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Off to the Races: How to Fit in at the Horse Track

horse race
Written by Marie A.

Want to look right without breaking the bank? Set a clothing budget that makes you look like a winner and a gambling budget you can afford to lose.

From your attire to the jargon of the racetrack, it often feels overwhelming to newcomers stepping into the horse racing scene. As a matter of fact, it can feel like you’re an outsider being inducted into a secret society. There are words you may not understand, traditions with unclear meanings, and attire that may be out of your comfort zone. Never fear; that’s why we are here.

I’ve been where you are, and I’m here to tell you that you can fit in at the track — even if you have little-to-no experience with horses, racing, or race day traditions. 

How to Look Like a Pro at the Races

When you purchase your tickets for the races, be sure to get seats that fit your budget and expectations. It’s not like getting to see a concert, where you just show up wearing concert attire. Some track seating comes with a dress code, so be sure to confirm what you should wear.

Looking the part is the easiest part of fitting in at the horse races. For those taking place during the week (i.e. when there’s not a major race, like the Belmont or the Kentucky Derby running) jeans and casual dress tops are typically fine. If you’re going to be at the racetrack on a weekend, however, it’s likely for a major race. If that’s the case, you’re in for a treat on so many levels.

But what should you wear to fit in during race days steeped with tradition, pomp, and circumstance? Read on!

Ladies, You’re Up First

Vintage Floral Midi Dress

This is a classic dress that can be worn when it’s still a little too chilly outside for the sleek fashion of summer.

blue race dress

Click to see it at Amazon

Spring meets take place all day, which means you’ll want to get something that can last the full day and part of the night, too. This dress was chosen because it comes in at a nice price point, and it has several patterns and colors to choose from. It’s also versatile in that you can wear it to the races or to an evening on the town (or work, for that matter).

See this look at Amazon

Striped Ruffle Sleeve Dress

Linen will always be a favorite for the active lifestyle. It’s versatile, breathable, and made to be comfortable.

blue ruffle sleeve dress

Click to see it at Amazon

Pair this with some wedge sandals, and you’re set to go. It can be casual or dressed up with the right accessories, which makes it a winner for any closet. If you’re planning on moving around a lot at the races, this is a great option. If it’s chilly, just grab a cardigan or throw a shawl on to complete the look.

See this look at Amazon

Asymmetrical Empire Waist Dress (Plus Size)

This is a fantastic dress that can be used for so many occasions, not just at the racetrack.

blue floral dress

Click to see it at Amazon

It’s good for fall, summer, spring, and with the tie closure, it will fit perfectly. It does run a bit small, so be sure to get one size bigger than normal when purchasing this one.

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Chiffon V-Neck Maxi Dress

Talk about stunning! This is a dress that would kill at the races.

green floral dress

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With so many bold patterns and colors to choose from (30), all skin tones will look great in this dress. And it comes in sizes S to XXL, so it will fit anyone. Dress it up and go glam, or keep it simple with a bit of a statement. Either way, you’ll be in your own winner’s circle.

See this look at Amazon

Faux Wrap Maxi Maternity Dress with Belt

Don’t think you’ve been forgotten, expecting ladies.

pink and navy maternity dress

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This is a dress perfect for maternity shoots and showers as well as the races. Versatility is your friend, and this is going to be your bestie. The price is also one that makes it on par with a nicer maternity dress, but if you can wear it multiple places then you’ll get your money’s worth.

See this look at Amazon

Short Sleeve Maternity Dress

This is another versatile maternity dress that can be casual or dressy, depending on what you’re wearing with it.

pink maternity dress

Click to see it at Amazon

You can even pair it with a cute jean jacket or cardigan if it’s chilly outside.

See this look at Amazon

Now for the Gents

Gentlemen, your attire is relatively easy compared to the ladies. You’ll want to use your ties and accessories to dress yourself accordingly. For that reason, we’ll stick to choices of bowties, ties, pocket squares, and belts.

Bow Tie and Pocket Square Set

This is a great option for a tie and pocket square.

bow tie pocket square

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You can use this with almost any suit, or go jacketless for a more casual look. This is a great pattern that has several color choices to choose from, too. The price isn’t too bad, either.

