Horse racing is a worldwide sport popular in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The sport has become even more well known for wagering, where bettors can prove themselves by selecting which horse or horses will cross the finish line first.

Horse Racing History

Modern horse racing was popular in the United Kingdom from the 1600s, becoming known as the Sport of Kings, a moniker that is still in use today. The most famous race in England, the Epsom Derby, began in 1780.

That prestige of that race has been mimicked with the creation of races like the Kentucky Derby, which began in 1875. Aristides was the first Kentucky Derby winner, which has been run every year since then.

The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the American Triple Crown, comprised of the Derby, the Preakness Stakes in Maryland, and the Belmont Stakes in New York. These races have a long history, with only 13 horses ever sweeping all three: Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, American Pharoah, and Justify. There was a 25-year wait between Citation in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973, and then an even longer 37-year drought between Affirmed and American Pharoah in 2015. Justify came just three years later in 2018.

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In 1984, the Breeders’ Cup was established and first run at Hollywood Park. The rich Breeders’ Cup Classic has since been added to the end of the Triple Crown as racing’s Grand Slam. Only American Pharoah has ever achieved the feat. The Breeders’ Cup consists of 14 races, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic the headliner, followed by the Breeders’ Cup Turf, Distaff, Mile, Sprint, Filly, and Mare Turf, Dirt Mile, Turf Sprint, Filly and Mare Sprint, Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Juvenile Turf, Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Juvenile Turf Sprint.

The English Triple Crown is comprised of the 2000 Guineas in May, the Epsom Derby in June, and the St. Leger Stakes in September. The last horse to win the English Triple Crown was Nijinsky in 1970, and it is not attempted very often any longer. Camelot tried in 2012 but came up short in St Leger.

France’s biggest race is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe outside Paris. It was first to run in 1920 and has been won by horse racing greats such as Enable, Treve, Sea the Stars, Urban Sea, Dancing Brave, Rainbow Quest, and Alleged.

The Japanese Triple Crown consists of the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), and the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger). Orfevre became the most recent Triple Crown winner in 2011 when he swept all three races. Deep Impact did it in 2005, and Narita Brian in 1994.

The Canadian Triple Crown in Canada consists of the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie, and the Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine. It is unique because the first leg is on a synthetic surface, the second on dirt, and the last leg is on the turf. No other Triple Crown changes surface like that.

Horse Racing Wagering

Most countries allow wagering on horse racing. There are numerous combinations of wagers available to bettors, starting with win, place, and show wagering.

Win means picking a horse to finish firstplace means first or second, and show means to finish in the top three. Playing a horse across the board means playing them to win, place, and show simultaneously.

There is also exacta, trifecta, and superfecta wagering, where bettors pick the top two, top three, or top four horses in order. A “box” means that the horses can come in any order, such as an exacta box or a trifecta box. Bettors can add as many horses as they want to these boxes, but the price goes up exponentially as they do.

Multi-race wagers are popular, too 

  • The Daily Double is a wager where bettors select the winners of two consecutive races.
  • Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, and Pick 6 wagers mean selecting the winners of up to six straight races. Although the investment can be higher, the payout is usually huge, with Pick 6 consolation payouts for hitting five of the six winners.

Singling a horse in a multi-race wager means that in at least one leg of the wager, bettors only select one horse. Although a lot more pressure rides on that horse to win, it allows the bettor to spread money around to the other races and take more horses per race, or go deeper in the race.

Sometimes there are special event wagers, such as when Churchill Downs offers the Kentucky Oaks/Kentucky Derby double over a Friday and a Saturday. Belmont Park in New York and Woodbine have been known to have doubles with one race at each track, as has Northern and Southern California such as Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita Park at the same time.

Coupled entries are when there are two horses racing for the same owner, which means the bettor gets both horses for the price of one. They will be listed as 1 and 1A, or 2 and 2B. 

Keying a horse means to pick it on top while placing multiple other horses underneath it. For example, an Exacta Key means picking one horse to win, and several others underneath it to finish second.

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Horse Racing Racetracks

There are hundreds of horse racing tracks around the world, with surfaces from dirt, turf, and synthetic, to steeplechase racing, harness racing, and even different breeds from Thoroughbred to Quarter Horse and Standardbred. Click here to bet on any major horse racing track.

The most famous racetracks in North America are Churchill Downs, Saratoga, Belmont Park, Keeneland, and Santa Anita Park.

Churchill Downs is the home of the Kentucky Derby. It is famous for not only that race for three-year-olds but also its Twin Spires perched above the grandstand. The Kentucky Derby museum is on the property as well. Well over 100,000 visitors go to Churchill Downs every year for the Kentucky Derby, also known as the Run for the Roses. It is located in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Saratoga is one of the oldest tracks in the United States. It was first opened in 1863 and is home to a special summer meeting where the best horses, horse trainers, and jockeys gather every year. The Travers Stakes, a race that has been won there by Arrogate, Street Sense, Bernardini, Point Given, Easy Goer, and Forty Niner, takes place every August. There is typically a stakes race every single day of the summer meet.

Belmont Park is home to the Belmont Stakes. The track, which is often called Big Sandy, has a 1 ½-mile dirt oval around two turf courses. It has hosted the Breeders’ Cup many times, including the 1995 edition when the famous Cigar continued a streak with 10 straight wins. The Belmont Stakes has been won by the likes of Secretariat to capture the Triple Crown but is also a place many horses have gone down in defeat, including Silver Charm, Funny Cide, Real Quiet, and Big Brown.

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Keeneland is a beautiful track located in Lexington, Kentucky. It is surrounded by trees and manicured grounds. The property also hosts many of the major horse sales in North America. The track is known for the Blue Grass Stakes, a major Kentucky Derby prep, and hosted the Breeders’ Cup for the first time in 2015. It will host once again in 2020.

Santa Anita Park was opened in 1934 and was quickly popular thanks to the likes of Seabiscuit. The Santa Anita Handicap and Santa Anita Derby are important races on the annual calendar. Santa Anita has hosted the Breeders’ Cup 10 times, including in 2009 when the mare Zenyatta remained unbeaten in 14 starts to defeat males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Other popular North American tracks are Del Mar in San Diego, California; Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland; and Gulfstream Park in Florida. Around the world, Ascot, Epsom, and Longchamp are the best-known tracks. Australia is home to many tracks, including Randwick and Flemington.

Woodbine Racetrack is Canada’s biggest horse racing track. It is the home of the Queen’s Plate, a championship race for three-year-olds bred in Canada. Horses such as Northern Dancer, who ultimately shaped the breed with his talent as a stallion, called Woodbine home. Secretariat ran the last race of his career at Woodbine on the grass. Woodbine has two turf courses, a seven-eighths inner turf course, and a 1 ½-mile outer turf course. The one-mile synthetic main track is in between them. The only time Woodbine hosted the Breeders’ Cup was in 1996.

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