A Beginner’s Guide To A Day At The Races

Want to experience the excitement and glamour of a day at the races? Then get dressed up and head to one of America’s top race tracks to experience one of the world’s most thrilling live sporting events. If it’s your first trip to the races, find out all about the top tracks, how to place a bet, and what to wear in this beginner’s guide to a day at the races.

There are over 100 horse racing tracks spread across the US that host races including graded stakes with million-dollar prize purses that are attended by the rich and famous. Head to one of America’s prestigious tracks to watch the country’s top horses compete, from Thoroughbreds to Quarter Horses, Standardbreds, and Arabians.

Each racecourse has its own unique history and features a variety of turf, dirt, and synthetic polytrack terrains. Race types include endurance, flat, harness, and jumps and cover a range of distances, which are measured in furlongs. Here are some of the most iconic racetracks in the US, which make the perfect setting for a memorable first day at the races:

  • Churchill Downs – is best known for hosting the Kentucky Derby, the first race of the prestigious Triple Crown, where the world’s top horses compete for a $2 million prize. Churchill Downs is located in Louisville, Kentucky, and is spread over 147 acres.
  • Belmont Park – is located in Long Island, New York. The racetrack is famous for hosting the last leg of the annual Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, which is an endurance race also known as ‘The Test of the Champion’.
  • Del Mar – this 44,000-capacity racetrack is the second-largest in the western US and is set by the sea, earning the slogan: ‘Where the surf meets the turf’. Established in 1937, Del Mar racetrack hosts graded stakes as well as music concerts and an annual hat contest.
  • Keeneland – lies in Lexington, Kentucky, and features a combination of dirt and turf tracks. Keeneland is known for selling Thoroughbreds as well as hosting grade one races such as the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.

These are just four of America’s many racecourses, visit the MyWinners online racing hub for a full guide to America’s top tracks and racing events.

Booked your ticket to the races? Then it’s time to plan your outfit. Check your racetrack’s dress code for details, but expect smart wear such as suits and tuxedos for men and dresses and trouser suits for women. If you’re heading to a prestigious event such as the Kentucky Derby, which has been attended by guests such as Jack Nicholson, Kim Kardashian, and even Queen Elizabeth II, you’ll need to dress in your finest. Show off the latest seasonal fashions and don’t forget to don an extravagant hat.

So much goes into horse racing events, so make sure you don’t miss a moment of the action. Here are some key events to watch out for and how to organize your day:

  1. The weighing room – around half an hour before racing, jockeys are ‘weighed-out’. This means that their weight, plus that of the horse’s saddle, is combined to make sure it meets the race’s limits.
  2. Parade ring – don’t miss the chance to catch a glimpse of the horses, as well as their owners and trainers, before you place any bets. Watch them parade around the ring 20 minutes before the race and look out for horses with a relaxed walk, shiny coat, and alert ears.
  3. Place your wagers – once you’ve chosen your favorite horse, place your bets at least 10 minutes before the race starts. Look for the tote windows dotted around the racecourse, or place a bet with one of the bookmakers at the betting ring.
  4. The race – take your position by the track to watch the action. It can be interesting to change position between races to get different views and perspectives.

Winners’ enclosure – when the race has finished, horses are led back into the winners’ enclosure and those that have placed are paraded around the course. The horses are washed and tended to by their grooms before awards are presented.

If you’re new to horse racing, complicated, ever-changing win rates and a variety of different wager options can make placing a bet an overwhelming experience. So how do you calculate odds and place a wager?

Firstly, you need to understand the pari-mutuel betting system, which is used in most US states.  This system is also known as pool betting since all the money wagered on one race is placed into a pot and after the house take is deducted (usually around 15-20%), the rest is divided between those who bet on the winning horse. Unlike fixed odds betting, you won’t know the exact odds or potential winnings until all the bets have been made.

Here’s a list of the most popular types of pari-mutuel bets you can place in horse racing:

  • Exacta bets – bet on which horses you think will come first and second. To win, you have to get these in the right order.
  • Trifecta bets – bet on which horses you believe will come first, second, and third in that exact order.
  • Superfecta bets – bet on which horses you think will come first, second, third, and fourth, in order.
  • Boxed bets – pay extra when placing an Exacta, Trifecta or Superfecta bet to wager on the horses to finish in the top two, three, or four, in any order.

Once you’ve chosen a horse, look for an onsite bookmaker, also referred to as a teller, who can process your bet. Here’s the information you’ll need to provide, remember to check the racing program for the relevant details:

  • Name of the track
  • Race number
  • Type of bet you want to place
  • Amount of dollars you wish to wager
  • The number of the horse you want to bet on.

You can also wager online at MyWinners via your mobile, laptop, or tablet and get expert handicapper’s advice to get the greatest return on your bets.