The ancient sport of horse racing is beholden to centuries of tradition and custom. The first time you visit a racetrack or horse betting site, you can expect to be bombarded with unfamiliar lingo and complicated betting slips. It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s not all that bad. It just takes a little time to get familiar with how things work in horse racing.

The best way to introduce yourself to horse racing is to just get in there and place your first bet. Don’t concern yourself with winning or losing at first. It’s all too easy to get sucked into researching everything, looking up definitions and over thinking it to the point where you’re back at square one.

Instead, look at your first bet as an education in itself. The real payout is in getting out of your comfort zone, placing a bet and watching it play out. As you get more comfortable with horse racing, you can delve into some of the more complicated wagers and strategies that are found in horse betting.

The Basic Straight Bets

The straight bets are the simplest in horse racing and are pretty easy for even the newest newbies to understand. If you’re new to horse betting, a straight bet is the way to go. There are three different types of straight bets:

  • Win: You win the bet if your horse takes 1st place
  • Place: You win the bet if your horse takes 1st or 2nd place
  • Show: You win if the bet if your horse finishes in 1st, 2nd or 3rd place

The win bet is the simplest of them all. You pick a horse, place your bet and get paid if your horse wins the race. Out of the three bets explained above, the win bet pays the most. Place and show bets are easier to win, but they pay a little less.

You can also combine two or more of these bet types on one horse. For example, an “across the board” bet places a WIN, PLACE and SHOW bet all on a single horse. If your horse takes first place, you get three separate payouts because your horse met the winning conditions for each bet. If your horse takes second, you get paid for the PLACE and SHOW bets only. And if your horse takes third, you are paid for the SHOW bet only.

But for now, I’ll keep it simple and walk you through a simple SHOW bet.

How to Place a Basic Straight Bet

Now it’s time to get to the fun stuff: placing a real money bet. I’ll show you how to do this both online and at the track. The process is pretty simple once you know what to do.


First, visit the betting site of your choice. We’ll go with Bovada for this example, but any betting site will work. If you don’t already have an account, click on the “join now” link at the top of the website. Follow the instructions to make your account and then visit the cashier if you’d like to make a deposit.

Next, head over to the horse racing area on Bovada. The horse racing area will show you a list of upcoming races at various tracks on the left side of the page. Click on any track and Bovada will bring up a betting slip for the next race at that track.

For example:

Betting Slip

From here, it’s pretty simple. Let’s just pretend you’ve decided to place a show bet on the horse named “Brahms Boogie.” All you need to do is click the checkbox in line with that horse’s name under the “Show” column like this:

Betting Slip 2

Click on the “add to my ticket” button and a new area screen will appear near the top of the betting screen that shows a summary of your wagers:

Small Betting Slip

Finally, click on “proceed with bet” to lock in your wager. Congratulations; you’ve just placed your first horse racing bet. Now all you have to do is wait for the race to finish. If Brahms Boogie takes 1st, 2nd or 3rd place, your bet is a winner.

At the Track

If you’re lucky enough to live near a track, you have to go check it out in person at least once. Horse gambling is different than other forms of gambling because it gives you a whole experience. You’re not just sitting in a dark room placing bets. You get to sit outside, enjoy the weather, watch the horses perform and drink what you want.

Placing a bet at the track is also pretty simple once you know what to do and how to express your wishes to the cashier. At the track, you can place your bets with a machine or with a human cashier. I like the human cashier the best because it’s simpler that way.

Head over to the betting window, wait in line and get your money ready. We’ll start with a simple $2 show bet on horse #1. The racing program and track should have information posted that tells you the name and number of each horse.

Here’s the information the cashier needs:

  1. The race number
  2. The amount you want to bet
  3. The type of bet you want to place
  4. The number of the horse you want to bet on

Using the same example from above, we’re going to be placing a show bet on horse #1 for race #9. This is what you would say to the cashier:

“Race nine, $2 show bet on #1.”

That’s all there is to it. Once you get the hang of this process, you can proceed to making more complicated wagers. As long as you know the race number, the type of bet you want to place and the horse you want to bet on, it’s easy to tell the cashier exactly what you want to do.

The cashier will then give you a receipt that you need to keep until the race is over. If your bet is a winner, you can head back to the cashier with your receipt to claim your winnings.

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