Betting a horse race looks significantly more difficult than it really is.  This isn’t to say that successfully handicapping the races isn’t a monumental challenge but the actual process of placing a bet is easy.   One of the reasons for the long running popularity of horse racing is the variety of bets available.  This was especially true in the mid-twentieth century before the proliferation of gambling options but the horse racing fan still gets excited over big payout multi-race/multi-horse exotic wagers.

Before we get into the various types of horse bets it’s important to know how to properly place a wager.  Keep in mind that the majority of horse betting establishments will be taking action on a variety of tracks from all over North America or in some cases all over the world.  This is true at the track, at a simulcast facility, in a Nevada race book or online—you simply cannot assume that the ticket writer can read your mind to know which of the many thoroughbred or standard bred (harness racing) tracks you’re talking about.  To eliminate confusion there’s something of a standard format to placing a bet on a horse race.  It’s not unlike ordering a coffee at Starbucks.


If you’re betting online you have the advantage of checking and double checking that your wager is correct.  You may have this opportunity at the track via a self service wagering kiosk.  Otherwise, it’s important to be clear with your intentions and give the ticket writer the relevant information in the correct order.  It goes without saying that you should speak clearly in a strong tone of voice without yelling.  This isn’t the time to be a ‘low talker’ or a mumbler:

–NAME OF THE RACE TRACK:  Since there are usually a dozen or so North American tracks running at any given time clarity is important but there’s usually not a problem with using an abbreviated version of the track name—for example, you can say ‘Los Al’ for ‘Los Alamitos Race Course’ or ‘Churchill’ for ‘Churchill Downs’ and everyone will know what you mean.  I’ve always made it a point to be as clear and specific as possible when betting international race tracks.  The North American tracks are familiar enough but it’s always struck me as a bad idea to try and abbreviate when you’re placing a bet at a track like Australia’s Muswellbrook Race Club.

–NUMBER OF THE RACE:  Necessary since there are usually 8 to 12 races on a daily card.  Just give the number.  You’ll look like you know what you’re doing if you bet the Kentucky Derby by saying ‘Churchill, Race 12’.

–AMOUNT OF THE BET:  Simple enough.  Give the bet in whole dollar amounts unless it’s an exotic

with a lower minimum such as the 20 cent ‘Rainbow 6’ at Gulfstream Park.

–TYPE OF BET:  You can make a straight bet on a horse to ‘win, place or show’ or bet an exotic wager involving multiple horses or multiple races.  For example, you can bet a ‘trifecta’ which requires the bettor to pick the top three horses in order in a specific race.

–NUMBER OF HORSE OR HORSES IN YOUR WAGER:  If you’re making a straight bet it’s simple–’Churchill, Race 3, $2 win on horse 7’.  I’ll sometimes switch it up by saying something like ‘Churchill, Race 3, $2 on horse 7 to win’ and have never been chastised.  To bet a multi-horse exotic it’s the same concept but with more horses involved.  Personally, I try to bet all complex exotics online or at a wagering terminal.  To bet an exotic you’ll do something like this:  Churchill, Race 3, $2 trifecta on horses 7,2,9.’  Order is important though there are bets where you’re required to pick the top two horses in any order (Quinella).

–CHECK YOUR TICKET BEFORE LEAVING THE WINDOW:  This is your last chance to make sure everything is correct.  In most cases, a ticket writer can void an incorrect ticket before the bettor leaves the window.  Once he walks away, however, he’s out of luck if the ticket writer transposed the order of his horses.