The Betting Game


The beauty of a day at the racetrack as opposed to, say, a baseball game or Disneyland, is that there is the chance to end the day with more money than you started with. It’s true you could make a friendly bet with your friends on the outcome of the Sausage Races at Miller Park in Milwaukee, but asking Pluto and Minnie Mouse to race down Main Street, U. S. A. is frowned upon.

The racetrack, on the other hand, is built for wagering and all you need to do to increase your wallet size is to pick a few winners. If you’re a first-time or inexperienced horse bettor make sure you hang out with someone who’s more of an expert. That will increase your chances of winning while decreasing the expert horseplayer’s. That’s just the way the horse universe works, don’t question it. Want to learn more about betting on horse races? We've got everything you need to know.

Horse bettors are also called handicappers and there are many approaches to handicapping a race. Some expert horseplayers rely on speed figures, some on class, some put more emphasis on a horse’s jockey or trainer. The most skilled handicappers know which factors are most important for each individual race. For example, in Maiden races, where most horses have not established their form, a horse's trainer and pedigree tend to be the most important factors. If you’re a novice and not sure how to bet on horse races, you’re encouraged to pick gray horses, a horse whose name has something to do with your childhood or the horse whose jockey is wearing your favorite color. This will result in extra fun when you win and your expert friends don’t

Once you select the horses you like in a race, there is the additional step of figuring how much to bet and what kind of bet to make. Betting a horse to Show carries the lowest risk but also low payoff. On the other end of the spectrum is the Pick 6 that requires the selection of six winners in a row.


Common Types of Wagers

Win - pays off when the selected horse wins the race
Place - pays off when the selected horse wins or finishes second
Show - pays off when the selected horse finishes first, second or third
Exacta - requires selection of the first two finishers, in order
Quinella - requires selection of the first two finishers, in either order
Trifecta (Triple or Tri) - requires selection of the first three finishers in a single race, in order
Superfecta (or Super) - requires selection of the first four finishers in a single race, in order
Box (Exacta/Trifecta/Superfecta) - a concise way to play all desired combinations or potential orders of finish
Daily Double (or Double) - requires selection of the winners of two consecutive races
Pick 3 - requires selection of the winners of three consecutive races
Pick 4 - requires selection of the winners of four consecutive races
Pick 5 - requires selection of the winners of five consecutive races
Pick 6 - requires selection of the winners of six consecutive races 

How to Bet at a Horse Race

Find a betting window or an automated betting machine. They are usually found at racetracks and off-track betting parlors.
State the Racetrack, Race numberAmount you wish to bet, the Type of wager and horse Number(s).

Belmont, Race 4, $10 to Win on 6
Keeneland Race 7, $5 Exacta box, 4-9 
River Downs, Race 6, $2 Daily Double 8-3

How to Read Past Performances

Click here to open up a window to a new world.

Types of Thoroughbred Races

From highest class to lowest:
Grade 1 stakes race
Grade 2 stakes race
Grade 3 stakes race
Listed or blacktype stakes race stakes race
Allowance or Optional Claiming race (various conditions)
Claiming race
Maiden Special Weight
Maiden Claiming race

Words to Know

All-weather - a catch-all name for any synthetic racing surface. Polytrack, Tapeta and Cushion Track are currently in use in North America.

Also-ran - a horse that finishes out of the top three in a race.

Apprentice (jockey) - a jockey who has not yet won a specified number of races. A jockey is typically allowed to carry less weight until certain win milestones are achieved to encourage trainers to give them an opportunity to ride. Apprentice Allowance is typically 10 pounds until five winners are achieved, seven pounds until winner #35 and five pounds for one calendar year after winner #35.

Baby race - a race for two-year-olds (of either sex).

Betting window - the place to make a wager with a live teller.

Bettor - a person who bets.

Blinkers - a hood with eye cups worn by horses to restrict their extensive peripheral vision. Some horses perform better when they cannot see their rivals behind or next to them. The size of the eye cups vary.

Break/broke maiden - when a horse wins his/her first race. Used in a sentence: Secretariat broke his maiden in his second career start.

Breeze - another term for a morning workout. Used in a sentence: "I’ll Have Another breezed at Hollywood Park before shipping to Churchill Downs."

Bullet (workout) - the fastest work at a track on that day and distance. Shown with a solid dot next to the workout time in BRIS Past Performances.

Bute - short for Butazolidin, an anti-inflammatory race-day medication legal in many states.

Cash/cashed - racetrack slang for winning a bet. Used in a sentence: "I didn't cash until the 5th race on Saturday."

Chart -  a statistical portrait of a horse race. A chart typically contains the running position for each horse at various points of call along with name of trainer, owner, jockey, etc. Charts are the basis for horse Past Performances.

Chart caller - a person who watches a race and creates the race chart based on his/her observations.

Checked - designation for a horse who is forced to stop partially or lose momentum during a race.

Claiming race - a race where all horses are eligible to be purchased (or claimed) by another licensed owner for the  price specified in the conditions of the race.

Claimer - a horse that runs in claiming races.

