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Though horse racing betting comes in several forms, thoroughbred racing receives the majority of the public’s interest. The Kentucky Derby, Breeders Cup World Championships, and nearly every other big-time race that’s featured on TV or well-covered by national media are contested by thoroughbreds.

That said, thoroughbred racing is only part of the horse race betting world. Both harness racing and quarter horse racing are viable forms of entertainment and handicapping opportunities.

In this article, you’ll learn about the similarities and differences between different horse racing types, and highlight some of the biggest races in each discipline.

What Is Harness Racing?

The defining characteristic of harness racing is the two-wheeled cart (sulky) with the driver aboard. Harness racing features standardbred horses, which have shorter legs and longer bodies than thoroughbreds. There are two major types of harness racing: trotting and pacing.

The difference between trotters and pacers is how they move.

The difference between trotters and pacers is how they move. Trotting involves movement in diagonal pairs. A trotter moves its right front and left hind leg in tandem, and left front and right hind. Conversely, pacers move their legs laterally, meaning that the right front and right hind work together, and the left front and left hind go together.

Both pacers and trotters take part in the Breeders Crown, an annual event that moves venues and features 12 races which determine the champions in each of the dozen traditional categories of age, gait, and gender. These include two-year-old paces and trots for the boys and girls, three-year-old paces and trots for each gender and open events for any age and gender to determine the best of the best.

Pacers Races

There are far more pacers than trotters, and the races can be more exciting as these types of horses move faster. They’re also a bit more reliable. In harness racing, those who break stride (gallop instead of pacing or trotting), have to be slowed down and taken to the outside until they resume.

Trotters more frequently deal with this as a pace is a more natural gait for horses, and the sport-specific equipment helps horses to maintain their pace.

Harness Races

The huge majority of harness races are one mile and run over a dirt surface. This includes “the Super Bowl” of harness racing: The Hambletonian Stakes. Dating back almost 100 years, since the early 1980’s, it has been run at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

Run in early August, it’s only open to three-year-olds (like the Kentucky Derby). The Hambletonian is for trotters, while the pacing equivalent is the Little Brown Jug, taking place in Ohio each September. The Little Brown Jug’s origins trace to the 1940’s.

Quarter Horse Racing

Quarter Horse Racing is all about the sprinters. Running at speeds up to 55 miles an hour, quarter horses are significantly faster than any other type of horse.

These races are run at distances of a quarter mile or less, usually without turns. While the classic distance for quarter horses races is 440 yards, they may also run events as short as 220 yards or as long as 870 yards.

Quarter horses are typically muscular with a broad chest, strong hindquarters, and have small and refined heads. They are slimmer than thoroughbreds.

Betting tips and strategy for quarter horses racing is rather easy to find, but getting an easy explanation for what to look for and how to handicap is more difficult.

Though racing quarter horses in the United States dates back to the early 1600’s, the sport didn’t reach prominence until the middle of the 20th century. The biggest event on the quarter horse calendar is the annual All American Futurity, run each Labor Day at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico. The $3 million race is the largest for two-year-olds of any breed each year.

Betting tips and strategy for quarter horses racing is rather easy to find, but getting an easy explanation for what to look for and how to handicap is more difficult. Ed Burgart has covered the sport for decades and offers a pretty concise guide to consult.

Thoroughbred Racing

For several reasons, thoroughbred racing attracts the most interest. Their marque races – like the Kentucky Derby and Breeders Cup – are the most renowned. Their idyllic venues harken back to a classic era of horse racing. Secretariat, War Admiral, and Sea Biscuit, are remembered by generations as examples of legendary excellence. But today, stars like jockey Mike Smith, trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher, and famous owners like Bobby Flay and Rick Pitino, bring star power and name recognition.

Though the majority of thoroughbred racing takes place on dirt surfaces, turf racing has become huge in Europe and America. Recently, artificial surfaces have become commonplace.

While harness racing and quarter horse competitions provide ample wagering opportunities, there is reason to believe that thoroughbreds supply the best of horse racing betting.

Unlike harness racing or quarter horses, there is no one single distance that thoroughbreds run. The biggest races tend to be one-mile-and-a-quarter, but there are champions that run six furlongs (three-quarters of a mile), and distance horses that prefer a-mile-and-a-half or longer.

While harness racing and quarter horse competitions provide ample wagering opportunities, there is reason to believe that thoroughbreds supply the best of horse racing betting.

While “best” is a variable term, those who handicap thoroughbreds not only have the largest betting menu (the most number of ways to bet on each race), but also the biggest pools. With so much cash riding on key races, the opportunity to score big is present.

No Matter What Kind of Wagers, It Takes Knowledge and Skill to Win

While horse racing results can be unpredictable, there’s a science and strategy to handicapping. In a lot of ways, it’s like playing the stock market: You have large amounts of information available, and the person who processes that data best (and perhaps gets a little lucky) wins. The losers often can’t decipher information, or simply run into bad luck.

Whatever type of horse racing you prefer, there’s a shared excitement for $2 bettors all the way up to high-rollers. With races run seemingly all day, everyday, you have plenty of opportunities to outdo your friends and fellow racegoers with a professional strategy.