the horse you wager on will make it to the starting gate. If an injury sends your runner to the sideline, you’re out of luck and won’t even get a run for your money.

With this risk comes the question of fair betting value. It stands to reason that you should demand high odds for a horse months in advance of a specific race. Many things can go wrong between the time you place your bet and the time of the race. But high odds aren’t always available, since U.S. pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing is limited to 24 betting interests, and it is tricky to find enticing prices when there are relatively few options.

And if you bet short-priced runners, there is a possibility you’ll receive lower odds in the future pool than you’ll find on race day. When Authentic won the 2020 Kentucky Derby at odds of 8-1, his $18.80 win payoff on race day was better than the $14.80 payoff generated by his 6-1 odds from Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3, six months earlier.

Should you bet future wagers?

Considering the risks and shortcomings involved, pari-mutuel future wagers typically aren’t the most value-oriented betting opportunities in horse racing, though lucrative payoffs are occasionally found.

Many bettors prefer to look at them as entertainment. A few small bets to gain long-term rooting interest and a chance for bragging rights have to count for something, right?

One of the brightest spots for exploring the future wager concept is through the Kentucky Derby Future Wager events that are conducted by the home of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, and their sister TwinSpires.