Horse Racing Betting Guide: Where & How To Bet On Horse Racing

Horse Racing

Pickswise’s online horse racing betting guide has everything you need to know about how and where to bet on horse racing in the US. We take a look at the best online horse racing sportsbooks, explain all of the ways in which you can wager on a horse race, and our own horse racing experts round up the guide with five horse racing betting tips and strategies to help you bet better on horse racing.

Where is horse racing betting legal?

Horse racing has a much longer history with legalized betting than the much more recent sports betting law changes. Horse racing was first legalized back in 1906, when the home of American horse racing, Kentucky, formally legalized pari-mutuel betting, with many more following suit since. As with sports betting, each state has their own rules, governing bodies and nuances as to how and where you can bet on horse racing, but as of 2021, 41 states have some form of legal land-based horse racing betting, while 28 of those have fully legal online horse racing betting.

Check out the list of states that have legal online horse racing betting below:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Best horse racing betting sites

Picking a shop to do your betting at is extremely important. They aren’t all the same, and each sportsbook will have different odds and promotions. Each site will have their own unique quirks and offerings, and it can’t hurt to look around as much as possible before settling on a new betting home. It’s always a good idea to have multiple accounts at different sportsbooks, so you can shop around and compare odds. One site might usually have better juice or better parlay payouts, but another will have better live-betting software. There are already a lot of great operators out there, and with legalization spreading across the country, the number of options for bettors will only continue to increase.

How to bet on horse racing 

There are multiple ways in which you can bet on any single horse race and with races starting frequently in the US and internationally in the UK, France, Ireland and Australia to name a few, there are plenty of chances to get involved. Everything with horse racing starts with studying the form. There are many different factors to consider when weighing up the form chance of each horse, be it recent runs, track form, speed figures, morning works, the weather and track conditions or the number of turns. Each horse racing bettor will have their own way of researching a race ahead of placing a bet.

The simplest way to bet on a horse race once you’ve done your research is for a horse to win a race, or to place in the top 2 or top 3 of the field. Aside from these, there are plenty of exotic ways in which you can bet on a race such as an Exacta, Quinella, or Superfecta bet. For even more on the ways in which you can bet on horse racing, check out the selections below. 

Horse racing bets explained

There are many different types of horse racing bets, from a simple win bet or a place bet, through to the more exotic wagers and multiples. Our expert handicappers break them all down below, so check out the best types of horse racing bets below. 

Types of horse racing bets

Straight Wagers

Win Bets
The simplest form of betting on a horse race is a bet on a horse to win the race.  Your horse must finish first for your wager to payout. 

Place Bets
A place bet is a bet on a horse to finish in the first two. You’ll receive the same payout regardless of whether your horse finishes first or second.

Show Bets
Similar to a place bet, but instead of the first two, you’re betting on a horse to finish in the first three. You’ll receive the same payout regardless of whether your horse finishes first, second or third.

A win/place bet is simply a combination of a win bet and place bet on the same horse, one to win, one to place. As it’s two bets, the total wager will cost twice the amount of your bet. For example, a $10 Win/Place will be a $10 win bet and a $10 place bet, costing $20 in total.

If your horse wins you will collect on both parts of the ticket, the win bet, and the place bet. If your horse finishes second you will only collect the winnings from the place bet, and if your selection finishes worse than second, the wager is a loser.

A combination of a place and a show bet. Similar to a win/place bet, it’s two bets so the total wager will cost twice the amount of your bet.

If your horse finishes first or second you’ll cash on both the Place and Show bets. If your horse finishes third, you’ll only cash the show part of the wager. A horse finishing outside of the top 3 will result in a losing wager.

Across The Board
An Across The Board bet is a combination of all three wagers above, so if you bet a horse Across The Board, you are taking it to win, place and show.  If the horse wins, you collect on all three bets.  If it is second, you collect on place and show bets, and if it is third you collect on only the show part of the bet.

Exotic Wagers

An exacta bet is a bet whereby you pick the horses to finish first and second in the correct order.

A quinella bet is the same as an exacta bet except the horses can finish in either order. As such the total wager will cost double your bet stake – see it as two separate wagers on combinations 1×2 or 2×1 in finishing order.

A trifecta is a bet whereby you select the first, second and third horses. Each horse will need to finish in the exact order that you picked to win your bet.

A superfecta is even tougher. A Superfecta is a bet on the first four horses home. With each of the first, second, third and fourth horses needing to finish in the exact order you picked for your bet to win.

Exotic Multiples

Daily Double, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 6
Exotic multiple bets are a great way to have a bet on multiple races, whereby you have to pick the winner of consecutive races.

The Daily Double is a bet where you have to select the winner of two consecutive races, a Pick 3 is on three races, a Pick 4 is on four races and a Pick 6 is on six races. The races included in today’s exotic multiples will be highlighted at your favorite online bookmaker. New to betting online or unsure where to bet? Check out our latest promo codes and sportsbook reviews.

