Luke Garrison: Sports & Casino Author from Canada

Understanding the Different Types of Horse Racing

Canadians who don’t watch a lot of horse racing might not realize that there are different types of horse races. Some include jumps, some include carts, and the length of races/type of surface varies as well. Let’s take a look at the three most popular forms of horse racing, and what they entail.

Thoroughbred Racing

Thoroughbred racing is by far the most popular type of the bunch. It’s the prototypical kind of horse race in the minds of many, which is in large part due to the ‘Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing’ (more on that later on).

Only certified Thoroughbred horses can take part in this race form, each partnered with a ‘jockey’ which is a term used specifically to describe someone who rides on horseback during horse racing or ‘steeplechase’ racing (more on that below).

All Thoroughbred races take place on dirt or grass racetracks and is a test of pure speed as there aren’t any ‘hurdles’ – a word used to describe an obstacle which is typically some kind of fence. The distance of each race ranges from around half a mile to as long as a mile-and-a-half. When a race is less than a mile, it’s typically measured in what’s called a ‘furlong’. For example, half a mile is roughly four furlongs.

Jump Racing

Jump racing is commonly referred to as a steeplechase and bears a lot of similarities to Thoroughbred racing. The main difference is that jump racing takes things a step further, as it’s more of an elaborate obstacle course as opposed to a flat out sprint.

This is where hurdles come into play, as each obstacle requires the horse to jump and land in a poised manner so as to not break speed. Some hurdles can be challenging, as they could be surrounded by water among other things. Most jump races are around two miles in length, with varying degrees of elevation and terrain that can be wet, muddy, or whatever else the elements may bring.

Harness Racing

Harness racing is wildly different from both Thoroughbred racing and jump racing. In fact, only ‘Standardbred’ horses can compete and they pull a cart with two wheels behind them throughout the race – known as either a ‘spider’ or a ‘sulky’. Harness races are usually about a mile or so in length, and unsurprisingly only take place on dirt terrain – given the cart in tow. While not as common as other race forms, it’s very fun to watch for those who have the opportunity.

Popular Ways to Bet on Horse Racing

Many Canadians, like others around the world, enjoy the thrill of horse racing. Since most events are Thoroughbred races, they’re over quite quickly and several can occur at one track over the course of a single day (or multiple). Many bets placed on horse racing simply pick a potential winner, but there are other unique varieties that keep things interesting. We’ll cover the most popular types of horse racing betting below.

Straight Bets

The prototypical ‘straight bet’ is what most people imagine horse racing betting to primarily be – and they would be right. It’s called a ‘win bet’ and is as it sounds. Pick a horse to finish in first place and if they win, you win. Other variations of straight betting include a ‘place bet’, where you can choose a horse to finish in either first or second place.

Lastly, there’s a ‘show bet’, which allows you to predict whether or not a horse will finish in first, second, or third. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the lower the place, the lower the payout. For example, placing a ‘win bet’ is typically more profitable than placing a ‘show bet’.

Exotic Bets

‘Exotic bets’ are essentially the same as parlay bets, in that you’re wagering on multiple horses to finish in different places. A ‘vertical exotic bet’ is a type of exotic bet you can only place on one race, akin to a ‘same-game parlay’ in other sports.

The number of horses you bet on is entirely up to you, ranging from the top two finishers down to predicting the outcome of every single horse. A ‘horizontal exotic bet’ is more like a traditional parlay bet, in that you can bet on multiple horses from several races at once. Remember, if even one prediction is wrong, the entire bet falls apart and you will not profit.


A ‘quinella’ is a more modern version of horse racing betting, combining elements of straight bets as well as exotic bets. Most of the previous rules apply, except a quinella wager is more lenient since you don’t have to be exact. For example, you can bet on three different horses finishing within the top three of a given race, but you don’t need to go the extra step and predict where exactly the horses will place. If all three of your picks were to finish in the top three, you would win regardless of their specific order.

Most Popular Horse Racing Betting Events

There are popular horse racing events all over the world, with several dating back as early as the 1800s. In fact, Canada has a race like that of its own currently called the ‘King’s Plate’, with ‘currently’ being the operative as the race title switches back and forth between that and the ‘Queen’s Plate’. But why is that? Let’s dive into the most popular races amongst Canadian horse racing bettors.

Triple Crown Races

The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing is the ultimate display of the best three-year-old horses and jockeys – spread across three different races at various locations in the United States. It all begins with the ‘Kentucky Derby’, which takes place on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The second leg is called the ‘Preakness Stakes’, held two weeks later on the third Saturday of May in Baltimore, Maryland.

Lastly, there’s the ‘Belmont Stakes’, also known as the ‘Test of the Champion’ since several of the sport’s most thrilling moments have come during this final leg. If a horse wins all three races, they are declared the ‘Triple Crown Champion’. This incredible feat has only occurred thirteen times since a horse named ‘Sir Barton’ first won it all back in 1919. In fact, it’s only happened twice since the turn of the millennium, with ‘Justify’ last capturing Triple Crown honours in 2018.

The King’s Plate (formerly the Queen’s Plate)

As previously mentioned, the name of this race fluctuates between the ‘King’s Plate’ and the ‘Queen’s Plate’. This all depends on whether a king or queen currently sits on the throne. From 1952-2022, Queen Elizabeth reigned thus entitling the race as the Queen’s Plate, but that changed upon her death and King Charles III’s accession in late 2022.

The race first took place in 1860, and is annually held in Toronto, Ontario at Woodbine Racetrack. The purse totals over $1 million, and only three-year-old horses bred in Canada can participate. If you live anywhere near the area, it would be well worth attending if you’re able to swing it. Best of luck in your horse racing betting endeavours!

About the author

Name Luke Garrison
Job Agate Editor for The Canadian Press

Luke Garrison is a professional writer who grew up just outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He currently works at the Canadian Press and enjoys the outdoors in his free time.

Canadian bettors, and sports bettors everywhere, should be able to bet in a safe, non-convoluted way.


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