A complete horse racing guide, covering the history of US racing, top racing contests, and where you can bet on horse racing in the United States.
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Horse racing in the United States dates back to the turn of the 20th century. The first state to legalize horse racing betting was Kentucky back in 1906, with pari-mutuel wagering.
Today, there are many ways to bet on horse racing. Pari-mutuel wagering is not only the oldest but one of the most common, which we will discuss further.
What is Pari-Mutuel Wagering?
Pari-mutuel wagering is when you bet on the result of a horse, and the bet gets put into a pot with all of the bettors that also wagered on your same result. Then, if you win, you are paid commensurate to the units wagered. This is much different than wagering on a sports contest at, let’s say, +200.
With horse racing being one of the oldest forms of gambling in the United States, we will look at the top horse races in the country, what online sportsbooks allow horse racing, information on the Kentucky Derby, and go over different bets you can make.
From Pimlico picks to Travers Stakes picks (at Saratoga Race Course in New York), the opportunity for horse racing wagering is huge.
Top Horse Racing Contests in the USA
Here are the biggest horse racing contests in the United States.
This is easily the most well-known, most-bet-on horse racing contest every year in the United States. Taking place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, in early May—the first Saturday, the Derby is a 1 ¼-mile Grade 1 race.
The race has $2 million in prize money up for grabs; the yearly handle when it comes to betting fluctuates, but in 2021 it was an astonishing $233 million.
The handle represents the total amount of money wagered on a contest.
There have been some huge gambling wins from the Kentucky Derby in recent years. It can be a real money-maker!
In addition to the Kentucky Derby taking place every first Saturday in May, the Preakness Stakes happens just two Saturdays later, occurring each third Saturday.
The location of this race is in Baltimore, Maryland at Pimlico Race Course. It is the second race in the Triple Crown contest, with the Kentucky Derby being the first leg.
This is a Grade 1 3/16 mile race on the dirt. This is where your Pimlico picks schedule blows up, with all eyes on the Preakness Stakes.
Held three weeks after the Preakness States in June, the Belmont Stakes is the final leg of the Triple Crown. It has a total prize pool of $1.5 million.
The track is also on dirt and is 1 ½ miles.
Essential Quality was the most recent winner of the Belmont Stakes. It won the 153rd running of the race at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
The Triple Crown races are held as Spring ends and Summer arrives. Then, the Breeders’ Cup happens in November.
However, it’s held in California, where the normally-cold month doesn’t matter.
Interestingly enough, jockey Mike Smith has won this race 26 times.
The oldest horse race in the United States, Travers Stakes first happened in 1864 and is held each year at the Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Known as the “Midsummer Derby”, Travers Stakes is a 1 ¼ mile race. Just like regular Pimlico picks, Travers Stakes picks are always popping up on Twitter and through word-of-mouth as the big race approaches.
Ways to Bet on Horse Racing
|Win||Bet on the horse that will win.|
|Place||Horse that will finish first or second.|
|Show||Horse that will finish in the top three.|
|Exacta||Picking the exact top two finishers.|
|Trifecta||Picking the exact top three finishers.|
|Superfecta||Picking the exact top four finishers.|
|Daily Double||Picking winners in back-to-back races (different horses).|
|Pick 3/4/5/6||Picking winners in three, four, five, or six races (different horses).|
Key Horse Racing Betting Terms
|Furlong||Measurement unit = 1/8th of a mile.|
|Maiden Race||Horse looking for first win.|
|Scratch||Horse removed from race.|
|Handicap||A race with a handicap on horses based on rating (something like spread in sports).|
|Dead-heat||Horses finishing in a tie.|
Sportsbooks That Offer Horse Racing
There are very few modern online legal sportsbooks that offer horse racing. A number of legal sports betting states in America have separate rules for horse racing.
Powered by TVG, FanDuel has a horse racing betting platform. However, this does not fall into the traditional sportsbook. There is a different set of rules and regulations for horse racing betting.
There are separate promotions available for the horse racing betting platform.
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Just like at FanDuel, there are different horse racing wagering rules compared to sports betting. However, horse racing can be wagered on at BetMGM in a number of states!
BetMGM is also one of the best online sportsbook platforms in America. Whether you have Pimlico picks or Travers Stakes picks to back, BetMGM is the place for you.
Owned by Churchill Downs, Inc., TwinSpires offers sports betting. However, it was a horse racing betting platform long before that.
With the ownership being the same group that owns the track where the Kentucky Derby is played, TwinSpires has always been a go-to betting platform for horse racing betting.
Legal Horse Racing Betting States
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
For a list of official horse racing tracks in the United States, visit OfficialUSA.com.