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The annual horse racing schedule divides the calendar into three parts. There are the massive days of racing that are watched and wagered on by a huge audience, boutique social meets that attract an affluent crowd hoping to be seen, and all other racing days, the majority of which are sparsely attended. The latter frequently take place at small venues.

This article discusses what the biggest races are, outline strategies for betting on them, and points out which advantages these days present to bettors. Whether you’re a $2 betting slip advocate or a high roller, you can’t miss out on this pertinent information!

The Triple Crown

To be a part of this exclusive club, a horse needs to win at three separate venues within five weeks, each at different distances.

One of the most difficult achievements for horse racing is winning the Triple Crown. As the most publicized race in all of horse racing, it also has the highest betting volume of any horse racing event.

To be a part of this exclusive club, a horse needs to win at three separate venues within five weeks, each at different distances.

Only three-year-olds are eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, which make up the three events that comprise the Triple Crown. In nearly 150 years, just 12 horses have won the coveted trio.

“The Super Bowl” is the Kentucky Derby, without question. Run on the first Saturday of May at historic Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby features 20 horses – the largest field of any American course. 150,000 fans descend on Louisville each year, and millions more wager on the outcome of the race across the country.

This means that newcomers to the race are often outclassed.

Two weeks later, Preakness Stakes is run at Pimlico Race Course near Baltimore, though that may not remain the case for much longer. The Preakness tends to be the easiest of the three races, as many of the horses that ran in Kentucky skip the middle leg of the Triple Crown. This means that newcomers to the race are often outclassed.

The third leg of the Triple Crown is the Belmont Stakes, run on the second Saturday of June in New York. They call it the Test of the Champion for a reason: After running in Kentucky and Preakness, tired horses are forced to go a-mile-and-a-half (a distance they’ve never raced before), against other fresh horses.

Triple Crown winners throughout the years include all-time greats War Admiral, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner in almost 40 years when he swept the three races in 2015.

The Breeders Cup


Though the Triple Crown races get the most hype, the culmination of the year is the World Championships: The Breeders Cup.

Though the Triple Crown races get the most hype, the culmination of the year is the World Championships: The Breeders Cup.

Typically run on the first weekend in November, the Breeders Cup is a two-day event that includes 14 races which crown a champion in various classifications (eg. Distaff for female horses, Juvenile for two-year-olds, Turf for grass races, Classic for top international horse).

The event moves to different venues, but has often been held at Santa Anita near Los Angeles.

Other Elite Races on the Circuit

While the individual Triple Crown races – as well as the two days of Breeders Cup action – are the two most significant events of the year for horse racing, a few other events are highly significant.

The culmination of the Saratoga circuit is known as the mid-summer Derby: The Travers Stakes, also. This often includes the horses who ran in Triple Crown races.

Monmouth Park’s Haskell Invitational also attracts the top three-year-olds in the summer. Del Mar’s Pacific Classic is open to various ages in August.

One of the newest large events is the Pegasus World Cup. The race is run at Gulfstream Park in Florida in late January, and the purse for in 2017 was a then-record $12 million. In 2018, it rose to $16 million.

Betting Strategies For Big Race Days

There are two incredibly important elements to make consistent money when betting the ponies: Do a solid job in handicapping, and effectively analyze horse racing odds.

Handicapping Major Horse Races

In order to plan your bets successfully, you must analyze all of the options and determine who you think has the best chance to win. Therefore, the art of handicapping a horse race can be done in many ways.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re betting on horse racing live or online, balancing handicapping and betting, or evaluating what presents value and what doesn’t: You need a strategy. Top sharps know that these can include:

1) Knowing the Top Tracks

Horses that run the majority of their races in Southern California (Santa Anita and Del Mar), New York (Belmont and Saratoga), Kentucky (Churchill Downs and Keeneland) or Florida (Gulfstream Park) consistently run against the best competition and have the top human connections. They will undoubtedly win the vast majority of big races.

2) It’s More Difficult to Race from Behind Than on the Lead

Horses with early speed don’t deal with traffic trying to rally (or getting debris kicked in their face). As such, horses in the lead are more likely to win, even if they aren’t initially the favorite.

3) A Race’s Momentum Tells a Huge Story

Horses who do their best racing early can find themselves in a speed duel with another one. More often than not, these duels will go the distance, and give come-from-behind horses a great opportunity. In these sorts of events, those near the front may often run slowly and hold on until the very end.

Reading Horse Racing Odds

What makes Kentucky Derby betting – or wagering on any race throughout the year – difficult is that it isn’t as simple as choosing the equine that’s most likely to win. Horse racing odds dictate what a good value play is and what isn’t.

If a likely champion goes off at 2/1 (but has only a 25% chance of winning), he or she should probably not be bet on. A 2/1 horse must win more than 33% of the time to be profitable. On the flip side, while 50/1 horses needs to win only about 2% of the time for a positive ROI, banking on enormous longshots can be a frustrating and time-consuming process.

Advantages to Betting on High Profile Horse Races

On most days, betting odds and racing results go hand in hand. Over decades of races, favorites win about one-third of the time. However, on big days, there is more uneducated money being bet, providing great value. On any other day, a horse with a funny name, celebrity ownership, or a female jockey, would not have odds that were affected.

On days where average fans simply want to wager a few bucks for fun (rather than handicap or think through betting options), good stories but not quality horses often get bet on.

High profile days lead to more prize money, meaning more horses in competition.

If one horse has too much money on them, other horses will have longer odds. Our advice is to find a horse who ought to be 5/1 but goes off at 6/1 or 7/1 or 8/1. This presents tremendous value. That said, a horse that should be 25/1 (and goes off at 30/1) still only wins four times in 100 races, meaning that the value doesn’t mean you’re going to cash a ticket.

Pool size and purses are affected, too. When betting on an exotic wager, exacta, Pick 5, if you have more people gambling, there’s more cash up for grabs.

High profile days lead to more prize money, meaning more horses in competition. With more money available – and bets spaced out among a larger group of horses – the chances of hitting the same combination as other bettors could pay off with a jaw-dropping prize.

Get Started Today!

The biggest days of horse racing bring out the largest crowds, most cash, and highest quality horses. While navigating handicapping and wagering can be difficult, we recommend putting your money on the horse who has a reasonable chance to win and provides at least a touch of value.

Most importantly, have fun with your bets! If you’re looking for a bit more information to perfect your betting strategy, check out our guide to the best horse racing systems.