Horse Betting 101: How to Bet on Horse Racing

Horse racing has been around for centuries. However in recent years it has expanded, and so has horse betting along with it. Today, it is one of the most widely covered sports, with bettors placing their wagers at online betting sites.

Whether you’re a new bettor or a seasoned pro looking to learn more about how to bet on horse racing, this guide is for you. Here, we cover everything you need to know, from the types of racing offered and the biggest events to bet on to the betting options available. We also offer several top betting tips and strategies to help improve your winning streak.

How to Bet on Horse Races for Beginners

Horse races take place across the globe, and multiple races are run daily, so there is always something exciting to put your money on. While a horse racing betting card may seem confusing when visiting a land-based sports betting site online, it is much simpler. Here, the various bets are laid out for you, so all you need to do is check a few boxes to place your bets.
In the steps below, we take you through exactly how to go about horse betting online so you know what to do and can focus on placing those winning bets.

  1. Choose your race – the first thing you’ll need to do is decide which race you want to bet on. Here, you can pick the event first, like the Kentucky Derby. Once you have done this, you will see a list of the races being run at the meet. Click on the race you want to bet on to launch the betting options.
  2. Pick your betting line – now you will need to decide which type of wager you want to place. There are a range of options to choose from, including win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, and superfectas. Click on the betting line you want to use to call up the horses you can wager on.
  3. Decide on your horse/s – now that you have your bet lined up you can select the horse or horses you want to put your money on. Checking the box next to the horse’s name will highlight them as your betting choice. Remember to take care of the order in which you select your horses when wagering exactas, etc.
  4. Select your wager value – once your bet slip is populated with your wager details you can fill in the amount you want to wager on the slip. In most cases the lowest bet you can place is $2.
  5. Outcome and payout – after you have put down your bet it is time to enjoy the race. Catch your horse in action to see the outcome of your wager. If you are successful and win your bet, the racebook will pay your winnings into your online sports betting account.

Types of Horse Betting

Avid horse racing fans will tell you that four types of horse racing are found in the United States. While sports bettors can wager on these various races online and in person, some are more popular. In the US, flat racing is the most commonly run race and is one of the top options for betting. Below, we look at the different race types in more detail.

Flat Racing

This style of racing is the most popular and is self-described. Flat races take place on flat racetracks that are free from any obstacles. Here, the focus lies on speed, and thoroughbred flat racetracks typically come in at around 1.5 miles.

Horses run Flat races on a range of surfaces, including dirt, turf (usually run over the spring to fall seasons), and all-weather surfaces, which generally come into play in the winter months.

Steeple Chasing

This form of racing refers to races in which horses clear a variety of obstacles. These races are typically much longer than Flat Races and sit between two and four miles in distance. Here, the horse’s agility is tested as it must clear objects like steeplechase fences and hurdles. However, this race runs much slower than a Flat race.

Harness Racing

A unique style of horse racing, Harness racing sees a horse pulling a cart occupied by a driver. These races begin with a rolling start where the horses trot behind a moving starting gate. Here, the horses race at a specific gait (usually a trot or a pace), and it is their ability to maintain this gait that is so impressive.

Endurance Racing

While most horse races take place over a short period of time and a small distance, Endurance racing is the opposite. Here, horses and riders participate in a long-distance race of 80 to 160km per day. In some cases, the race may last several days. These timed races take place on a natural trail that tests the horse and the rider in their ability to navigate all kinds of terrain in all weather within a specific timeframe.

Handy Hint

Flat Races are typically the most popular horse races to bet on and are run far more prolifically than any other style of race.

Horse Racing Betting Rules

Since Flat racing is the most popular form of horse racing, we will focus on this style of race and horse racing bets. However, before a bettor can go ahead and place their wagers, it is essential to understand how these races work and the rules behind them. Below, we offer you a list of the top rules for horse betting.

  • All flat races must start from a starting gate or stalls.
  • In an emergency or extenuating circumstances, an official may start a race using a flag provided they have sourced the correct permissions.
  • If the starter (the official who opens the race) determines a horse has broken away before the race has begun, they will declare a false start.
  • Race regulations require riders to ride their horses in a safe manner and follow the course expertly.
  • The rider must cross the finish line on their horse to complete the race.
  • While the number of horses participating in a Flat race varies according to the track size, a race typically sees 20 horses starting.

What is Horse Racing Betting? – Horse Betting 101

Horse racing betting is one of the oldest forms of betting and dates back to the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans. However, horse racing only became legal in the US in the early 1800s, making it a much newer betting option in America.

But the sport and wagering on it have grown exponentially in the US over the last 150 years, with a range of racing styles now offered. Additionally, the Kentucky Derby, which first ran in 1875, remains the top pure-bred horse racing event globally. This stellar event remains one of the top sports betting events for horse racing betting.

