How to bet on horse racing | Betting on horses

Horse racing History

Often referred to as the “Sport of Kings” horse racing is one of the oldest sports betting opportunities. People have been placing bets on the outcome as far back as the ancient Roman chariot racing. Racing has morphed from being simply a competitive display of wealth to a significant business encompassing the breeding, training, and handling of the horses to the track locations and the sports bookmakers worldwide.

Types of horse racing

Thoroughbred racing is the most commonly known and prestigious type of horse racing. 

Its races are generally defined by the length of the race and the horses participating in each race.There are two basic lengths:

  • Sprint: a sprint is less than a mile and involves one turn or less.
  • Distance: a distance race is generally longer than 1 mile and involves two or more turns.

Any given race is not just up for any horse and jockey to participate. Races are broken down to classifications based on the horse. There are three basic classifications in thoroughbred racing:


  • Claimers – races where all the horses are up for sale
  • Allowances — races where the horses have won money or races over a period of time
  • Stakes — owners pay a portion of the purse in order to participate.

The classifications lead to the application of “handicapping” by race officials in order give each horse in a race an equal chance at winning. Handicapping is accomplished by asking the stronger horses in a given race to carry more weight in order to balance its ability with that of other horses in the field.

Harness Racing

Harness racing doesn’t garner the media attention of the average horse racing fan but is popular with bettors. Harness Racing traces its origin back to the ancient chariot racing where a jockey is pulled behind the horse – in the modern course this “chariot” is called a sulky. 

Another key difference between thoroughbred and harness racing – beyond the obvious jockey position – is a required “trotting” gait rather than the gallop which can lead to a horse dropping back in position until getting back “on stride” Handicapping is accomplished not with additional weight but with less advantageous starting position among the field.

Types of Horse Racing Bets

Straight Bets

  • Win 1st place 
  • Place 1st or 2nd
  • Show 1st, 2nd or 3rd 

Exotic Bets

  • Exacta – first 2 in order 
  • Trifecta – first 3 in order 
  • Superfecta – first 4 in order 
  • Track Specific: Daily double (picking winner of two races in a row) or other multi-race wagers listed in the daily race program

The return on money invested. 

The expected return for any given bet is governed by the odds on the given horse and your own level of risk. When the odds on a specific horse are listed – those are the WIN odds for that horse in that specific race. For example a 10-1 for Amazing Horse would yield $10 for every $1 bet should s/he win the race. The payout rates for the other straight bets Place and Show would be determined by the bookmaker based on the number of people making that specific bet (more people = lower payout; think of it like a lottery where a large number of people come up with the winning numbers…the pool of money is the same but more people are sharing). The resulting popularity, i.e. increased number of bettors, for a straight, Win/Place/Show, wager requires a higher wager for a relatively typical payout.

The exotic wagers produce higher returns per dollar due to the probability of being able to pick the top 4 horses in order for any given race. Exotic wagers are, by design, difficult to hit. However, for a very small wager it is possible to walk away with hundreds of dollars. There are ways to increase your chances with an exotic wager by boxing group of horses rather than specifically calling the winning order, but this lack of specificity comes at the price of a lower payout. For example, you may be sure of which horse is going to win but don’t have a clue what’s coming in second… well the “1-all” exacta is the bet for you…basically you are betting that Amazing Horse will win, and excluding some unforeseen Act of God, some other horse will come in second. The resulting payout though is only 50% of the payout if you had named Amazing Horse to win and Second Best Horse to come in second place. Gamblers who regularly bet on horse racing opt for a mix of standard and exotic wagers for each race thereby achieving a blend of risk and reward. It’s impossible to cover all the intricacies and possibilities in this short article but a number of experts have created books focused on specific aspects of horse race betting. 

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Last updated on 09/06/2019 11:02 am

Where to bet on horse racing :

I have a fist full of cash and need to make a bet! Well the most common and probably most exciting way to experience horse race betting is at the track. However, depending on where you live this may not be the most viable option. Traditionally there are 3 primary ways to place bets and participate in horse race gambling.

  • The track
  • Off-track betting facility
  • Online internet betting sites

A day at the track can be an exciting outing where you can place bets for the races occurring there that day, as well as, at other tracks around the country. However, most cities and towns in the US don’t have tracks conveniently located nearby. So your next option is to look for an off-track licensed bookmaker – this will allow you place bets for a variety of sporting events including horse races occurring almost anywhere. The most commonly thought of sports bookmakers are located in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. These types of sports bookmakers are often still limited by regulatory authorities in their location so the internet has stepped into fill a gap in the market. A large number of online sports betting sites make horse race betting available. Be sure to understand your local laws/regulations for gambling before placing any bets.