Claimed - refers to a horse who was purchased out of a claiming race. Used in a sentence: "Lava Man was claimed for $40,000."

Class - term for the level of race. Used in a sentence: "Going from a Maiden win to a Graded Stakes is a big jump in class." Also - Intangible quality given to the best thoroughbreds. Used in a sentence: "Rachel Alexandra showed her class in the Kentucky Oaks."

Classic - a blacktype stakes race of traditional importance. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes are examples of North American Classic races.

Classy - term used to describe a horse showing a high level class. Used in a sentence: "Two-time Horse of the Year Curlin was a very classy racehorse."

Clocker - a person who times morning workouts.

Closer  - not the TV show or a fan of actress Glenn Close but a horse that typically lags behind in the early running of a race and makes up ground late. Used in a sentence: "Zenyatta was one of the greatest closers of all time."

Colors - another word for the silks worn by jockeys during a race

Company - another term for class of horses in a race. Used in a sentence: "The colt faced much tougher company in the Kentucky Derby."

Coupled (entry) - horses that are combined into a single betting interest, typically because they have the same owner.

Clubhouse turn - another term for the first turn of an American racetrack.

Dead-heat - A tie (not the kind you wear).

Distance - the length of a race.

Dirt - the traditional racing surface in North America.

Disqualification (DQ) - a change in the order of finish usually due to interference or another infraction during the race.

Distaff (race) - a term denoting a race for fillies and/or mares.

Eased - a chart caller designation denoting a horse that was purposefully taken out of the race by the jockey to prevent injury.

Fast - a track condition designation, indicates dry (basically the baseline track condition designation).

Firm  - a turf course condition designation, corresponds to a fast dirt track.

Fresh - not a sassy horse but one that is well rested. Used in a sentence: "After skipping the Preakness, Union Rags was a fresh horse for the Belmont Stakes."

Freshened - refers to a horse that has been rested. Used in a sentence: "2011 Belmont Stakes winner Ruler on Ice is being freshened for the major fall races."

Front-runner - a horse that usually is usually the leader in the early stages of the race. Used in a sentence: "Bodemeister is a front-runner."

Furosemide - generic name for anti-bleeder medication given to horses. Also called Lasix or Salix.

Furlong - an eighth of a mile, 220 yards or 660 feet; eight Furlongs = one mile.

Frontside - the part of the racetrack open to the public (grandstand, clubhouse, etc.).

Lasix/Salix - a medication given to horses to prevent bleeding of the lungs. Lasix is the traditional name for the medication, Salix is the modern term.

Gelding - (cringe alert guys).....a castrated male horse.

Good - a dirt track and turf course condition designation. For dirt tracks, refers to a condition with moisture in it but not quite sloppy. For turf courses, good refers to a condition between firm and soft.

Grab a quarter - when a horse overreaches and hits a front hoof with a hind, cutting or tearing away a portion of the front hoof.

Half - refers to a half mile (or four Furlongs). Used in sentence: "Union Rags breezed a half in :48."

Handicap/handicapping (verb) - to look over the past performances of a race and decide on the order of finish. Used in a sentence: "I’ll give you my Derby pick after I handicap the field."

Inquiry - When a claim of foul is initiated by the stewards to investigate possible interference in a race.

Jockey - that guy or gal on the horse's back.

Juvenile - a two-year-old of either sex.

Length - common measurement of distance between horses during and at the finish of a race. Equates to the length of a horse from nose to tail or about eight feet.

Lock - racetrack slang for a "can’t miss winner" or "sure thing".

Maiden - a horse that has not won a race.

Main track - designation for the dirt or all-weather (non turf) course at a racetrack.

Morning line - a prediction of odds for each horse in the race, made by a track employee call. Used in a sentence: "Bodemeister was made the morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby."

Mudder - a horse that excels on wet dirt surfaces (sloppy, muddy, etc.).

Muddy - a dirt track condition designation indicating a good deal of moisture in the track, but not quite sloppy.

Neck -  common measurement of distance between horses; about the length of a horse's neck.

Nose - common measurement of distance between horses; shortest margin of victory possible.

Objection - a claim of foul for an incident during the running of a race by a jockey or trainer.

Official - when the order of finish is confirmed. Also: Stewards and other arbiters of the sport are known by the catch all term Official.

Off the board - describes a horse that finishes worse than third in a race.

Off track - catchall for a wet track, sloppy, muddy, good. Also: used to describe wagering at a satellite facility away from the site of live racing.

On the board - a first, second or first place finish.

Overlay - a horse whose odds are higher than they might merit based on his Past Perfomances. Used in a sentence: "After winning the Robert B. Lewis S. & Santa Anita Derby, I’ll Have Another was an overlay in the Kentucky Derby at 15-1."

Overnight stakes race - a stakes race carded within 24 or 48 hours of running (typically) as opposed to a stakes that is announced well ahead of time by a track when the formal Stakes schedule is published prior to the beginning of a race meeting. An overnight Stakes with a purse of $50,000 or more is considered a blacktype race.

