Your First Day at the Races

triple crown race day

The 2020 live horse racing season is running now through October 10th at Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack, Hotel in Altoona, IA. Here, we walk through everything you need to know for your first day at the races.

Never been to a live horse race at Prairie Meadows? There are two things you should know.

First, a live race offers something exciting and unexpected for everyone—even those of us who know basically nothing about wagering and horse racing.There’s the strategy and the suspense, the crowd, and the comradery. There’s the race itself—the white-knuckle adrenaline rush as your horse tears around a track, jockeying for position as they charge down the final straightaway. Between races, things cool off. You can relax, enjoy a drink, and listen to live music performed on the track apron. A day at Prairie Meadows racetrack combines the thrill of a sporting event with the atmosphere of a festival. Like we said: It’s fun for everyone, not just the pros.

The second thing you should know? Wagering (betting on a race) is surprisingly easy.

If this is your first time at a racetrack, you may be intimidated by wagering. That’s okay! Like most things, wagering seems complicated at first – with all the numbers and terminology – but placing a basic bet is simple and fun. And we’re going to show you how.

From planning your day to placing a wager, here’s everything you need to know for your first day at the races.

Step 1: Plan your day

Prairie Meadows live racing season runs now through October 10th. Post times are 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays and 4pm on Sundays and Mondays. You can view the full live racing calendar here.

For your first day at the track, we recommend visiting on a Friday or Saturday when there is free live music outdoors. This year, Prairie Meadows has a lineup of top-notch talent like Jake McVey, Casey Muessigmann, and 80s cover band Villains Dance—all performing live at the track. You can view the full events schedule here.

Looking for a hotel? Prairie Meadows has you covered, with a comfortable hotel conveniently located near the track. Book a room here.  

And don’t forget about dinner! Reserve a table at AJ’s Steakhouse, located on the first floor of Prairie Meadows. AJ’s serves up signature cocktails and savory dishes featuring USDA prime beef in a casual, contemporary atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to unwind with a great meal.

Step 2: Pick a race

Horse races come in many varieties, with different conditions, horses, and purse sizes. (FYI, the “purse” is the money paid out to top finishers. Bigger purses generally attract better competitors.)

Here are five types of races you should know:

  • Maiden Race: This is only for horses that have not yet won a race.
  • Claiming Race: In this race, every participating horse is for sale.
  • Allowance Race: A highly competitive race, typically with larger purses than Maiden or Claiming.
  • Handicap Race: Weights are added to the saddles to make the horses more evenly matched.
  • Stakes Race: This is where the top horses compete.

Step 3: Choose your horse

Now that you’ve selected a race, it’s time to choose your horse (or horses). Some people have in-depth strategies based on a variety of factors, like bloodline, past performances, track conditions, etc.

Others just go with their gut.

For your first race, you may want to try the latter. Take a look at the lineup and select a horse based on a name you like, a favorite number or color—anything! As you place more bets, you may find yourself developing a deeper strategy, but it’s best to keep your first bet simple.

Step 4: Choose a basic wager – Win, Place, or Show

Before you place your bet, you’ll want to choose a basic wager. The three basic wagers are Win, Place, and Show.

How confident do you feel about your horse? If you think you’ve picked a guaranteed winner, go with Win—that means you’re betting that your horse finishes first.

Not so sure? Go with Place. When you bet Place, you win whether your horse finishes first or second.

Want to play it safe? Go with Show, and you’ll win if you horse finishes first, second, or third.

(Note: These are just the basics. If you want to dive deeper into wagering – and learn about Exotic Wagers and more – check out Prairie Meadows’ guide to Basic and Exotic Wagers.)

Step 5: Place your bet

Now that you’ve chosen your race, horse, and wager, it’s time to bet! At Prairie Meadows, you can place your bet from anywhere on the property with MyBet Mobile, a website accessible on your phone or tablet. It’s free and easy to use.

Or, you can go to any Prairie Meadows mutuels window or self-wagering terminal, located on Levels 2 or 4 and outside near the racetrack. (Pro Tip: To earn Prairie Gold Rewards points on your wager, swipe your rewards card at the wagering kiosk or present your card to the mutuel teller before you make your wager.)

Whether you’re using the MyBet Mobile secure wagering website, using a kiosk or talking to a teller, placing your bet is easy.

If you’re talking to a teller, start by stating the name of the track (just say “Prairie Meadows”). Then, tell them the number of the race you’re betting on, the amount you wish to wager ($2 minimum), the type of wager you’d like to make, and the number of the horse as it is listed in your program.

For example, you might approach the teller and say: “Prairie Meadows, second race, five dollars, to place, on number four.”

You can do this! If you feel overwhelmed, just talk to any Prairie Meadows employee—they’re happy to help you.

Step 6: Kick back and relax

Now that your bet’s placed, it’s time for the best part—the race! At Prairie Meadows, you can watch a race from the tiered seating on Levels 2 or 4 or on the track apron. For your first live race, we recommend watching it in-person. It’s the best way to experience the thrill of the action and cheer on your chosen horse.

And when you’re done at the track? Treat yourself to a signature cocktail and a bite to eat at AJ’s Steakhouse, located on Level 1 of Prairie Meadows. You’ve earned it!

As a sponsor of Visit Altoona, Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack, Hotel is proud to support local businesses and drive economic growth in Altoona. You can view upcoming events, make hotel and restaurant reservations, stay up-to-date on safety information, and explore Iowa’s No. 1 entertainment destination at