Understanding Different Horse Racing Tracks

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A racecourse set against a cloudy sky.
BetMGM @BETMGM Dec 31, 2021, 4:40 AM

Terrain is an important factor in many sports. Knowing the lay of the land can make a huge difference whether you’re running cross-country, biking off-road or free climbing, to mention a few. The same is true when it comes to horse racing. Not all tracks are equal in terms of length, surface and consistency in different kinds of weather. Jockeys use their local knowledge of this “track bias” to their advantage, and it’s possible to factor it into online sports betting too. So if you’re looking to learn how to bet on horse racing strategically, it’s always a good idea to think about where the horses are racing. Let’s start with the conditions at some of the most renowned racetracks in the USA.

Churchill Downs

Home to America’s most famous horse-racing tournament of all, the Kentucky Derby, Louisville’s Churchill Downs is also the country’s largest race track, with space for 165,000 spectators and 47 barns capable of housing around 1,400 horses. Other Grade I events held here include the Kentucky Oaks, Churchill Downs Stakes and Turf Classic Stakes. The Breeders’ Cup has also taken place at Churchill Downs nine times. Kentucky’s premier racetrack is a one-mile dirt oval said to be fair overall, although some jockeys insist that the going is better closer to the rail. Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel (in 2007, 2009 and 2010, in case you’re wondering) once stated that that part of the course has more traction, especially after rain. If this is true, then would-be bettors may want to look at which horses have drawn inside positions, as well as whether any renowned rail-runners are featuring in the race.


Located in Baltimore, Maryland, the Pimlico racetrack is America’s second-oldest major racetrack. The most famous race held here is the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the prestigious Triple Crown, after the Kentucky Derby. And it’s also massive: There’s space for 120,000 visitors and stabling facilities for more than 1,000 horses. Known as “the Old Hilltop,” owing to a small rise in the infield (removed in 1938,) Pimlico has hosted many racing legends over the years, such as Seabiscuit, Citation, Secretariat, War Admiral and Man o’ War. The Pimlico track is a one-mile dirt oval on the outside of a turf track of seven furlongs. The going is generally fair, but pay attention if there’s rain, because that’s when outside speed becomes important. If the going is soggy, outside front runners tend to do better. Front runners can also benefit from firmer conditions during the spring.

Belmont Park

Located only 14 miles east of New York in Elmont, Long Island, Belmont Park is one of the top racing markets in the world. One of three tracks that make up NYRA’s yearly circuit, along with Aqueduct and Saratoga, the “Championship Track” draws bettors, horse owners and racing fans to premium-graded events throughout spring and fall. Top of the list, of course, is the Belmont Stakes, which is the final leg of the Triple Crown. Then there’s the Metropolitan Handicap (also called the “Met Mile,”) the Belmont Derby Invitational, the Manhattan Stakes, the Belmont Oaks Invitational and Jockey Club Gold Cup, all of which are Grade I races. The main track, known as “Big Sandy,” is another dirt oval: This one’s over one and a half miles, making it the longest track on this surface in the country. It’s configured in such a way that longer-distance races can be run in one turn, reducing the chances of horses being forced to the outside for lengthy periods. Consequently, the Belmont Park track lacks any noticeable bias. However, it is known to be tiring, so be sure to factor in stamina when you’re calculating your horse betting odds.


Eight miles from Belmont Park is NYRA’s Aqueduct track, the only racecourse located within New York City (it’s in the South Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens.) With 547 stalls built inside the racetrack, Aqueduct has the capacity to host big-field contests, including Grade I races such as the Cigar Mile and Carter Handicaps, as well as Grade II races such as the Gazelle Stakes, Ruffian Handicap, Demoiselle Stakes and many more. These high-caliber race days draw crowds of up to 40,000 during the winter months. A horsemen’s lounge, HD screens and video boards make Aqueduct one of the more hi-tech horse racing venues in the country. The main course has a circumference of one and one-eighth miles, and it’s widely regarded as somewhat favoring front runners and fast finishers. When the going is firm, the horses running on the inside tend to do better, but outside positions are more favorable after rain, so be sure to pay attention to the draw when placing NYRA bets.


Saratoga has the distinction of being the oldest major racetrack in the US, hosting high-quality events in Saratoga Springs, New York ever since 1863. It also has the reputation of being the “Graveyard of Champions.” That’s because so many champions have suffered upset defeats on this track, including legendary names such as Man o’ War, Gallant Fox, Secretariat and American Pharaoh. One possible reason is that the Saratoga racetrack is known to play fair at all distances, which helps to level out the horse racing odds. Some commentators say the track somewhat favors horses on the inside, especially if they have early speed and can keep the lead. That said, it’s worth following the race results to see if the situation at Saratoga is evolving. The track bias may be influenced by the weather or how many races have run on the track recently. There is plenty of material to study, as Saratoga hosts 18 Grade I horse-racing tournaments between July and September every year, including the million-dollar-purse Travers, Whitney and Sword Dancer Stakes.

Gulfstream Park

If you’re looking for online horse racing events year-round, Gulfstream Park, in Hallandale Beach, Florida, hosts world-class thoroughbred racing events throughout the year. These include Grade I races such as the Florida Derby, the Fountain of Youth and the Pegasus World Cup. Races are rarely canceled, thanks to the state’s sunshine climate, and its main dirt track – which is one and one-eighth miles long – rides fast, on the whole. The track has a short run to the first turn, which gives fast starters the chance to reach the front of the field. This tends to favor horses drawn on the inside.

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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.