Betting on Horse Races

by Shane Rivers on February 19th 2015.

Horse RacingBetting on horse racing generates over $115 billion in annual revenue, and the pastime itself stretches back to the earliest days of the human race. Long before baseball bats, soccer balls, and football helmets were invented, men used horses to travel and even wage war. It was only a matter of time before a couple of these guys decided to race their mounts and make a friendly side wager.

The sport of kings is still followed around the world, and even those who aren’t traditionally fans are tempted to risk a few bucks on televised events such as the Kentucky Derby (read more about Kentucky Derby betting at This article is intended for bettors who are new to the sport, and we’ve included everything from the types of wagers to common lingo.

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Basic Types of Equestrian Racing

While each nation may throw their own unique twist on the sport, these are the basic categories of horse racing:

Flat Racing – The most popular form of racing, the horses are required to race from one point to another on an oval or straight track. The breeds commonly found in these events include Arabian, Paint, Appaloosa, Thoroughbred, and Quarter Horse.

Harness Racing – In this event, the horse must pace or trot towards the finish line while pulling a driver in a two-wheeled cart known as a sulky. The Finnhorse and Russian Trotter are seen in European events, but the Standardbred horses tend to dominate around the world.

Endurance Racing – These events demand a great amount of stamina, as the horses must travel across the countryside for distances up to 100 miles. These races are typically dominated by the Arabian breed.

Jump Racing – The horses in this category are required to race over a series of obstacles. This equestrian event is also known as National Hunt racing, Jumps racing, and Steeplechasing. The most common breeds include the AQPS (which translates to “other than thoroughbred”) and Thoroughbred.

Where to Wager on Horses

When you’re ready to bet on the ponies, the following options are the ones most commonly available:

At the Track – All races are run at some form of track, and visitors are able to place as many wagers as they can afford. There’s also a wealth of material available, from the Daily Racing Form (also known as the DRF) to the racetrack program. Supplemental material usually costs a few dollars each, but the information found inside can be invaluable to bettors.

Off-Track Betting Facilities – These locations provide betting widows, places to sit, and numerous televisions for watching the races. Some facilities are more elaborate than others, and much of the same supplementary material may be available for a nominal fee.

Online Bookmakers – The most convenient place to wager on horses is from the comfort of your own home. Sites like Bovada offer a wide range of bets on horse races across the globe, and there are numerous websites devoted to providing additional material (including the online edition of the Daily Racing Form).

Types of Horse Racing Bets

Whether you’re looking to risk $1 or $1000, these are the types of racing wagers typically available to bettors:

Win – In order to win the bet, your horse must finish the race in first place.
Place – You collect money if your horse finishes in first or second place.
Show – A payout is delivered if your horse finishes in first, second, or third place.
Exacta – The bettor chooses two horses and picks one to finish first and the other to finish second. They must finish in this exact order for a payout.
Exacta Box – Much like the Exacta bet, except the horses have to finish first and second in either order.
Trifecta – In order to win this bet, you must exactly predict the horses to finish in first, second, and third place.
Trifecta Box – The bettor chooses three horses and wins if his ponies finish first, second, and third in any order.
Trifecta Key – The bettor chooses one horse to win (known as the “key horse”), as well as horses to finish in second and third. The key horse must win, while the others must finish in second and third in any order.
Superfecta – You must exactly choose the horses that will finish first, second, third, and fourth.
Superfecta Key – The bettor chooses four or more horses to play. One horse chosen by the bettor, and known as the “key horse,” must finish in first place. Three of the other horses must finish second, third, and fourth in any order.
Superfecta Box – The bettor chooses four horses and they must finish first, second, third, and fourth in any order.
Prop Bets – Some bookmakers also offer prop bets, allowing customers to wager on whether or not something will occur. For example, a Bovada Casino prop bet I came across stated “Will there be a Triple Crown winner in 2015?”

Important Terms for Bettors

This racing world is filled with all manner of insider terminology, and bettors would be wise to commit the following to memory. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of horse racing terms, but just a look at some of the most common words and phrases.

Across the Board – When a bettor wagers on a horse to win, place, and show. If the horse manages to come in first, the bettor collects three payouts.
Bridge Jumper – A term for a bettor who wagers a large sum on a single horse.
Daily Double – A type of wager that requires the bettor to pick the winning horse in two consecutive races.
Dead Heat – When two horses appear to tie at the finish line. In these cases, a video image must be consulted to determine the winner.
In the Money – When a horse finishes in first, second, or third place.
Lock – A term for a horse that’s supposed to be a certain winner.
On the Nose – Only betting on a horse to win the race.
Parlay – When a bettor takes his winnings from one race and wagers them on the next event.
Photo Finish – The same as “dead heat.” When a photographic image is needed to determine the winning horse.
Straight – Just betting on a horse to win.
Tout – A person who claims to have insider information on a race and is willing to sell it to bettors.