Horse Racing | How to Bet on Horses Online and How To Read Odds

• Horse racing
• Racing
• Sports Betting

How to Bet on Horse Racing

Horse racing is one of the world’s most popular sports. And for good reason. There are few things that are quite as exciting as watching your pick race to the winning post before the rest of the field. Because of this, learning how to bet on horse racing is something that most sports bettors like to do at some point.

In this guide, you learn all you need to know about how to bet on horses. We’ll highlight some of the best online racebooks around, explore the types of bets that you can place, and even provide useful tips and strategies to help you pick more winners.


Placing a bet is actually quite simple. In fact, it's the easiest aspect of betting on horse racing. All you have to do is:

  • Name the racetrack that is hosting the race you want to bet on.
  • State the number and/or time of the race you want to bet on.
  • Choose the type of bet you want to place.
  • Specify which horse you want to bet on, by number or name.
  • State how much you want to bet on that horse.

When betting in person at a track, you would give this information verbally to the kiosk attendant or write it down on a betting slip. If you are betting with an online racebook or online sportsbook, you would select or enter the information into a virtual betting slip.

Where to Bet on Horse Racing

Now that you know how to place a wager, you have to figure out where you will actually do it. There are two places where this will happen: at the track or with an online racebook. Most racetracks have both an in-person window and electronic machines where you can place your bet. Obviously, you do have to physically go to the track in order to bet at the track.

Betting with online racebooks is a lot more convenient. Most online sportsbooks offer betting markets for horse racing, but some offer more markets than others. Our recommended operators for anyone who wants to bet on horse racing are detailed below.

TVG Racebook

TVG is best known for its role in putting horse racing on TV, but it also offers an online platform for betting. The TVG racebook offers expert picks, predictions, and analysis. This operator also offers live streaming of the races, and you can bet through the TVG website or mobile app.

TwinSpires Racebook

TwinSpires is often considered the most trustworthy and popular online betting platform for horse racing. They are the official betting partner of the Kentucky Derby and offer wagering through the browser, a mobile-optimized site, or their TwinSpires betting app. They also offer the ability to bet on many different tracks and provide live streams for each one.

DRF Bets

DRF – Daily Racing Form – has its horse racing wagering product DRF Bets, which is an absolute must for every US bettor. This is a result of the tradition of more than a century of excellent info & advice service for bettors(PPs, entries, results), the huge number of betting tracks and markets,and the generous sign up bonus(a $10 free bet plus $250 first-deposit match). DRF Bets is 100% trustworthy, so there’s absolutely no reason to delay registering and benefitting from the fantastic odds and promotions.

Horse Racing Betting Tools

There are various betting tools that you will want to take a look at before wagering on a race. When learning how to bet on horse racing, this is one of the most important aspects. 

The top tool that you will likely use is the racetrack program. This has important information about things like past performances and wins for horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners. You will likely have to pay a few dollars for the program, but that depends on whether you are betting in-person or using online platforms.

The Daily Racing Form (DRF) provides the past performances of all the horses running on the day’s programs. It also includes informative articles and handicapping. This will also cost a few dollars.

Horse Racing Straight Wagers

Straight wagers are what most bettors will start with when learning how to bet on horse racing. They are the simplest of wagers, and they include the Win, Place, and Show bets. 

WinA Win bet is fairly self-explanatory. Your task here is to predict which horse will win the race. 
PlaceA Place bet requires you to pick a horse that you think will finish in first or second place. 
ShowA Show bet requires you to pick a horse that you think will finish in first, second, or third place.
Straight Wager Types

A Note on Win, Place and Show

It is worth noting that you can also make an 'across-the-board' bet known as a 'Win, Place, and Show' bet. This wager combines each of the three straight wagers described a moment ago so that you have a greater chance of achieving a return. 

Ideally, your horse will win the race, and if it does you will receive all three Win, Place, and Show payouts. If your horse finishes the race in second place, you will receive the Place and Show payouts. Should your horse finish in third place, you would only receive the Show payout.

