Horse Racing USA

Despite competition from the ‘Big Four’ major professional sports leagues – namely Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), and the National Hockey League (NHL) – horse racing remains a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States. According to the Jockey Club, in 2020, the combined pari-mutuel ‘handle’ or, in other words, the gross amount wagered, on- and off-course, during the year, was $10.93 billion.

The United States is home to around twenty major racecourses, some of which date from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and, as such, are designated National Historic Landmarks. Take, for example, Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky, which officially opened for the inaugural running of the Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1875. The iconic ‘Twin Spires’ were added in 1895, as part of a new grandstand, and have been a major component of the Churchill Downs ‘brand’ ever since.

Like other major horse racing jurisdictions, the United States offers an impressive schedule of racing events, which provide excitement and entertainment throughout the season. The first half of every season is dominated by the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, usually known as simply as the ‘Triple Crown’.

The Triple Crown consists of a series of three Grade 1 races – namely the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes – which are restricted to three-year-old thoroughbred colts, fillies and geldings and, traditionally, run in May or early June. The Kentucky Derby, a.k.a. ‘The Run for the Roses’, run over 1 mile 2 furlongs at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, traditionally leads off the Triple Crown. The Preakness Stakes, run over 1 mile 1½furlongs at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland, traditionally follows two weeks later, with the Belmont Stakes, run over 1 mile 4 furlongs at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, three weeks after that.

Any horse that wins all three races is awarded the Triple Crown Trophy, which was commissioned in 1950, but retrospectively awarded to all winners since 1875, which was the first year in which the races were in co-existence. Remarkably, in the better part of a century and a half, just 13 horses have won the Triple Crown Trophy.

Conversely, the second half of the US horse racing season focuses on horses of all ages as they work towards the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, or Breeders’ Cup for short. Nowadays, the Breeders’ Cup consists of a series of prestigious Grade 1 races, staged over two days in late October or early November at one of roster of racecourses in North America. The meeting culminates with the Breeders’ Cup Classic, run over 1 mile 2 furlongs and worth $6 million in total prize money. It goes without saying that even of the world stage of the sport of kings, this is serious money.

Notable US racehorses of recent years include American Pharoah and Justify, both of whom were trained by Californian Bob Baffert and both of whom won the Triple Crown in their respective three-year-old campaigns. Indeed, in 2015, American Pharoah also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, thereby becoming the first horse in history to win the so-called ‘Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing’. Three years later, Justify emulated his great-grandsire, Seattle Slew, by winning the Triple Crown with an undefeated record, making him just the second horse in history to do so.

Betting on horse racing in the United States is, for the most part, pari-mutuel betting. By contrast to fixed-odds betting, in which the payout is determined at the time the bet is placed, all pari-mutuel bets of a particular type are ‘pooled’ together, such that the payout can only be determined once the betting has closed. Subject to a small deduction, for commission and taxes, the amount of money remaining in a particular pool is divided by the number of winning tickets and a winning dividend is declared.

The most common pari-mutuel bets, collectively known as ‘straight’ bets, are win, place and show. It goes without saying that a win bet is a wager on a selection to finish first but, stateside, place and show bets are specific wagers on a selection to finish first or second, or first, second or third, respectively. Other, more complex – and potentially more lucrative – bets, collectively known as ‘exotic’ bets, are also available. These include the ‘exacta’ and ‘trifecta’, which are wagers on two or three selections to finish first and second, or first, second and third, in the correct order, among many others. Granted the odds on offer, exotic bets lend themselves well to permutations or, in other words, placing smaller multiple bets within one overall bet.

The US is one of the world’s central hubs for competitive racing and its no surprise to see top horses, trainers, jockeys and owners from around the world make their way to the States in order to attempt to impress of big money, high profile races. Alongside other noteworthy, often US-centric sports (the aforementioned NFL, NFL etc), the casino world is also a growing area of interest for punters in the States, with more and more of them opening up to the realities of online play and betting. In doing so the US is effectively catching up with most of the rest of the developed world, which already had a much more liberal approach to placing online wagers. Offering the freedom of say, playing poker, roulette, slots and the like online, or in this case sports betting in the form of horse racing is a thrilling way to pass the time.

Horse Racing in the USA has a bright future, built on a history of competitive races and high quality opposition. After a rocky 2020 due to covid, the remainder of this year and especially 2022 looked primed for both casual and professional racing fans to have a winning season. With sportsbooks offering various bonus offers and the like to get punters involved, it’s as good a time as any to do just that. As the saying goes ‘Place your bets now please!’.