Betting on horse racing can be exciting and entertaining whether you make it to the track or not. It can also be profitable at times with a little luck and knowledge. The Sport of Kings has a long and storied history, yet has never been more accessible than now, with online horse betting available for players to bet the races from tracks all over the world on their smartphones and home computers.
This Gambling.com guide explains how to bet on horse racing, the types of wagers available and some helpful betting facts and tips.
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Horse bettors can play the races at the track, off-track betting sites, or online through Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) platforms such as TVG, TwinSpires, Xpressbet and NYRA Bets, which are licensed in most states. Bettors can select an online platform, register for an account, deposit funds and they’re ready to wager. It’s estimated that more than 90 percent of all money bet on horse racing in North America is placed away from the host track, and most of those wagers are placed on mobile devices or computers.
If betting the races online, don’t worry about missing the action. Most horse betting sites provide video to watch the races in real time. Whether at the track or online, the betting process is similar.
To cash a winning ticket at the track, head to any betting window. When online horse racing betting, winnings are automatically added to your account balance.
Horse bettors have an increasing number of wagers to choose from. The most common:
Win Bet: A wager on a horse to win a specific race. The usual minimum is $2. Your horse must win for the bet to cash.
Exacta and Quinella: A wager on two horses to finish first and second in a particular race. In an exacta bet, the horses must finish 1-2 in exact order. In a quinella, they can finish 1-2 in either order.
Trifecta: A bet on three horses in a race to finish first, second and third in exact order. In a trifecta box wager, the horses you select can finish first, second and third in any order. In a trifecta key, you are choosing one horse to win, and any of your other selections must finish second and third.
Superfecta: A bet on four horses in a race to finish, first, second, third and fourth in exact order. As with a trifecta wager, you can box or key any superfecta wager.
Daily Double: A wager combining the winning horses of two consecutive races.
Pick 6: A wager combining the winning horse of six consecutive races. These are bets with the highest payout potential, but also the most difficult to cash.
Our staff members and reviewers sign up for accounts at ADW platforms and know what to look for. Among the factors that separate one betting site from another:
Selection of tracks: Some sites offer a far more robust selection of racetracks than others. That’s because of differences in state laws and long-standing feuds between tracks and ADW operators (horse racing has no central office to resolve them). Some sites offer wagering on dozens of international thoroughbred tracks as well as harness racing tracks.
Bonuses and promotions: Online horse racing betting is a competitive business, so operators offer a variety of bonus offers to sign up new players and keep existing ones. That includes deposit matches, risk-free bets and conditional money-back wagers. Our reviewers help determine the most generous offers.
Ease of use: Some sites are more user-friendly and responsive than others. We test the speed and software of every site we review and consider the variety of deposit and withdrawal methods available.
These are among the factors bettors need to consider when handicapping a horse race:
Form: It’s hard to imagine a more important handicapping tool than evaluating a horse’s recent form, which indicates how the horse finished in previous races. Form and speed are the basis for each horse’s betting odds, which in pari-mutuel racing is determined by bettors, not the tracks. Past performances of every horse are available via Daily Racing Form, Brisnet and sometimes through the track program.
Distance: Thoroughbred races typically range from five furlongs (five-eighths of a mile) to 1-1/2 miles or more. Some horses excel at sprint distances, others prefer a longer distance of ground. Among the challenges in handicapping is determining distance limitations of each horse, based on previous races and breeding.
Type of Ground: Some horses prefer hard, fast racing surfaces. Others fare significantly better on a sloppy or muddy track. Some do well over either. Similarly, some horses are bred to perform better on dirt tracks, others on grass courses (many tracks offer a combination of dirt and turf races). Past performances provide the clues to each horse’s preference.
Trainer: Just as the same college and NFL coaches win year after year, so it is with the leading thoroughbred trainers, who boast high annual win percentages (20% and up) whether they train at large or small racing circuits. Some trainers excel with young horses, others with grass runners. Latching onto a high-percentage trainer is a common betting angle, sometimes resulting in lower odds on those horses.
