Iowa’s history of horse racing began in the late 19th century. Since the Midwest was known as the grand circuit of standardbred harness racing, fans would flock to Iowa to see the leading drivers’ seated on those two-wheel carts, being pulled by the leading horses of the time.
In 1885, two stallions, Axtel and Allerton (owned and bred by Charles Williams), would break all trotting records and bring record-breaking crowds to Rush Park, known as the “Lexington of the North.” Sadly, financial problems hit the operation, and racing ceased.
It would be more than a century before the return of horse racing to Iowa. Several fairs would feature horse racing between 1985 and 1988; then, Prairie Meadows racetrack opened its gates in 1989.
This page details all you need to know about horse racing in Iowa.
First up, we detail the first single horse racetrack in the state. Then, we examine all the off-track betting options. Next, we cover the betting sites and apps. Lastly, we detail the key racing dates on the horse racing calendar and further describe the Hawkeye State’s horse racing history.
An act was passed in 1983 to legalize pari-mutuel betting in Iowa. The first race to take wagers occurred at an Iowa fair in 1985.
As an Iowa bettor, you have three options for wagering on the ponies in the state. Here is a summary:
Following the legal decision to allow pari-mutuel betting in 1983, the following year saw Prairie Meadows Casino & Racetrack receive a license. The track in Altoona would officially open on March 1, 1989.
The early days of racing saw the racetrack lose money, and live racing was suspended for a time in 1992. However, revenue from OTB sites and the installation of slots at the site would see the racetrack achieve a stable financial footing.
Polk County owns Prairie Meadows, which is operated by a not-for-profit, 13-member board of directors. The revenue generated by the racetrack benefits community schemes in the Des Moines area.
The racetrack, featuring a one-mile dirt track with a chute for quarter-horses and racing, is run from April to October annually.
Today, the facility features more than 1,900 slot machines and a variety of table games, such as roulette, blackjack and poker.
More than 2.7 million people walk through the gates of Prairie Meadows every year.
Are you looking for a more local gambling experience in Iowa but can’t make it to the racetrack? In which case, you could always take advantage of one of the three off track betting sites in Iowa.
These locations are licensed to take bets and will also offer simulcast racing for the action at other tracks across the US.
Here is a rundown of the three OTB options in Iowa:
Currently, three legal, regulated websites let you bet on the ponies online in Iowa.
Placing a bet at any of these sites is like betting at the racetrack, as you’ll be entering the same pools. As such, bets like win, place, show, exacta and more will be familiar to regular track-goers. You can place wagers at these sites using funds deposited by credit cards and other standard payment methods.
Also, you can gain a betting edge through the use of on-site statistics and past performance programs.
Here are the sites:
When it comes to experience, BetAmerica is hard to beat.
It has been a part of the gambling industry for more than 20 years, and its reputation has spread. The company offers coverage of more than 100 tracks across the US, as well as a wide array of international racing too. Also, bettors can enjoy greyhound betting and handicapping contests.
As a new member of BetAmerica, you receive a 100% match deposit bonus, up to $100. Then 10% of every bet you place will go toward clearing that bonus.
With a VIP loyalty program and cash-back offers, there are plenty of promotions for existing customers to enjoy.
Receive free past performance data on the meetings you wager, use the app and enjoy the various banking options. All these perks add to the many reasons you should sign up for BetAmerica in Iowa.
TwinSpires is one of the most respected racebooks in the country with a total focus on horse racing.
Interestingly, its name comes from the iconic twin spires at Churchill Downs Racetrack. Enjoy the action from hundreds of tracks from around the world, with a focus on live racing and race replays.
New customers at TwinSpires can enjoy a $100 bonus boost.
To take advantage, sign up and place a total of $500 in wagers within 30 days. At which point, you will be awarded $100 in bonus funds immediately.
A series of other promotions at TwinSpires include insurance if you have no winners on a pick 4, or if your chosen selection breaks stride at any time in the race.
Enjoy free past performances at TwinSpires (place one bet at each meeting you download), secure banking and the knowledge that you’re using a site with total expertise on the sport of kings.
TVG is one of the best-known names in horse racing.
TVG offers live coverage of horse racing on their dedicated TV channel, as well as live streaming on their website, all to be viewed while you bet.
There are some restrictions in place at TVG in Iowa as bettors are not permitted to wager at any tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc.
Tracks include Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, Arlington International Racecourse, and Churchill Downs, which is the home of the Kentucky Derby.
However, the extensive coverage offered at TVG means there are still hundreds of tracks, both domestically and globally, available.
On signing up at TVG, new customers can enjoy an immediate free bet of $20, which is the perfect way to try before you buy. If you want to keep playing, you’ll receive a $100 matched deposit bonus (in the form of a free bet) of up to $100.
The Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap is the only graded stakes race run in Iowa. Open to 3-year-olds and older, the race is run over nine furlongs.
The race began in Omaha in 1966 but made a move to Prairie Meadows in 1997, where it has been run ever since. With a purse of $300,000 and rated a Grade 3 race, this annual renewal at the end of June attracts some of the best horses in the country.
Run since 1999, the Iowa Derby, with a purse of $250,000 and a “listed” status, could be considered the second-largest race in the state.
The history of horse racing in Iowa was dominated by standardbred harness racing.
The emergence of the two stallions, Axtell and Allerton, brought great crowds to Iowa in the late 19th century, and the two stablemates would dominate the scene.
The pair broke records left, right and center, and the value of both the horses and the race meetings would grow incredibly. Axtell, who was valued at $250 early in his career, eventually had a price of $100,000 put on his head (owner Charles Williams refused an offer of $65,000).
In August 1891, a race meeting organized by the Driving Park Association saw total purses of $90,000, more than double the amount that had ever been offered up before in the sport anywhere in the US, a meeting described as the “Largest and grandest field of horses ever seen on the American continent.”
Sadly, the economy and financial plight would soon see the end of such events, and horse racing in Iowa would decline. In the 1940s, when pari-mutuel betting became legal on the East Coast, which drew much of the trotting action eastward.
It wasn’t until 1983 when horse racing fans in Iowa would finally see a glint of light.
Pari-mutuel wagering became legal and, within two years, racing began at several fairs in Iowa. However, the most significant boost to the state’s racing industry came with the opening of Prairie Meadows in 1989.
The action dominates the horse racing scene in Iowa at Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack and Hotel.
With action throughout the summer months, racing fans are served well by the regular- and high-class race meetings. Away from the track itself, as a bettor in Iowa, you have many wagering options. You can head to one of the three impressive OTB sites, as well as use one of the regulated national sites for a full range of betting options.
With the door opening to further betting options in Iowa, the future of sports betting looks bright.