America’s Best Racing’s inaugural Fan Choice Awards are currently underway, and fans of Thoroughbred racing have until Nov. 20 to get their votes in for a variety of categories, including two focusing on racetracks.
Which racetracks are the most appealing to horseplayers? Which ones have the best sight lines and amenities for casual fans intent on enjoying a day at the races? Make your voice heard and vote here!
North America has no shortage of great racetrack destinations. Here’s a breakdown of each category:
Best Racetrack for Bettors
Belmont Park is the foundation track of the leading racing circuit in the U.S., welcoming many of the best horses, trainers, and jockeys to its spring and fall meets. It presents unique handicapping challenges for bettors due to its vast main track configuration and its two different turf courses, and hosts two of the best betting festivals each year, on Belmont Stakes day and the Stars & Stripes in July.
The home of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve has seen field size, purses, and handle improve recently due to increased revenue from historical horse racing machines. Its relatively new September meet continues to gain stature, and Churchill’s Kentucky Derby and Longines Kentucky Oaks racecards are annually high points for horseplayers across North America.
The seaside Southern California track is year-in, year-out the summertime venue where West Coast owners and trainers unveil their top juveniles on the road to the Breeders’ Cup and next year’s Kentucky Derby. It offers a takeout rate on win-place-show wagers that’s lower than most other elite tracks and good field sizes for both turf and dirt races.
Despite a recent increase in takeout rates for most wagers, Keeneland still draws a lot of support from horseplayers based on its status as a destination for many accomplished owners and trainers during its April and October meets, which results in good fields filled with quality horses, especially in maiden special weight and turf races.
The Horseplayers Association of North America rated Kentucky Downs as the best track for bettors for three years in a row (2015-17). The turf-only track sitting on the Kentucky-Tennessee border offers a short, boutique meet featuring fields that routinely reach near full capacity, purses boosted by revenue from historical racing machines, and takeout rates on many exotic wagers that are among the lowest in the sport.
Oaklawn Park boasts the highest average field size for dirt tracks in North America. The Hot Springs, Ark., track is a premier destination for owners and trainers on the road to the Kentucky Derby during its annual spring meet, and was one of the first racetracks in North America to funnel Instant Racing gaming revenue into higher purses, boosting field size and handle.
Historic Saratoga in upstate New York is routinely rated as one of the best tracks for horseplayers. It draws the best horses in training from the East and Midwest each summer, has arguably the top jockey colony in the country, and features an unparalleled stakes schedule.
Robust field size and a low takeout on win and daily double bets are Woodbine’s calling cards for horseplayers. The Toronto venue also one of the safest in North America with its Tapeta Footings main track.
Best Racetrack to Watch a Race
“Big Sandy” offers a on-track experience like no other. Belmont embodies both a throwback to racing’s past and a look to its future, as plans for massive renovation commence that will eventually make it the home of the NHL’s New York Islanders. Belmont has one of the best, and largest, picnic areas among all racetracks, bolstering its family-friendly credentials, and offers breathtaking sight lines of the largest main track in North America from its upper clubhouse and grandstand seating.
Kentucky Derby day and Kentucky Oaks day reside in their own realm when it comes to attending the races, drawing crowds in excess of 150,000 to watch history being made. But visiting Churchill on any other race day brings its own unique rewards. The track’s recently upgraded many of its public betting areas, and its reserved seating packages come with great sight lines and delicious food menus. And it also has a popular gift shop and the Kentucky Derby Museum to add to its appeal.
Any racetrack with the motto “Where the Surf Meets the Turf” would figure to be highly popular, and Del Mar in Southern California simply offers qualities thanks to Mother Nature that no other venue can match. Watching elite Thoroughbreds compete while enjoying sunshine and gentle oceanside breezes is enticing enough. Adding great food and drink options, Friday concerts during the summer with national acts, and an events calendar that offers something for everyone makes Del Mar a premier destination for new fans and old hands alike.
“Racing as it’s meant to be.” No other racetrack ties together the entire Thoroughbred industry quite like Keeneland. Located in the heart of horse country, with many of the leading breeding farms close by, Keeneland is renowned for its aesthetic beauty and its promotion of the sport’s heritage. It also draws large, enthusiastic crowds every day of its two meets during April and October, and is the racetrack to attend for tailgating. The high quality of Keeneland’s food, especially the fare sold to everyday patrons at concession stands, is another selling point.
The oldest track in North America (opening in 1863) exudes tradition on every inch of its upstate New York grounds. The quality of racing during its annual summer meet is unmatched by any other track, which means Saratoga welcomes crowds each day that are both highly passionate and highly knowledgeable. And facility upgrades such as the new 1863 Club have elevated the track’s luxury appeal. For many fans of the sport, there’s no better time than July and August in Saratoga Springs, when the track opens and transforms the town into horse racing heaven on earth.