How to Pick a Winning Horse in Dirt-Track Races

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A groomed dirt race track curve.
Groomed race track curve
BetMGM @BETMGM Dec 03, 2022, 6:02 AM

It’s impossible to separate dirt race tracks from American horse racing. Even prestigious races like the Kentucky Derby are run on dirt horse race tracks. But what’s the difference between dirt track races and other races, and how do they affect your live betting strategy? Let’s dig deep into dirt tracks and show you how to bet on these popular racing events. 

Dirt tracks vs turf tracks

Turf race tracks are made of natural grass. These tracks are the most popular race tracks, especially in the European racing scene. However, the US and Canada favor dirt tracks as the preferred horse racing surface. These tracks are not just made of dirt, but are actually  a mixture of soil, sand and clay. 

Dirt and turf tracks provide distinct experiences for runners. Turf tracks are considered the safer option, providing better adhesion to the ground without the danger of flying bits of mud and dirt being thrown at horses and jockeys. With a softer surface, turf tracks are less strenuous on the horse and may also reduce injury. The main downside to turf tracks is that they can be difficult to maintain and races usually take longer. 

Dirt race tracks allow for a faster pace throughout the race. These tracks are also inexpensive compared to turf and synthetic tracks. However, these tracks are more susceptible to weather conditions such as rain, and the hard surface reduces shock absorption, increasing the strain on a horse’s legs. 

How to choose a horse for a dirt race

To find a horse with the best advantage on a dirt track, you first need to assess the race and track conditions. For dirt races, these conditions can be ideal, dry or wet. 

Ideal conditions: In ideal conditions, a dirt track has medium moisture without any big clumps on the top surface. In ideal conditions, the best horse will have a natural proclivity for running on dirt. Dirt races are fastest in ideal weather, so the horse should be a fast runner with substantial experience running on dirt tracks. 

Dry conditions: In dry conditions, a dirt track has a hard bottom layer with a thick, dusty dirt layer on the top. Hooves can’t drive off this dusty thin top layer and they can’t dig into the hard bottom layer. This means that tracks in dry conditions are challenging for big, heavy horses. Lean horses with lighter builds will glide easier over the top dust. Bear in mind the thin, light horse will also need speed because the dust being thrown up by runners will interfere with the horse’s sight and breathing. Running out front limits these negative effects.

Wet conditions: After heavy rains, a dirt track becomes muddy and slippery. These kinds of wet conditions increase the risk of injuries for horses and jockeys. Running in mud demands much more energy and stamina at a slower pace. In a wet race, stronger and heavier horses have an advantage because they can power through the mud. 

When you’re learning how to bet on horse races, understanding how to analyze tracks is important. Some tracks favor horses with a quick start, while others reward stamina and endurance. Understanding track bias is an essential part of learning the ins and outs of horse race bets. 

Factors to consider on dirt track races

There are many meaningful factors to consider before you bet on a horse race track with dirt. Here are a few you should research to help you bet wisely on dirt tracks. 


When you’re horse race betting on dirt races, the speed figure is a major deciding factor. Dirt races are incredibly fast-paced, so you’ll need to assess the horse’s speed across multiple dirt tracks to see if it stands a chance. 

Race distance 

A horse can have a lot of experience on dirt tracks and even have excellent speed figures, but this doesn’t mean anything if you haven’t taken race distance into account. Some horses have a lot of endurance, while other horses are sprinters. Check the race distance when you check speed figures to see if the horse has experience maintaining its speed for the distance of the upcoming race.  

Horse pedigree

A horse’s pedigree can give bettors many clues about its performance and handicap. If the horse’s sire and dam were lightning-fast sprinters, there’s a high chance the horse will be one too. If the parents were three-mile jump chasers, the horse will likely have stamina. 

Racing history

Once you know the type of dirt track and the conditions, check the horse’s race history to see if the horse has experience running dirt tracks and how it performed. 

Your competitors

Studying your competitors in a horse race might seem pointless, but competitors can tell you what the pace of a race will be. If most of the horses in the race are sprinters who like to take the lead early, the race will be fast-paced. The sprinters might tire quickly and a horse with stamina could win. However, if most of the horses have stamina rather than speed, the race will be steadier and slower. 

Horse trainers

A trainer can say a lot about a horse and its running style. Research trainers to see how their other runners perform and observe the type of races they flourish in. Trainers can provide vital insights into a runner’s strengths and weaknesses.

The list of factors to consider when betting on a horse race is endless. It’s up to you to decide if you want to bet based on in-depth research or general speed figures. You can also examine factors like a horse’s age, weight, jockey and the days since its last race. 

Now that you’ve learned how to choose a horse for dirt races, the next step is to decide what kind of bet you want to place. Why not choose a platform that makes online sports betting easy, convenient and safe? Whether you’re placing a win bet, a place bet, a show bet or an exotic bet, BetMGM has the best odds and betting options for you. 

Bet on horse races online with BetMGM

Don’t just sit on the sidelines, join in the horse racing action with the BetMGM sportsbook. Are you new to horse racing? Read the easy-to-understand BetMGM horse racing guide to learn about racing bet types and how odds work. Why settle for less when you can bet with the king of sportsbooks? Register with us to start betting on the biggest sporting events around the world. 

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.