Off to the Races – A Guide to American Horse Racing
Horse racing offers a full spectrum of entertainment unlike all other kinds of gambling. A fast paced and colorful day at the races becomes an experience, an outing. Whether someone wins or not, a day at the races makes for a great afternoon or evening spent outside, watching beautiful animals compete.
The Tradition of Horse Racing
Equestrian racing also has a great deal of history and tradition behind it. Horse racing dates back to about 4500 BC among nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia, who first domesticated the animal. Archaeological records indicate that horse racing also took place in ancient Greece, Syria, Babylon, and Egypt where the sport entertained the masses and honored the excellent horsemanship required in battles.
Horse racing later became popular among the aristocrats and royalty of British society, earning it the nickname as the "Sport of Kings”. Today, horse racing represents one of the few forms of gambling that is legal all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, the Middle East, South America, and Australia.
American Horse Racing
Horse racing came to the United States back in 1665 when colonists first established a racetrack in Long Island, New York. Although, popular for some time, organized horse racing in America didn’t begin until after the Civil War with the release of the American Stud Book in 1868 and the subsequent foundation of the American Jockey Club in 1894. For the next few decades gambling on horse racing exploded across the country, and by 1890 the United States contained 314 tracks.
American Horse Racing continued to flourish, especially during the Great Depression when a racehorse named Seabiscuit lifted the spirits of American public. Despite his small build and crooked legs, the Seabiscuit continued to win. Later, during the 1970s great horses such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed became famous across the country for winning the American Triple Crown (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes).
Hialeah Park Horse Racing and Casino represents an iconic American horse racetrack. The track first opened in 1922, offering the country's first pari-mutuel greyhound racetrack. In 1925, it began hosting Thoroughbred Horse Racing. Some of Thoroughbred racing’s most famous horses competed on the Hialeah Park racetrack including Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Citation, and Seattle Slew. Today Hialeah Park features American Quarter Horse racing during the live racing season.
Today, American horse racing stands out as one of the most widely attended spectator sports in the country. Flat racing, the most common in the United States, involves Thoroughbred horses racing over flat courses between 3/4 of a mile and 1 1/4 miles. The races typically take place on an oval track and are based on speed and stamina. Quarter horses are also popular as well as harness racing.
The American Triple Crown
Hands down, the American Triple Crown marks the biggest horse racing event in the United States. In order for a horse to take the prestigious Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, it must win three races, scheduled two weeks apart from each other. The three races comprising the Triple Crown include the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and The Belmont Stakes. Each contest limits participating horses to three year old Thoroughbreds.
Each race in the Triple Crown Races attracts huge crowds who gather to celebrate and enjoy the excitement of the race. Spectators range from drunken college kids in the infield dressed casually to sophisticated audience members in the grandstand where men come dressed in colorful, freshly pressed suits and women always adorn their head with an exquisite piece of millinery. Whether in the infield or a box in Millionaire’s Row, hats are a must at the races.
The first race in the Triple Crown, The Kentucky Derby, represents one of the oldest, most famous races in the United States. Also known as “The Run for the Roses”, it takes place every year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and marks the first part of the Triple Crown series. Southern belles and gentlemen gather sipping Mint Juleps and bet big money on the race. In 2011’s race, gamblers wagered over $165 million dollars. Secretariat set the fastest record back in 1973 at 1 minute and 59 2/5 seconds, which remains unbroken over 40 years later.
The Preakness comprises the second race in the Triple Crown series and takes place at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland. Dating back to 1873, the race is also known as the “Run for the Black-eyed Susan” after the state flower of Maryland.
The Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York, marks the final and most demanding contest in the Triple Crown. Named after August Banker, a wealthy banker and the first President of the American Jockey Club. In 1869, August Banker also took home first and second with his own horses, Fenian and Glenelg.
Only eleven horses have won the prestigious Triple Crown. The last winner, Affirmed, won the Triple Crown over 30 years ago in 1978. However several horses have come close including Big Brown in 2008 who lost in the final seconds of the Belmont Stakes.
Playing the Ponies
Wagering on the outcome of horse races or “playing the ponies” has been the main appeal and source of income of the sport for as long as it has been around. All tracks in the United States employ a pari-mutuel wagering system in which a fixed percentage usually 14%-25% of the wagering pool goes toward the winners, track operating costs, taxes, and purses. The purse refers to the total amount of money paid to the racetrack. Purses for the Triple Crown can go well over $1 million for each race. After the takeout, the money leftover goes to those who made the correct wager.
During the open betting period before a race, the projected payoff, or "odds," continuously get posted on the track tote board. For example, odds of 2-1 mean that the bettor will receive a $2 profit for every $1 wagered if the horse wins. Mosthorse races charge Free Admission and a set a minimum of bet of $2.
American horse racing represents one of the oldest forms of legalized gambling in the United States. Learn more about United States Gambling Laws.
Gamblers can bet on a horse to win; finish first, place; finish first or second, or show; finish first, second, or third. Other popular bets include:
- Daily Double - picking the winners of two consecutive races
- Exactas – betting on the first and second horses in order
- Quinellas – selecting the first and second horses in either order
- Pick six – betting on the winners of six consecutive races
Place bets on horse races online at William Hill Casino .
Betting on a horse race brings a thrill unlike other kinds of gambling. The anticipation builds as the horses stand at the starting line before the race begins. The excitement grows as the horses compete neck to neck and turn down the homestretch. Money is on the line and the race comes down to the wire until the first horse breaks across the finish line. Whether you take home money or lose it all, a thrilling day at the tracks makes for an exciting experience all the same.
Want more gambling and sports? Check out Sports Stars' Crazy Gambling Stories.