See these accessories at Amazon

Feather Pre-tied Bow Tie and Brooch Sets

There’s nothing more southern than a feather made bow tie.

feather bow tie

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If you can’t afford a Brackish set, then look at this brand found on Amazon. For a fraction of the price, you can get pretty much the same thing. Wear this with any suit or with a tuxedo (thanks to the red carpet style of Bill Murray and other celebrities for starting the tradition).

See these accessories at Amazon

Off to the Races

Now that you look the part, you’ll want to immerse yourself in the experience.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of those around you; racing is a social sport.

This means that you’ll be surrounded by people who want to welcome you to the world they’ve got such passion for. Whether you’re there for the horses, the tradition, or the ambiance, it doesn’t matter. The fans and staff are often eager to educate those around them when they ask.

Placing Your Bets

For betting, it’s a little more complicated than the attire. Thankfully, TwinSpires has a great article to help navigate the betting booth at the races. Set a budget for yourself that you can live with losing because betting isn’t an exact science. Horse racing is a game of luck as much as it is skill and ability. That’s why it’s one of the most exciting sports. 

This helpful video from Sports Betting will get you started

Taking the Tour

There are several parts to the race besides the race itself. For starters, there is the paddock where the horse’s team (trainers, jockeys, grooms, owners, and others who are connected personally with the horse) gather to discuss last minute strategy.

The paddock is a good time to view the horses up close, but be careful not to do anything that may spook them.

You’ll hear the officials call for the riders to mount, and they’ll be taken out of the paddock into the post parade.can

Post Parade

The post parade is a great time to see how your horse moves. See if they’re settling in or still really nervous. This is also when the horses warm up for the race. You’ll see them accompanied by another horse, usually, so that the horse stays a bit calmer (horses are social creatures and do better when surrounded by other horses).

Learn more about the post parade in this educational video:

This is also the point where some traditions come out, like the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” for the Kentucky Derby.

From the post parade, they’re loaded into the gates. This is often the most tense time of the race because horses aren’t comfortable in close quarters like those of the gates. Because of this, the officials try to get them loaded as quickly as possible so the horses don’t freak out and try to escape, which can cause injuries to both horse and rider. Once all the horses are loaded, it’s off to the races!

Pardon me?

There are several pieces of racetrack jargon you’ll need to know before you can safely fit in at the races.

Luckily, the Daily Racing Form (one of the most trusted horse racing papers) has already made you a list of racing terminology.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are horse races fun?

The Kentucky Derby has been labeled the most exciting two minutes in sports.

Horse racing has a reputation for being an equalizer of kings and commoners. It’s the one sport where money both counts, but also doesn’t count, because the price tag of the horse doesn’t always match its ability. That’s part of what makes it so exciting.

Why do people go to horse races?

Horse racing is a social event. It can be a party or a hobby; either way, you’re guaranteed to have fun. There’s something for everyone and every age at the races.

Is it cruel to race horses?

Race horses are bred and raised for horse racing. Most horses are happier and more settled with some form of job. To those who think the whips jockeys carry hurt the horses, The Guardian did an article to put the public’s mind at ease.

How do you make a horse race bet?

First, you have to know what kind of wager you’re going to make. Are you doing a straight wager, where you’re only betting on one horse in particular, or are you doing an exotic one, where you’re wagering on several horses?

If you’re new to betting, stick with the straight wager. Follow the signs to the betting booths, tell them the race number, horse, and wager (win, place show, etc.) and they’ll confirm you’re doing it correctly. After, take your ticket and watch the races.

How do you avoid horse race mistakes?

This is the one time it’s okay to follow the crowd. Don’t be shy to announce when you’re a little lost to someone near you; horse racing fans are always eager to usher in a new fan to the sport.

But if you’re near the horses, try not to make loud noises or sudden movements; they’re still animals, after all.

How do you pick a horse to bet on?

There’s so much luck involved in horse racing. That’s why it’s nearly impossible to predict which horse will come out on top. Look at the horse’s odds and their previous races. See how the field stacks up against each other.

Next, look over any workouts they’ve done on the racetrack. That should be enough information to get you where you can make an informed decision.

And You’re Off!

Now that you’re more familiar with what takes place at the racetrack, go enjoy the spectacular sport of kings. Don’t forget to pack some sunscreen and maybe a hat for the sunny days. Above all, remember to have fun!

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About the author


Though I love all horses, Arabians are my all-time favorite breed! I'm raising an Arabian filly and riding and showing my gelding on the Class A Arabian Circuit. I also enjoy going to horse racing and following the latest industry news.