Beginner’s Guide For Betting On Horse Racing

Horse Racing Betting Guide for Beginners: Get to know the market

Horse racing is popular all over the world and is a sport with a long tradition of betting. It’s also one of the oldest forms of gambling that is still enjoyed by millions of people. 

For those that don’t have a local racetrack available to enjoy the sport in person, recent advancements in online gaming technology make finding a place to bet on upcoming races easier than ever. In addition, some states will offer off-track betting at local casinos, where fans can bet on simulcast races and enjoy their favorite casino games. 

Placing bets at a local racetrack is the best way to enjoy the sport and make wagers at the same place. Bettors also have a unique opportunity to engage with other racing fans, interact with the racetrack staff, and see all the horses up close before every race. 

When exploring a horse racing betting guide, online racebooks are also a great option and offer convenient deposit and withdrawal methods for fans to get started quickly. Bettors can also watch live streams of the races from the comfort of their computer or mobile device. However, not all states offer legal online horse racing betting. 

Types of Horse Races

There are three main types of horse races that fans can wager:

  • Flat Races: Flat races are the most common, with just a horse and a jockey racing on a flat surface such as dirt, grass, or synthetic. The races focus on speed and can vary in length from five furlongs to two miles. 
  • Harness racing: Harness racing involves a horse pulling a cart carrying a jockey. These horses can only run at a trotting pace and are specialists only at this type of racing.
  • Steeplechasing: Steeplechasing is the least common type of horse racing to bet and involves a horse and jockey that must clear hurdles and obstacles during the race. Fillies are the best at steeplechasing, as clearing obstacles is much easier for them. 

Betting Markets

Once bettors are familiar with the basics, they need to learn about the many betting markets available in horse racing. 

To Win

This is a wager on one horse to finish as the winner of the race. Winning bets will be paid at the odds posted at the start of the race. 

To Place

This is a wager that the horse selected will finish the race in second place. Bettors will be paid at the posted odds if the chosen horse finishes first or second.

To Show

Bettors pick the selected horse to finish in third place and will be paid if the horse ends the race first, second, or third.


With this wager, the bettor picks the horses they think will finish first and second in the specific order they choose. 


This bet is also picking the horses that finish first and second. However, they can finish in any order. 


The bettor must pick three horses to finish first, second, and third in the exact order they choose. 


Bettors must choose four horses they believe will finish in first through fourth place, in the exact order. 


For any wagers in which two or more horses are picked, bettors can play all possible combinations of finishing orders at an increased price.

Daily Double

A daily double is a vertical wager where the bettor must pick the winner of two consecutive races. This option isn’t available on every race, but most racetracks will have several on any race day. 

Pick 3 & 4

These are also multi-race wagers where the bettor picks the winners of three or four consecutive races. It’s more challenging to win and can become costly, but it promises a large payout if a bettor gets lucky. 

Pick 5 & 6

Most racetracks also offer Pick 5 and Pick 6 betting markets. Successful bets on these markets can pay massive amounts, commonly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Horse Racing Odds

The odds on each racehorse are the return the bettor can expect if a chosen horse is successful. For example, a horse with odds of 5-1 shows the amount of profit compared to the amount wagered. So odds of 5-1 mean that for every $1 wagered, the bettor will win $5 profit. 

When learning how to bet on horse racing, bettors must remember that the odds to win are only paid on win bets. In pari-mutuel wagering, if most people are making the same bet, the payout, if that bet wins, will be small. Very little money placed on a specific wager will result in high payouts should that scenario occur. For this reason, the most popular horse rarely pays much when it wins. 

Where to Bet on Horse Racing

Before bettors can take advantage of the variety of wagers as they learn how to bet on horse racing, they should first understand the best places to make their bets. Most people in the U.S. have a racetrack somewhere in their area, which is the obvious best choice for betting on horse racing. 

However, most tracks race on certain days of the week and only during specific months of the year. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check the schedule before making plans. 

Online Betting on Horse Racing

Off-track betting on horse racing isn’t as popular as it once was now that online betting is available in most of the country. These facilities are similar to the actual racetrack in that they have tellers but feature multiple TV screens showing various tracks in which bettors can make remote wagers. 

Online betting on horse racing is now the most popular form of betting on horse racing. Bettors only need to find a site that takes wagers on tracks throughout the country and is legal in their state. 

These providers require bettors to deposit into an online account and make wagers from their balance. Any winnings are put into this account, which can be withdrawn by the bettor using various banking methods. 

Horse Racing Betting Strategy

As part of building a horse racing betting guide, the first thing beginners should concentrate on when exploring betting strategies are the odds. The favorite is always the horse with the lowest odds.

Statistics show that betting the favorite to win pays off 33% of the time, betting the favorite to place is even higher at 53%, and betting on the favorite horse to show is a winning wager 67% of the time. Therefore, beginners looking for an easy and reliable strategy for handicapping horses should bet on their favorite to get a small return on their money.

Racing Program

It’s also a good idea for beginners to learn how to read a racing program. These are filled with important information that will help players make more informed wagers. The racing form details each race with stats and the history of all horses, jockeys, and trainers participating. The form may initially seem intimidating for new bettors when determining how much to bet, but with some practice, anyone can learn to read it quickly. 

Equibase is the national company that creates the racing forms for all U.S. racetracks. In addition, it provides a tutorial and interactive guide on its website for beginners just learning to read a racing form.

For beginning handicappers looking at a horse racing betting guide, it can be tempting to bet on every race on the day’s program. However, while money is to be won on each race, experienced bettors will study the entire racing program for the best value wagers and bet only a few times during the entire day.

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Horse Racing Betting Guide FAQs

The most significant difference between sports betting and horse racing betting is that the betting pools in horse racing are pari-mutuel. This alters betting strategies and means bettors aren’t playing against the house but against the rest of the betting public. In other words, the biggest payouts are on bets the least number of people have wagered.

When learning how much to bet in horse racing betting, the starting price is the betting odds on a selected horse at the start of the race. When picking a horse, bettors choose the current odds when the wager is made or the starting price. However, when betting online, most providers will offer the best odds guaranteed, meaning the payout will be at whichever odds are highest.

By multiplying the fractional odds times the wager amount, bettors can calculate how much a winning bet will pay. For example, 3-1 odds mean a winning wager will pay three times the amount the player bets. A $10 bet at 3-1 odds would pay the bettor $40 total, which is the winnings plus the amount of the original stake.

Exotic bets are wagers where the bettor chooses multiple horses in a single race and determines the order they will finish, which creates higher odds at a more substantial risk to the bettor. Several types of exotic bets are available, such as exactas, trifectas and superfectas.

When SCR is shown next to any horse’s odds, it means the horse has been withdrawn from that race for some reason, such as illness, injury, or other unknown issues. In most cases, the bettor’s ticket is voided if they’ve already made a wager on a horse that gets scratched and the amount of their stake is returned.