Overweight - extra weight when a jockey is heavier than the weight assigned.

Odds - the price of a horse to win a race. Used in a sentence: "I want to see the odds for the race before I bet."

Odd-on - term for odds less than even money.

Off-track betting (OTB) - a place to bet horses away from the live racing venue.

Pace - the internal speed of a race. Used in a sentence: "Bodemeister set a very fast pace in the Kentucky Derby."

Paddock - a walking ring and stalls where the horses are saddled and receive their jockey before a race.

Pari-mutuel - the system of betting in North America, in which all money bet is divided up among those who have winning tickets (after taxes, takeout and other deductions are made).

Past Performances - the historical record of a horse. Ciick here for a full explanation of BRIS Past Performances.

Photo finish - a close finish between two or more horses that necessitates review of the photo taken by the automated photo finish camera before the order of finish can be declared official.

Pedigree - the family tree of a horse.

Place - a second place finish.

Post parade - procession of horses in a race as they leave the paddock and enter the racetrack.

Post position - starting gate position.

Post time - published time for the start of a race.

Pool - total sum bet on each wager. Used in a sentence: The horse with the most money bet in the win pool is the favorite.

Points-of-call - the parts of the race where a horse’s position is recorded by the chart caller.

Prep (Race) - a race a horse uses to achieve maximum fitness prior to another race. The first start of the year for major stakes horse can sometimes be called preps. Used in a sentence: "Stay Thirsty ran in the $90,000 Vanlandingham Stakes as a prep for the $350,000 Suburban Handicap."

Program - the booklet sold at racetrack and off-track betting parlors that provide basic information on a horse (number, jockey, trainer, etc.) and often full past performance information.

Purse - the total prize money available in a race.

Race conditions - the rules for a given race. Conditions include the distance of the race, age eligibility and weight allowances based on past performance.

Rail - the inner boundary of a racecourse.

Saddle cloth (or saddle towel) - a towel used under the horse’s saddle to display his/her program number (and sometimes the race name or race sponsor name).

Savage - when a horse bites another horse or human.

Schooling - introducing a horse to the starting gate or the paddock.

Scratch - a horse taken out of a race is said to be scratched.

Shadow roll - a fuzzy roll (usually lambs wool) positioned half way up the horse's face to keep him from seeing his own shadow.

Short - a horse in need of additional conditioning to reach peak form.

Show - another name for a third place finish.

Silks - the "uniform" worn by a jockey that signifies the owner of that horse. Each owner must register his/her unique silks with the Jockey Club.

Simulcast - televised races from another track.

Sloppy - dirt track condition designation, a track with visible water on the surface.

Speed figures - systematic adjustment of final race times to create a uniform rating for how fast a horse ran in a given race. BRIS Speed Ratings link.

Stakes race - a race that typically requires a fee to participate. The fee can involve an nomination, a maintaining eligibility payment, a fee to enter and start and comprises a portion of the total purse for the race. Some stakes are by invitation only and may not require any fees.

Stakes horse - a horse that is good enough to compete in Stakes races. (For stallion statistical purposes, a Stakes horse is one that has finished first, second or third in a Stakes race.)

Stakes-placed - finishing second or third in a stakes race. Also a designation given to a horse whose best finish is a second or third place finish in a stakes race.

Stakes record - the fastest historical time recorded for a particular stakes race.

Starter - a racing official charged with opening the starting gate when all horses are ready. Also a term used to describe any horse that has run in a particular race. Used in a sentence: "Trinniberg was a starter in the Kentucky Derby."

Starting gate - device from which all horse races begin. Each horse is housed in a stall prior to the gates being opened by the Starter.

Starter allowance - race for horses that have previously run in Claiming Races but cannot be claimed.

Stayer - a horse who excels in long distance races.

Steadied - a Chart Caller designation for when a horse experiences some traffic trouble in a race that requires extra restraint/guidance from the jockey.

Step(s) up - refers to a horse facing tougher competition than in the previous race. Used in a sentence: "The Belmont Stakes was a big step up for the Allowance winner Unstoppable U."

Stewards -  the umpires/referees of thoroughbred racing. The stewards adjudicate any claims of fouls and call for inquiries to investigate any possible infractions in a race.

Steeplechase - a race involving jumping over barriers called fences.

Stick - another term for the jockey’s whip.

Stretch - the final straight of a racetrack, ending with the finish line.

Stretch runner - another word for closer, a horse that does his best running late in the race or in the stretch.

Take out - the money removed from the wagering pools in pari-mutuel system. The take out is used to fund purses, track operation and state taxes.

Ticket - slip of paper that serves as proof of a wager.

Tote board - the display showing the odds, postime, results, etc. for a race.

Trainer - the person charged with traning and conditioning a horse for a race.

Turf - another term for a grass course.

Track bias - a surface that is favorable to a certain position or running style.

Track record - the fastest historical time at given tracks’ surfaces and distance.

Wager - another term for a bet. Also a verb - another term for betting. Used in a sentence: "I’m going to wager on the 5th race."