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Horse Betting 101

What to say at the betting window


Tips for beginners

Always check your ticket before you leave the window, and buy a daily racing form.

At the window, state the track name, which race, bet amount, wager, and your horse’s number—in that order: “Del Mar, second race, two dollars to show on number four.” (Yes, you still have to say Del Mar, even when in Del Mar, because tellers take bets for other racetracks.) You can also go large and bet your horse to win, show, and place: “Del Mar, second race, two dollars across the board on number four.”

“If you bet to win, like a true wagering Jedi, your horse must finish first to earn money,” says Rancho Santa Fe resident Christian Hellmers, from the Esquire Network reality show Horseplayers. “‘Place’ means your horse has to finish first or second to get paid, and ‘show’ means your horse can come in first, second, or third and win.”

Exotic bets like the Quinella and the Daily Double can pay sweet returns, but Hellmers likes the Pick Six. To claim your piece of the action, bring a crystal ball and select the winners of six consecutive races. What are the odds? Very slim, but it pays big.

There’s an app for that

Feeling stressed at the betting window? Del Mar Mobile App allows a user to bypass the line at the window and place secured bets from your seat. You can also watch live races and race replays, and use the betting calculator. P.S.: You must go in person to sign up for an account and deposit cash into it (see the mutuel information window on the first floor).


The Horse-Racing Lexicon

Learn these terms and sound like a pro

Across-the-board A three-way wager to win, place, and show; minimum bet is $6
Also-ran A horse that didn’t finish in the top three
Backstretch The far side of the racetrack between the turns; the opposite of the home stretch
Daily Double To win with this wager, you must pick the winners of two consecutive races with a single ticket
Dead heat A tie
Exacta A wager in which the first two finishers in a single race are picked
Furlong 220 yards, or one-eighth of a mile
Morning line The probable odds on each horse in a race, as determined by the track handicapper
Paddock The place where the racehorses are saddled up and displayed to the public before going to the track
Pari-mutuel French for “to bet among ourselves”—racegoers bet against each other, not against the racetrack itself. Also the name for the clerk who takes bets.
Post Time When a race begins
Pick 3, 4, 5, or 6 These wagers require a player to pick the winners in successive races on a single ticket
Quinella A wager in which the first two finishers are picked in either order
Scratch When a horse is taken out of a race before it starts
Trifecta A wager in which the first three finishers are picked in exact order
Yearling A horse in its second calendar year of life


More: Del Mar, Decoded

6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Races
A little insider knowledge »

Special Events
The 2014 season runs July 17-September 3 »

The Hat Contest
What it takes to win »

Watchful Eyes
Stewards scrutinize the jockeys and horses »

How a Horse Knows to Run
What makes horses “break,” or jump out of the gate »

What's in a Name
How horses get those unique monikers »


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