However, it is important to remember that not all US states permit horse betting, but we will get to that later. Those that do offer legal sports betting typically offer parimutuel betting. In this case, bettors’ money is pooled and shared equally among those who have won their bets. Those wishing to wager these bets on the horses can visit the race tracks, in-person sportsbooks, or use the best online sportsbooks in Pennsylvania.

Now that we know what horse racing betting is, let’s take a closer look at the question of how does horse race betting work?

Caesars Racebook

How Does Horse Betting Work?

Horse racing fans can head to their closes retail sportsbook or racetrack or visit their favorite online sportsbook to place their horseracing bets. A racetrack typically only offers wagering on the events taking place there. But bettors visiting state-regulated online sportsbooks and the best sports betting apps can place wagers on local, national, and international racing meets and events.

Horse betting is fairly simple and provides lines and odds that are easy to follow. However, to wager bets on the horses, bettors must first sign up with an online sportsbook and create a profile. Once they have done this and funded their accounts, they can begin betting.

But, to wager lucrative bets on the horses that will earn them a profit, bettors must first understand how the horse betting odds and markets work.

Horse Betting Odds Explained

The first aspect we want to tackle is the horse betting odds. Horse racing betting odds highlight for bettors a horse’s chances of winning and how much a bettor could win back if they put money on that horse and it then won the race.

These odds work slightly differently from those offered for other sports at an online sportsbook. While sports betting sites generally show sports odds as American odds by default, horse betting displays its odds in fractional format. So, let’s look at how they work:

Traditional Odds

When shown as traditional fractions (4-1 or 9-2), betting odds show the profit a bettor can gain versus their bet value. For example, if you wager a $5 bet on a horse with odds of 4:1 and that horse wins, you will earn back $25 (4 x $5 + original bet of $5.)

However, if you see any number other than one, like 9-2 for instance, you simply divide the values, so 9-2 becomes 4½ to 1. You can then use these to check your potential profit as before. Another example is 4-5, which is the same as 0.8-1. While this is a negative figure, it still yields a profit.

Caesars Horse Racing Odds

Pari-Mutuel Pool Betting Odds

Another type of betting odds we want to consider in our horse racing betting guide is the payoffs provided by pari-mutuel wagers. This system is used at the tracks and online and refers to a betting system where bettors wager against one another rather than the house. However, the odds here are not fixed and fluctuate as the race draws nearer, and this will affect your payout.

For example, if you put a $10 bet on a horse with odds of 5-1, but when the lines close just before the race, the odds go to 15-1, that is the payout you will receive.

Each of the main betting lines (win, place, and show) is separated into its own pools. These pools then reflect the amount of money bettors have placed on that particular bet.

Since calculating betting odds based on the fractional system can be confusing at first, we created a table that shows what your payouts would be based on a $2 bet. Because $2 is generally the lowest bet you can wager when horse betting, we used this value.

Odds $2 Payoff Odds $2 Payoff
1-5 $2.40 5-1 $12.00
2-5 $2.80 6-1 $14.00
1-2 $3.00 7-1 $16.00
3-5 $3.20 8-1 $18.00
4-5 $3.60 9-1 $20.00
1-1/EVEN $4.00 10-1 $22.00
6-5 $4.40 11-1 $24.00
7-5 $4.80 12-1 $26.00
3-2 $5.00 13-1 $28.00
8-5 $5.20 14-1 $30.00
9-5 $5.60 15-1 $32.00
2-1 $6.00 16-1 $34.00
5-2 $7.00 20-1 $42.00
3-1 $8.00 50-1 $102.00
7-2 $9.00 60-1 $122.00
4-1 $10.00 99-1 $200.00
9-2 $11.00

Horse Racing Bets Explained

Now that we have covered horse betting odds, we need to consider how to bet on horse racing events. When placing their wagers, bettors will need to choose how they want to bet on their chosen horses. Online sportsbooks offer bettors several ways to back the horses, called betting lines. Each of these provides a unique way to wager on the same race and provides bettors with more ways to win. So, let’s review the available options.

Types of Horse Racing Bets

There are several ways to put money on the horses. Below, we cover the most popular betting lines to use when horse betting.


The “Win” is the moneyline of horse racing betting. Here, the bettor puts money on the horse they predict will win the race. For a bettor to win this wager, the horse must cross the finish line first. If their horse comes in anywhere other than first, the bettor loses.

Horse No. Odds to Win
1 11-1
2 14-1
3 3-5
4 11-2
5 3-2


A Place bet is where a bettor puts money on a horse to finish in either first or second place. However, should their horse finish in any other position, the bettor loses their wager.

Horse No. Odds to Place
1 11-10
2 7-4
3 3-1
4 4-1
5 6-1


Those wagering a “Show” bet put money down that their chosen horse will finish in the top three and come first, second, or third in the race. However, if the horse comes forth or more, the bettor loses their wager.

