Beginner’s Guide to Betting on Horse Races Online

Wagering Windows On Left Horse Racing On Right

Horse racing has been around since the first humans harnessed the wild beast’s power for their own use. Almost immediately, we began betting on these races.

Betting on the ponies can be profitable if you do all of the needed research and perhaps get a little lucky. Horse racing for beginners doesn’t need to be a losing proposition.

This introduction to horse racing will give you the basics. From there, the wonderful world of horse racing is yours to explore. Betting on the ponies can be one of the most entertaining gambling experiences on the planet.

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History of the Sport

Horse racing is an ancient sport that goes back so far. Its origins are unclear. One thing is abundantly clear, from the moment man began riding horses, there have been races.

The Roman Empire was a society enamored with all things sports. They included several forms of horse races into the first Olympics.

During the Crusades, English knights began returning to England with Arab horses. These horses were slimmer and much faster than anything previously seen in the region.

By the 1700s, horse racing was a legitimate operation in England, and established horse racing tracks began popping up around the U.K.

Horse racing in America began back in 1665 when enthusiasts built the first track on Long Island’s American soil. However, the native Americans were racing horses for sport long before colonialists established this track.

For many years, horse racing remained a somewhat outlaw sport. There weren’t necessarily any legal ramifications to participation, but there wasn’t any formal governing body.

That didn’t change until after the Civil War when the American Stud Book was established.

Today, horse racing has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. Horse tracks have emerged around the country, and many of the top race days are broadcast on television.

The Triple Crown is comprised of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. These races draw national attention.

The races seem to be almost an afterthought. The party scene takes the top prize for attention at each of these events.

The Kentucky Derby isn’t a horse race; it’s an event. Ladies wear ornate and extravagant hats and beautiful sundresses. At the same time, the gents don their finest suits—everyone mills about enjoying the signature cocktail, mint juleps, and rubbing elbows with huge celebrities.

You don’t need to pay thousands of dollars to have a thrilling afternoon betting on the ponies. The smaller events at tracks across the country offer the finest horses on the planet and plenty of sideshows for the average horse bettor.

Straight Wagers

The most common bets in horse racing are straight wagers. These bets are Win, Place, and Show meaning a finish of first, second, or third.

So, you find a horse you love and make as small as a $2 bet on any of the three. However, the far more common wager is across the board for $6.

Horse Racing

Betting across the board means you win if the horse places in the top 3. Some tracks have lowered their minimum bet to $1, so you can place a Win, Place, or Show bet for as little as $3.

The Win bet will cover you only if the horse you select wins the race outright. These bets will offer the highest payouts, and if you are fortunate enough to hit on a long shot, the wins can be substantial.

Place bets cover the horse for finishing first or second. The return on these bets isn’t as significant as the win bet but will net you a profit.

Place bets cover the horse if it finishes in the top 3. Still, the return on investment is typically under $1 for every dollar wagered. Nevertheless, better than taking a loss.

How you go about deciding which pony to bet on can be as unique as the hats at the Kentucky Derby. I began my horse racing career by pairing the longest odds on the board with the coolest sounding name.

Not surprisingly, I did not strike it rich with my decided elementary system. However, I didn’t lose nearly as much as you might have guessed.

Regardless of the hit to my wallet, I had never had so much fun. It didn’t feel like gambling to me. I was buying entertainment for $6-10 at a time.

Getting Exotic with Your Wagers

There’s another level of betting on the ponies that I never made a significant go of until later in life.

My father was continually pouring over data and trends, trying to unlock the code to the five-figure win that came from exotic wagers.

I never had an interest, even as I watched him cash out for over $10k on several occasions.

The exotic bets are essentially any wagers that don’t fall under the straight bets of Win, Place, or Show. These include Exacta, Double, Quinella, Trifecta, and a variety of parlay bets.

The parlays are undoubtedly the most lucrative, but the risk is also the highest at the track. There are smaller parlays like the Show Parlay that provide an excellent way for friends to pool some cash and enjoy several races.

This style of betting is trendy among beginners, and it can be a lucrative endeavor. The basic premise is relatively straightforward.

You’ll place a wager on a horse to show (finish in the top 3). If your bet wins, you let the money ride on the next race. You continue this until you cash out or lose a race.

Horse Racing Text and Logo With a Horse Racing Background

By pooling money with friends and letting it ride, the royal in the pot can grow rather quickly.

Exacta bets are picking the number one and number two finishers for a race in order. These bets have great returns but can be tricky to get right.

The Quinella is an easier version of the Exacta. You pick the top two ponies in any race, but they don’t need to be in order.

The Double will get you paid big. You simply have to pick the winning horse in two consecutive races.

It’s essential to be aware of the various exotic bets. Still, beginners will be best served to stick to the straight wagers and Show Parlay. Check out our guide of the different types of horse specialty bets.

Betting Tools for the Races

There are a few tools that may make your day at the horse races much more enjoyable. These helpful guides won’t typically set you back more than a couple of bucks but offer a lot of information beginners won’t have.

An essential tool in any horse bettors arsenal is the racetrack program. These programs contain vital statistics on each race and horse for the day.

These are much like a program at a baseball game, but with more information and less fluff. You’ll find details on the horses, trainers, owners, and jockeys in these handy brochures.

The racetrack program is well worth the cost for the beginner and veteran alike.

Many savvy gamblers at the horse races will buy a handicapper’s tip sheet. These tips usually cost $3-5 and give the experts picks for every race of the day. Keep in mind that anytime you start paying for picks, you’re affecting your bottom line. Still, beginners can dramatically reduce the learning curve by shelling over a few bucks to get an insider’s perspective.

The daily racing sheet is another tool put together by the men and women who live and breathe horse racing. These small booklets offer an in-depth look at each of the horses in the day’s line-up, including trends and previous results.

Any of these tools will be of enormous benefit when the beginner sets out to bet on the ponies. Not every pick will be a winner, but the information can help you understand the selections’ logic.

You can then use that same reasoning to assist in future selections.

Online Betting Sites for Horse Racing

Online gambling has revolutionized how we place wagers. I remember being at horse races in California years ago and my dad calling me up to place bets for him. At the same time, he watched the races on television.

Those scenes likely still play out across the country, but real money horse racing betting sites fill this slot for many gamblers:

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  • Bovada – Most trusted brand in online sports betting.
  • BetOnline – Accepts online sports bets from all 50 states.
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Many of the top horse racing betting sites are trustworthy and secure. You’ll need to research the best spots before settling on one, but you’ll be able to place bets from nearly anywhere on the planet.

These companies bring the excitement of horse racing to your laptop, phone, or tablet. So, you’ll never have to waste that hot tip if you’re stuck at a wedding or the office.

Of course, I believe the experience of being at the races is 99% of the fun in horse racing. Strolling about the paddock and chatting with the trainers is an exciting and unique experience.

You’ll also miss out on seeing these magnificent beasts up close if you’re stuck on your sofa. Watching these machines glisten in the sun is a truly exceptional experience, and all newbies should make a trip to the live races.


Betting on the ponies could be one of the most rewarding gambling experiences available. The excitement and camaraderie shared with friends and family are fantastic.

Horse racing for beginners may seem intimidating to some newbies. Remember this; if you are having fun, you’re doing it right.