The Ultimate Guide to How to Bet on a Horse Race


Not many people had Rich Strike to win the Kentucky Derby. The 80-1 longshot made a few bettors very happy, including one person who won $74,000 on a $5 trifecta bet.

That’s quite the return on investment from a $5 bet!

Betting on horse racing is fun and exciting. It’s often why horse racing is considered to be the best two minutes in sports. There’s nothing like the rush of hitting the superfecta in a race.

If you’re new to horse racing, it’s hard to understand how to bet on a horse race. Don’t let that keep you from betting on horse racing.

Read this guide instead and learn everything you need to know about betting on horse racing.

Is Horse Race Betting Legal?

Sports betting laws are confusing. It’s even more confusing when you add horse race betting into the mix. That’s because the laws treat sports betting and betting on horse races separately.

There isn’t a federal law that bans horse racing. There is one that allows for off-track betting. That’s the 1978 Interstate Horse Racing Act.

That allows bettors to place tracks at off-track betting sites, so you didn’t have to be at the track to gamble on horse racing.

This applies to horse betting online, too. You can be in New York and bet on tracks in Kentucky, California, and Florida.

States have the final say over the legality of horse racing. Fortunately, it’s legal in the majority of states in the country.

Know the Basic Types of Horse Race Bets

If you want to know how to bet on a horse race, you need to know the basic types of horse bets. You can bet on a horse to win, come in second (place), or come in third (show).

You can also bet an exacta, where you pick the top two horses. A trifecta is where you pick the win, place, and show horses. A superfecta is a bet with the top four horses.

A straight wager is a bet with only one possible combination. You can bet a trifecta that has 7, 3, and 2 horses finishing in that order.

The horses have to finish in that exact order to win. It’s a straight wager because you only have a single bet with a single possible winning outcome.

You’re also paying for a single bet. As we get into exotic bets, you’ll see how one simple change can turn into multiple bets.

Check Out Exotic Wagers

Exotic wagers let you gamble on multiple horses in a race or even the outcome of multiple races.

One of the most common strategies of exotic wagers is to box a straight bet. Using the trifecta example above, you have to have the 7, 3, and 2 horses finish a race in that order.

If you box that bet, those horses can finish in any order as long as they’re in the top three together. The outcome could be 2, 7, and 3 and you’d win the bet.

Since you’re making multiple bets on a race, it costs more to make an exotic wager. You could bet $1 on the straight exacta bet. Box it, and you’re spending $6 on the wager.

You can box a superfecta, exacta, or trifecta.

What if you wanted to bet across several races? There are bets like the Daily Double, which is where you pick the winners of two races.

The Pick 4, Pick 5 and Pick 6 bets are where you bet the winners across four and six races on a card. The track determines which races are in the Double, Pick 4, Pick 5, and Pick 6.

These bets are extremely difficult to win. Tracks have to carry over the funds to the next racing day, so the pot of winnings can grow.

Belmont Park recently had a Pick 5 carryover over $291,000. Bettors could get close to winning and still make money.

How to Place a Bet

Whether you’re at the track or horse betting online, you have to have some basic information to bet on a horse race. The first thing to do is to place the bet before post time.

Post time is when the horses enter their posts and when betting closes. Ideally, you want to bet shortly before post time, but don’t wait too long and miss post time.

You need to know the track, race number, the amount you’re betting, and the type of bet. Then you’ll tell the person the horse numbers, and give them your money.

For example, “Monmouth Park, second race, $2 exacta box, 6,5,3.”

You’ll get a ticket with your wager, so make sure it’s correct before you leave the window.

Horse Betting Online

Horse betting online is a little less intimidating because you can just make the bet with a few clicks of a button. You can even do it while sitting on your couch.

You’ll need the same information as if you’re betting at the track. With the right app, you’ll be able to find the track and place your horse racing bets.

If you do plan to bet on horses online, the most important thing is to sign up with the right provider. NYRA, TVG, and Twin Spires specialize in horse racing bets.

Do you plan to combine horse racing with other types of sports bets? You’ll want a more comprehensive app. Check out for reviews of sports betting sites.

You’ll want to make sure that the horse racing app has the tracks that you want to bet at. You should also compare deposit bonuses and other features that make sports betting easier.

The Odds of a Horse Changes

Earlier you learned that it’s best to wait to bet on a horse race until it’s close to post time. There’s a really good reason for that.

The odds of a horse race change as more people bet on a race. Horse races use a pari-mutuel betting system, unlike most sports bets.

Instead of having odds that stay fixed, horse racing odds fluctuate with each bet. Bettors bet against each other and not the track or sportsbook.

When you place a bet on a horse, it goes into a pool of money that people bet on that horse. The more money put into the pot for a particular horse, the odds go down.

You can bet on a 5-1 horse 20 minutes from post time and it turns out to be a 2-1 favorite because other gamblers thought it was a good bet, too.

The odds can also drop for a horse, so a 20-1 longshot can become a 40-1 longshot at post time.

Finding Value Bets

What’s the key to betting on horse racing? It isn’t always betting on the favorite horse to win. That’s a good strategy if you want to win and get a small return on investment.

Bet on a horse race where there’s value. This is where you research horses to find a horse with good odds that falls outside the scope of the experts.

A horse with odds of 7-1 will make money if you win. This is a smart bet if the horse is with the right jockey or is against a weak field.

You have to be very patient because you’ll find races where the favorite will win, and you won’t make money on the bet. You can try your luck with exotic wagers for fun.

The alternative is to sit the race out and bet on the next one.

How to Research a Horse Race

There are several great resources out there to help you bet on a horse race. The Daily Racing Form, Paulick Report, and Equibase are a few of them.

The track’s program guide is another resource that contains information about the horses racing that day.

The information contained in the race is gold. You’ll learn where a horse ran its last races, time, position, and conditions of the track that day.

That will helps you learn how horses compare against each other and

Follow Horse Racing All Year Long

Horse racing doesn’t happen only in the summer months. The circuits go all year long. The more you follow horse racing and certain tracks, the more you’ll learn.

Horses tend to race once a month or two. You’ll see them race against each other and learn the types of conditions they do well in. If they win with the same jockey at the same track, there’s a good chance they’ll win again.

Watch shows like America’s Day at the Races, where you can follow Churchill Downs, Keenland, Oaklawn, and the New York tracks all year long.

You’ll be an expert in betting on horse racing by the time the next Triple Crown races roll around.

How to Bet on a Horse Race

Now that you know how to bet on a horse race, you should feel confident to go to the track and gamble like a veteran. Don’t forget to bring your cooler so you can enjoy the day at the track!

For more lifestyle tips to help you be your best, check out the other articles on the blog.