Horse No. Odds to Show
1 1-4
2 8-11
3 11-10
4 12-5
5 3-1

Across the Board

An “Across the Board” wager sees a bettor placing a specific value on a particular horse to win, or come in second or third. If the horse wins, the bettor receives a payout on all three positions. However, if the horse comes in second, bettors get paid out on the place and show bets, and if the horse comes third, only the show money is paid by the sportsbook to the bettor.


When horse betting, another popular wager among seasoned bettors is the Exacta. This bet is slightly more challenging and requires the bettor to pick two horses they predict will finish the race first and second, in the exact order the bettor places them.

For instance, if the bettor wagers that horse six will finish first and horse nine will finish second, the bettor is wagering a 6-9 exacta. These two horses must finish in that order for bettors to win.

Caesars Exacta Bet

Exacta Box

An exacta box offers a slightly less risky wager based on the idea of an exacta. This wager requires a bettor to select a minimum of two horses. If any combination of the horses chosen comes in first and second place, the bettor wins their wager.

For instance, if a bettor picks horses No.2, No.6, and No.8 in the fourth race for an exacta box. If any two of those horses finish first and second (say, No.2 and No.8 come first and second, respectively), then the bettor wins.

However, while this wager offers greater insurance, bettors will need to double their wager value. So, while it is safer, it is more costly but definitely worth it for new bettors learning how to bet on horse racing.


Bettors looking to up their exacta bet a notch can wager a trifecta instead. This popular betting line sees a bettor attempt to accurately predict the three horses that will finish in first, second, and third place for a specific race. However, the caveat here is that, like the exacta, the bettor must accurately outline which horse will finish in each position.

For example, a bettor wagers a trifecta that horse No.  6 will come in first place, horse No. 3 will come in second, and horse No. 9 will come in third place. Only if these horses finish in those positions will the bettor win their bet.

While this wager is extremely challenging to get right, those who do, come away with a great payout.

Caesars Trifecta Bet

Trifecta Box

A trifecta box works exactly the same as an exacta box. However, here a bettor must select a minimum of three horses. They will win their bet provided any combination of the horses they backed come in first, second, and third.


The superfecta follows the same format as the exacta and trifecta, except that here, the bettor must accurately choose the horses that will finish in first, second, third, and fourth place, as they call them. While this wager isn’t nearly as popular (it is exceptionally challenging to win) as exactas and trifectas, bettors that get it right are paid out handsomely, as the odds here are typically high.

Caesars Superfecta Bet

Superfecta Box

Again, the superfecta box works like the exacta and trifecta boxes. But bettors must select a minimum of four horses for their wager.

Daily Double

This wager stipulates that the bettor must pick the winner of back-to-back races accurately. Generally, the minimum bet here is around $1, but bettors can put more down should they wish.

Caesars Daily Double Bet

Pick Three and Pick Four

Considered a vertical wager, these bets consider the results of several races and are multi-race wagers. Here, the bettor must pick the winners of three or four consecutive races correctly. While these wagers are challenging to get right and can be rather costly, if a bettor wins, the payouts are substantial.

Caesars Pick Three Bet

Pick Five and Pick Six

These challenging bets provide some of the best horse racing betting payouts. However, they are the hardest bets to win. Here, bettors must pick the winner of five or six consecutive races accurately. If they get it right, the payouts could sit in the tens of thousands.

Caesars Pick Five Bet


Is Horse Betting Legal in the US?

While states like Alaska, D.C., Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin all prohibit horse racing betting, Pennsylvania offers retail and online horse racing betting.

The state introduced legal sports betting in 2017, but this only went live in 2019, following the repeal of PASPA the year prior. Since then, bettors in the state have had access to online sportsbooks that provide horse betting online, including off-track and pari-mutuel betting on live events.

The Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission oversees all horse racing and wagering on these events within the state. Bettors looking for the best online sports betting sites for horse betting in PA should visit those sites regulated by the commission for the best odds and fair betting lines.

Horse Racing Betting Tips

Bettors learning how to bt on horse racing may find that having a few tips and tricks to follow will make their foray into horse betting easier. So, to help you out with this, we have compiled our top five horse wagering tips, which you can find below:

Tip One: Know How to Read a Racecard

One of the best ways to get ahead when learning how to bet on horse racing is learning how to read the racecard. Here, you can glean all kinds of information on each race, from the horses running and their jockeys to their stats, odds, and recent form. Additionally, you will learn the horse’s saddle number and the pattern of the colored silks worn by each jockey, which makes it simpler to keep tabs on the horse you are backing.

Tip Two: Do Your Research

Before putting down your bets it is essential that you do your research. Review the jockey and their stats, look at the horse, its form, whether it typically has a burst of speed towards the beginning of the race or the end, and see whether it has been spooked by the start of a race. Taking all these aspects into consideration makes it easier to wager a winning bet.

