Betting on Horse Racing for Beginners

Horse Racing for Beginners

Once you learn the basics and the language, anyone can have fun betting on horse racing. Get in the know before placing a wager so you have the best chances of winning big.

Where to Bet

You don't have to live near a horse track to enjoy the sport thanks to advances in modern technology. If you do live near a track, you can bet on races there and other tracks.


Look for the words Park, Downs, Racetrack, Raceway, or Race Course to find a track nearby with live racing where you bet and watch in the same location. You'll be able to chat with other racers, ask questions of employees, and see the horses in person before races.


Websites like TVG, NYRA Bets, and Bet America require you create an account that is linked to your PayPal or bank account to easily transfer funds for betting. If you have an account, you'll be able to bet on and watch races around the country from your computer or phone.

Off Track Betting (OTB)

Look for casinos, Bar and Grills, or other OTB locations where you can bet on regional races or simulcast races while you eat or gamble.

Terms in Horse Racing

When you're ready to place a bet, you'll often need to quickly state or choose the racetrack, race, horse, and wager. Knowing exactly what to say can make you feel more confident and keep the lines moving.

Types of Races

For each type of race, there are specific kinds of horses that will have an advantage. In general, the betting terms and wagers are the same, but for some races different horses have an advantage.

  • Flat races are the most common type of horse race and involve horses ridden by a jockey racing on flat dirt, turf, or synthetic tracks. Choose horses who are experienced on the track material and at the distance of the race.
  • Harness racing involves a horse pulling a two-wheeled cart that carries a jockey. Horses are required to stay at a trot pace so look for those who are specialists in this type of racing.
  • Steeple chasing is a horse race with hurdles and obstacles. Fillies have the advantage here as it's easier for them to clear the obstacles.

Betting Terms

race horses at the finish line

The number of horses participating in a race will determine which types of bets are allowed.

  • Win: Your one horse will get first place in the race
  • Place: Your one horse will either get first or second place in the race
  • Show: Your one horse will place in the top three of the race
  • Exacta: Your two horses will come in first and second place in the order you choose
  • Quinella: Your two horses will come in first and second in any order
  • Trifecta: Your three horses will come in first, second, and third place in the order you choose
  • Superfecta: Choose four horses and the exact order they will place first through fourth
  • Box: For Exacta, Trifecta, and Superfecta, to "box" the wager means the horses you choose can come in any order.

Additional Terms to Know

You'll also want to familiarize yourself with these terms before placing your bet:

  • Scratch: When a horse pulls out of a scheduled race.
  • MTP: "Minutes to Post" means the time left until bets are no longer accepted and the race starts.
  • OTB: "Off-track betting" signals a place where you can bet on horse races, but not watch them live.
  • Jockey: Person who rides the horse during the race.
  • Daily Racing Form: Paper that shows statistics about each race, like its length, the horses, and their owners, jockeys, and trainers.

How to Bet on Horse Racing

For professionals, betting on horses is an individualized art form that takes tons of preparation. If you're a beginner or looking for a fun leisure activity, there are a few simple steps you can follow to place bets.

betting slip for horse racing
  1. If you're attending a race, purchase the race day program or Daily Racing Form to see how many races are scheduled and how many horses in each race. If you're betting online, you can usually find this info by clicking on the race you want to bet on.
  2. Look at the program to see which horses are running in each race and evaluate their statistics.
  3. Listen or look for scratches to make sure you don't be on a horse that isn't racing.
  4. Choose the horse or horses you think will win the race.
  5. Pick a type of bet.
  6. Decide on an amount of money to bet. Typically, there is a minimum bet of two dollars.
  7. Place your wager at the ticket counter or by submitting online before post time or the start of the race. There is often an MTP clock showing a countdown of when bets need to be placed by.
  8. For in-person betting you'll need to say something like "Race six, two dollars on number two to win" to the teller at the counter. When betting online, make sure you click the correct race track followed by the race number then your chosen horse, type of bet, and betting amount.
  9. If you win, take your ticket back up to the teller to cash in. If you lose, you can tear up the slip and toss it in the trash.

Get In On The Action

Horse racing is an exciting gambling activity that provides opportunities to make money and entertainment at the same time. Get in the know so you can get in on the action.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Betting on Horse Racing for Beginners