Horse Racing Exotic Bets

Exotic bets, or non-straight wagers, are a little more complex. They are more difficult to win with, but the payouts when you do win can be a lot bigger. Some of the most popular exotic wagers are the Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta, Daily Double, and Pick 3/4/5/6.

Exacta: An Exacta bet requires you to specify which horses will finish in first and second place, in that precise order. 

Trifecta: A Trifecta bet requires you to specify which horses will finish in first, second, and third place, in that precise order. 

Superfecta: A Superfecta bet has the potential of giving you an extremely large payout. It requires you to specify which horses will finish in first, second, third, and fourth place, in that precise order.

Daily Double: A Daily Double bet requires you to select which two horses will win two consecutive races.

Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, Pick 6: These wagers require you to select the winning horses for three, four, five, or six consecutive races.

Boxing Bets

When betting on horses, you also have the option to 'box' your bets. A box bet is when you select more horses than the bet calls for and then play all possible combinations of those selections. By boxing exotic wagers, you have an increased chance of winning.

For example, an Exacta Box requires your horses to still finish first and second, but it can be in any order. You no longer need to select the exact order of finish. The downside to boxing a bet is that it multiplies the cost of your wager. In the case of an Exacta Box, it would cost twice as much as a regular Exacta, because you're betting on two possible combinations.

Recent Winners Strategy

The Recent Winners Strategy is a self-explanatory approach to horse race betting. After choosing which race to bet on, you will look at the race form and see if any of the runners have a recent victory. 

According to this strategy, if any horse had a recent win, it is more likely to perform well in its next race. This is a relatively easy strategy, to follow, but the most recent winner often has lower odds than other runners. This makes betting on recent winners safer than betting on outsiders, but with lower profit potential.

Back the Beaten Favorite

This strategy relies on the public’s doubt after a highly ranked horse has been beaten in a race. After the loss, betting often goes against the horse in the next race, which causes the runner’s odds to increase more than pure form might merit. 

Even though a top-tier horse lost a race, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will also lose the next race. Because of this, some bettors decide to put money on the beaten favorite, hoping that the loss was just a blip. The horse will likely have better odds than usual, so this strategy can result in nice winnings.

The Statistical Lay

The Statistical Lay is one of the most popular strategies for betting on horses. This more complex approach involves the bettor wagering against a runner. 

A lay bet is when the bettor acts as the bookmaker and wagers against an outcome rather than on one. This means that instead of betting on a horse to win, you will effectively be betting that it doesn't. Lay betting isn't as widely available as regular betting but it can be worth considering if you have the opportunity.

The first step is to find a race with 10 or more runners. That done, identify the three favorites and look at their odds. Out of the top three favorites, select runners that have odds somewhere between 3.0 (2/1) and 5.8 (4.8/1). You would then lay against the one with the lowest odds. 

According to statistics, this should result in a profit about 83% of the time. However, the strategy is normally only recommended for Group 1, Grade 1 races. These races often have more in-depth records and analysis, which allows for a weak favorite to be more easily identified. 

These are just some of the top betting strategies for horse racing, but there are many more that can be learned.

How to Bet on Horses FAQ

Where can I bet on horse racing?
You can bet on horse racing by visiting a racetrack or by signing up with an online racebook or sportsbooks. Note that online gambling is not yet legal in all states, so you should check the situation to see what options are open to you.
How are payouts calculated in horse racing?
Payouts are either calculated according to odds or the number of winners in a prize pool. With odds, it works much the same as in other sporting events. Use our Betting Odds Converter tool to convert odds and calculate your returns. Payouts for wagers like the Trifecta are done by dividing the pool of money by the number of winners. Most racebooks show the expected return calculated in real time.
Should I bet on big or small tracks?
Big tracks often include horses, trainers, and owners that you can get a lot of information about. However, they tend to attract the best runners, making racing more competitive. Smaller and less popular tracks also provide you with the chance to test your abilities, and winners can be easier to pick in less competitive events.
What are the top horse races?
US bettors often view the three races that form the Triple Crown to be the best. Those races are the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Other major horse races include the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and the Dubai World Cup.