Tip Three: Streamline Your Bets

Don’t bet on everything. Besides beinng costly, there is a good chance you won’t make back all your money on the several bets you lose. Instead, take the time to look at the racecard and review the latest stats and news on the horse you are interested in and place a single bet from there. You have a much grater chance of making a profit this way.

Tip Four: Visit the Best Online Sportsbooks

Find a reputable online betting site that provides competitive odds. Doing this will ensure you get the best payouts on your wins and that you receive your withdrawals in a timely manner. Additionally, the top betting sites provide more diverse coverage of national and international events and offer more diverse betting lines.

Tip Five: Manage Your Bankroll

While it can be tempting to place a large number of bets on a single race inthe hopes of winning something, this will quickly deplete your betting funds. Rather, make calculated bets that you have a higher chance of winning. That way, you can wager for longer and walk away with a profit.

Horse Racing Betting Strategies

Whether you’re a new bettor learning the ropes or a seasoned horse racing fan, employing a strategy or two will help set you on the right path when it comes to wagering bets that win. While these horse racing betting strategies won’t turn you pro overnight, they will definitely help improve your chances.

Research Jockey Form

Generally, the best jockeys get paired with the best horses to make unbeatable teams. While some jockeys ride the same horse continually and work for a retainer, it is more likely for a jockey to act as a free agent. In this case, all jockeys attempt to get a chance to ride the best horse in the race. As a result, if a jockey typically rides one horse and makes a change to another, it is generally because they believe that the horse is better, making it a good horse to bet on.

Additionally, understanding how each jockey performs is essential, as some perform better on turf or in cooler conditions.

Consider Gate Position

Remember, all race tracks in the US are left-handed and relatively tight. As a result, gate position becomes crucial when picking the horse to bet on. Here, you want your horse to be placed on the inside of the track when rounding the turns. The further on the outside, a horse is, the more ground they need to cover and the more energy it will have to expend.

This is particularly important to consider in bigger races where upward of 20 horses are in one race, like the Kentucky Derby, for instance.

Take a Close Look at the Horse

Horses, like jockeys, have a particular style, and ultimately, the race is up to them. For this reason, it is essential to check out the horse and understand its stats, form, and experience. Considering things like whether it has raced before, if it is easily spooked at the gate, how it has done in its most recent races, and whether it has won before are great ways to get a handle on things.

Another important consideration is the horse’s condition. When last it ran, its general health, and whether it has recently sustained or recovered from an injury will all affect how it does in the race.

Lastly, think about the horse’s style. Does it burst out of the gates and taper off towards the end or does it reserve energy and then give it all its might on the final stretch?

Caesars Horse Racing Schedule

Horse Betting Terms

When learning how to bet on horse racing, bettors will discover there is a fair amount of unique lingo that gets used. To help it all make sense, we created a list of the most common horse betting terms and what they mean:

  • All Out – The term used in race descriptions that refers to a horse that has given its all in energy and participation.
  • Banker – Highly anticipated to win.
  • Blanket Finish – When the horses finishing in the top positions are placed so closely that they are too close to call with the naked eye.
  • Buck – A $100 wager.
  • Dead Heat – When two or more horses cross the finish line at the exact same moment..
  • Dime – A $1,000 wager
  • Filly – A female horse aged four years or less.
  • Going – The race track condition.
  • Gate – The starting stalls where horses line up at the beginning of the race.
  • Inquiry – A post-race review conducted by officials to ensure there was no violation of the rules.
  • Irons – Another term used to describe the stirrups.
  • Mare – A female horse aged five years or more.
  • Nose – The smallest margin of victory in a race.
  • Outsider – A horse that is not expected to win (the underdog).
  • On the Nose – Where a bettor wagers on a horse to win only.
  • Steeplechase – A racing event that includes hurdles and objects a horse must clear.
  • Stud – A male horse used for breeding.
  • Straight Wager – Any wager that only includes one horse, like a win.

The Biggest Horse Races in the US

Horse racing and horse betting have been around in the US since the 1800s. As a result, there are plenty of top racing events for bettors to wager on and enjoy. Below, we offer a list of the top ten racing meets in the United States.

  • Kentucky Derby
  • Breeders’Cup
  • Kentucky Oaks
  • Belmont Stakes
  • Breeders’Cup Classic
  • Arlington Million
  • Preakness Stakes
  • Travers Stakes
  • Arkansas Derby
  • Pennsylvania Derby

The Best Sportsbooks in PA for Placing Horse Racing Bets

Pennsylvania is home to several top online sportsbooks that offer a range of sports betting options. Additionally, many of these sites provide downloadable horse betting apps. So,  check out our list below for the best betting sites in PA.

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