A Beginner’s Guide To A Day At The Races


MyWinners Expert Team

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A day at the races is hard to beat. The excitement of live horse racing is unparalleled in the world of sport, but do you know your bumpers from your jumpers, your grays from your bays, or your fixed odds from your pari-mutuel bets? If the answer is no, fear not, with our beginner’s guide to a day at the races you will soon learn everything from how to place your first wager and what to wear, to the different types of bets and the layout of different race tracks.

The best, and different types of, race tracks

An aerial view of a horse race taking place on a dirt track.

Each track varies in length, type, terrain and breed. The variation in horse racing is plentiful including dirt, turf and synthetic polytrack terrains. The types of horse races can broadly be classified to flat, endurance, harness and jump races, and tracks are generally measured in furlongs (5 furlongs to 12 furlongs). In the United States, horse racing breeds include Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Standardbreds, and Quarter Horses.

As a newcomer to the sport you may want your first experience to be one to remember, luckily for you, the US is home to many of the world’s most esteemed racecourses:

  • Churchill Downs  Louisville, Kentucky, has remained one of the most prestigious thoroughbred race tracks in the country for the last century. A track boasting 147 acres.
  • Belmont Park – Long Island, New York, is one of the United States most popular racecourses. Premier horse racing event, the Triple Crown comes to a climax here, as well as, the Belmont Stakes, known as the ‘Test of the Champion.’ Both races add to this race track’s 60 stakes worth an annual $18.55 million (USD).
  • Del Mar – in Del Mar, California, hosted the infamous Breeders’ Cup in 2017, and set a record for its $1 million (USD) prize fun with the ‘Pacific Classic’ in 1991. A track made up of dirt encroaching the Pacific Ocean led this track to be dubbed where “turf meets surf.”

These are only three racecourses among a collection of historic arenas that host many of country’s biggest events. Visit the MyWinners online Racing Hub for a full guide to America’s top race tracks and racing events.

What to wear

Now you’ve got to grips with the types races and tracks, it’s time to put your outfit together. Horse racing is known for its glamorous and sophisticated attire, so gentlemen dig out your best tux or suit and ladies style your favorite dress or trouser suit with your most extravagant fascinator. It should be noted that each racecourse has its own dress code, so we urge you to take a look before you attend on the day, this way, whether it’s Saratoga or the Churchill Downs, you will have followed the perfect style guide for racing season.

Race agenda

Typically, there is a lot going on when attending a day at the races. However, most racecourses tend to follow this process before every race so be sure to keep an eye out, so you don’t miss anything:

  1. The Weighing Room – typically 30 minutes before each race, the jockey’s will be ‘weighing out’ which totalizes their weight and the horses saddle which must meet a set limit for each Thoroughbred in each race. The jockeys’ must repeat this process after the race has finished ensuring their weight remained level throughout.
  2. The Pre-parade Ring – typically 20 minutes before each race, the pre-parade is when the horses are led around the racecourse by their grooms, giving attendees a chance to see the horses from afar and enables the horses to warm up.
  3. The Parade Ring (aka Paddock) – typically 10 minutes before each race horses enter the parade ring. The parade ring is a must-see for all newcomers to the race track. This part of the race agenda allows race goers to see the horses up close, as well as the horses ‘connections’: the owners, trainers and stable staff, just moments before the race begins.
  4. Wager your bets – typically 10 minutes before the race, attendees can wager their bets at the tote windows scattered around the course or with the bookmakers at the tracks betting ring.
  5. The Racecourse – this part of the agenda is when the race commences. We recommend that for each race visitors change their position within the racecourse enabling them to gain different perspectives.
  6. The Winners Enclosure – after the race concludes, the placed horses are welcomed back onto the racecourses by their grooms where they’re unsaddled and paraded around the course. All horses are washed down with cold water to cool them while awards are presented to the winning trainer and jockey in the Winners Enclosure.

Where and how to bet

When attending live horse racing, keep your eyes peeled for an onsite Bookmaker, also known as a Teller, who can wager your bet. Simply follow these 5 steps to successfully place your bet:

  1. State the name of the track that you wish to wager on. While this may seem obvious if you are at Saratoga and you wish to place a bet at Saratoga, it’s key to remember that you can place a bet on any race from all over the country on that specific race day.
  2. State the race’s number. If you want to wager a bet on the third race of the day, state that clearly.
  3. Disclose the type of bet you are wagering.
  4. Declare the amount you wish to bet, in dollars.
  5. State the number of the horse you are referring to, as it is displayed in the racing program.

These steps may vary depending on the track you are visiting.

Conversely, horse betting is not confined to live events and arenas. At MyWinners you can choose to wager online, on your mobile, or in-venue.

Betting odds

A bookmaker’s board with a list of horses and betting odds.

Complicated, fluctuating win rates, and a range of bets, for a newcomer to the racetrack, can be difficult to understand. So, let’s start here, with the pari-mutuel betting system – the legal and most common form of horse racing wagering in the US.

With pari-mutuel betting, every dollar and dime wagered on a race is added into a pool. After the house commission (approx. 15-20%), also known as the ‘take’, is deducted, the payoff is shared equally between the people who bet on the winning horse in that race.

Unlike fixed odd betting, also known as Moneyline or Spread betting, the bettor won’t know the odds on that horse or the exact amount of their potential winnings until the bet is locked in place at the start of the race, and when the race concludes. Instead, the odds are subject to change, meaning your potential payoff is ever-changing. Discover our guide to horse racing odds for a full breakdown of this process.

Types of bets

Calculating horse betting odds becomes an even more complicated task when you considering all the different types of bets you can place. Listed below are three of the most popular bets:

  • Exacta bets – you place a bet on the horses you think will come first and second, and for you to win, they must finish in the specific order.
  • Trifecta bets – you place a bet on the horses you think will come first, second and third. To win, your selected horses must finish in that order.
  • Superfecta bets – one places a bet on which horses they think will come first, second, third and fourth. To win, all your selected horses must finish in the specific order.
  • Boxed bets – While each of the mentioned bets increase in difficulty, so does the potential pay-off. To simplify any of the above bets, consider placing boxed bets. With boxed bets one can play the Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta bet. However, to win, the top two, three or four horses can finish in any order.

For further help understanding all of the intricacies of live and online horse race betting, follow our Expert Handicappers Advice for top horse picks and tips.