Jockey: It’s always wise to check out a jockey’s win percentage during a meet. As with trainers, some jockeys win far more races than others. A positive jockey change from a horse’s previous race often provides a good betting angle. A negative jockey change might steer you away.
Draw: Post positions are drawn at random in thoroughbred racing and can make a significant difference in races with big fields. In longer races with a short run to the first turn, horses drawn to the far outside can lose significant ground and must cover more distance than horses drawn inside. With most races decided by two lengths or less, that lost ground could mean the difference between winning and losing. Post position is less important in races with smaller fields.
Weight: Some horses are asked to carry more weight than others, determined by horse’s age, gender and conditions of the race. In handicap races, a racing secretary assigns weights to each horse to try and make the race as fair as possible. Weight isn’t as significant a handicapping factor as it once was, but a horse carrying five pounds more than the rest of the field often matters, especially in longer races.
Blinkers/Blinders: Eye cups, usually attached to a cloth or nylon hood, that prevent a horse from looking around. Blinkers can prevent horses from becoming distracted and keep them more focused on the task at hand.
Furlong: One-eighth of a mile. Six-furlong races, the most common race distance, are three-quarters of a mile. Eight furlongs is a mile.
Colt: A male horse from age 2 through 4.
Filly: A female horse through age 4.
Gelding: A male horse that has been castrated. Horses are generally gelded because of poor, unruly or mean behavior that interferes with their training or racing. The most well-bred horses are often not gelded due to their potential stallion value.
Grade: The best thoroughbred stakes races in North America receive a grade. Grade I races are the top races for the most elite horses. Grade II races are a step below Grade I. Grade III races are a step below Grade II. The lowest level of stakes races are ungraded.
Handicap: A race in which weights are assigned to each horse by the racing secretary in an effort to make the race as competitive as possible. The more accomplished horses are assigned to carry more weight.
Post Position: The position inside the starting gate for each horse.
Simulcast: Broadcast of a race from another track. Simulcast racing allow patrons at one track to bet on live races from other tracks across the country and around the world.
The best horse races to bet on are the ones in which you have the strongest opinion and highest level of confidence you will win.
Yes, if you live in a state that has legalized online betting for horse racing. Unlike in Europe where futures betting is popular, online horse racing betting in the United States in limited to pari-mutuel betting at this time.
Pari-mutuel betting is a system in which bettors essentially wager against each other, all pooling their money together. Winning bets are paid out after the track subtracts the money for expenses (sometimes called the takeout) whether the bettor is in person or watching from a remote facility (often another track which shows race simulcasts).
Pari-mutuel betting differs from events with sportsbooks because, instead of fixed odds, pari-mutuel odds fluctuate moment to moment depending on which horses people are betting on.
Horse racing betting in America is very widespread. Live tracks and facilities which offer simulcasts are all over the country.
The biggest horse racing events in America are the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky., on the first Saturday in May; the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore two weeks later; the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York, three weeks after the Preakness; and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, at rotating sites and held in late October or early November.
The best horse betting site is the one that provides you with the greatest comfort level, offers all the tracks you want to bet on, and offers the most lucrative online bonuses and promotions. Gambling.com’s top-rated horse racing betting sites are listed above.
Depends on what kind of bettor you are. Do you prefer straight betting on one specific horse, or an exotic bet combining several horses and/or races with a higher potential payoff? From a percentage standpoint, win, place and show bets generally have the lowest takeout rates and provide more value but offer lower overall payouts. In the end, bet with what you are most comfortable with.
Win bets (horse must finish first) provide the biggest payoffs of the three. Place (second or better) and show (third of better) bets return less but are easier to win. Like most bets, the decision should be determined by your money management and risk tolerance.
Place payoffs on a $2 bet generally range between $3 and $10, but could be more or less, depending on the other horse that finishes first or second. A longshot increases the place bet payout, a favorite does the opposite.
Any site that is legal, regulated and licensed by a state-governing body should be safe. Offshore-based horse racing online betting sites, which are often unregulated and operate without oversight, should always be avoided.
"An experienced bettor with a decade writing about sports and gambling, Dan's expertise includes college football, college basketball, golf, the NFL and more."