Exotic Combinations

Exotic combination bets are bets that allow you to select multiple horses into the exotic bets listed above such as exacta, trifecta, and superfecta. There are multiple different types of exotic combination bets, with the most common types being Box and Key bets.

Box bet

Boxing a bet means covering all available combinations, so in an Exacta, there are 2 possibilities, a Trifecta has 6, and so on.  You multiply the cost of your unit stake appropriately.

For example, a $2 box trifecta on three horses has 6 possibilities 1x2x3, 1x3x2, 2x1x3, 2x3x1, 3x1x2 & 3x2x1. A Box bet places your stake on each of these combinations, so a $2 bet on each will cost $12. If the three horses you select finish in the first three, you’ll have the combination and will be paid out in line with the odds of that combination.

Key bet

Keying a horse means taking it to win by itself and adding others to finish behind it. 

For example, a trifecta key would be choosing one horse you definitely think will win and then any combination of other horses to fill second and third place behind it.

The cost of the trifecta key will depend on how many horses you select behind the horse to win. A 3-box trifecta, meaning three selections to finish either 2nd or 3rd behind your selection for 1st place would cost 6x your stake as there are 6 possible combinations.

Horse racing betting tips: 5 ways to bet better on horse racing

The Racecard: Understand it

A racecard can be a daunting prospect for a casual or new bettor to horse racing but understanding it is vital to successful long-term betting. A racecard has all of the information you need about a race and each horse declared to run in that race to aid you in making the most informed selection.

The race details will be on the top of the racecard detailing the class of the race, the distance, the conditions, and the prize money on offer. You need to keep these conditions in mind when making your selections as different horses are better suited to different conditions, you can tell this by looking at their previous runs to see how they performed under similar conditions.

The race card also lists all of the runners in the race, the saddle-cloth number, the gate numbers that each horse races from, the positions of its last runs, known as its form, the weight it will carry, and the trainer and jockey of the horse.

It will also have the jockey silks, which are the colors the jockey will wear while riding the horse, this will make it easy to spot your selection during the race.

The racecard is your go-to for all the information you’ll need in making a selection, and mastering it is one of the most important things for any horse racing bettor.

Preparation: Do your research

Final racecards can be accessed the day before the races, in some cases even two days prior, depending on the declaration stage, which is the deadline to enter a horse in a race. This gives you plenty of time to look at the cards, size up all of the races, go through each horse’s form, and narrow down the field to make your selections.

Researching a race is extremely important, as you can build a picture of all of the runners, the race conditions, the track conditions and make the most informed decision in your selection. There are so many variables in horse racing and the more time you put into researching a card, the more variables you’ll consider and account for in your selections.

Place different kinds of bets: Get Exotic

As listed above there are a whole host of bet types that you can place on a race, check out the different types above if you haven’t.

Most people will place straight bets such as win bets or perhaps place bets, but understanding all the different ways you can bet on a horse race such as exotic bets, and incorporating them into your betting strategy can really boost your winnings.

For example, if you do your research on a race and narrow the field down to three runners you think could win but are unsure which of the three to bet on, rather than placing a bet on all three to win, which could result in losing money, even if you win, you can place a bet on a Box Trifecta, which can see a huge return if landing.

Shop the odds: Get the best prices

Betting on horse racing is an incredibly popular form of sports betting and, as such, it is a very competitive market, with sportsbooks doing their best to attract bettors’ custom.

While offers and specials such as money back if your horse finishes second is a great offer and definitely worth taking advantage of, shopping around for the odds will always be of utmost importance for your long-term success.

Sportsbooks price up the races themselves and offer different odds about the horses to one another, so it’s useful to compare the prices of your horse with all top online sportsbooks before placing a bet.

Price differences are common. One online sportsbook may have a horse you want to have a wager on at a price of +600 while the other has it at +1000.

Unsure where is best to place a bet? Or which sportsbooks are the best to join? Head over to our Sportsbook Reviews and Promo Code pages to check out the top sportsbooks and latest promotions.

Specialize your bets: Be calculated

Any given day can see up to 20 tracks hold race days in North America, each with anywhere up to 12 races, in some cases even more. Add that to the abundance of international racing in the UK, South Africa, Australia, France and many others, and you have hundreds of races every day.

You definitely don’t want to be betting on every race, that will quickly witty away your bankroll and take all enjoyment out of betting on horses. Instead, you want to find a niche and bet on a select few.

There are many ways you can specialize in certain race types, whether that is a particular country, a particular track, just sprint races, just stakes races, the possibilities are endless but find a niche you enjoy and become an expert at it.

By doing this you can focus all of your attention on one area of an overwhelming racing schedule, allowing for a greater depth of research which in time will turn into much better results.

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