Live Horse Racing Returns To Prairie Meadows Next Week

Written By Dave Bontempo on April 21, 2021 - Last Updated on April 29, 2021
prairie meadows racing season 2021

It’s nearly post time at Prairie Meadows Racetrack.

Live horse racing returns for a 32nd season at Iowa’s lone horse racetrack at 6 p.m. April 30.

The thoroughbred facility will host 84 racing days until Sept. 25. That’s 26 days of thoroughbred racing until June 14, and then a combination of 58 thoroughbred and quarter horse programs.

Prairie Meadows has a distinct time slot — primarily 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Mondays — to avoid running opposite the nation’s largest tracks.

How to bet on the horse racing in Iowa

Hawkeye State gamblers have three significant betting avenues.

One, the live meet at Prairie Meadows is worth the road trip to Altoona from anywhere in the state. It features horses from throughout the country, provides an interesting cross-section of horse betting variables and has a family atmosphere.

Two, online gamblers can access the Prairie Meadows cards with TVG, which provides betting, handicapping and viewing action via the TVG app.

Three, the on-site William Hill Sportsbook is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. during the week and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Besides its retail presence, you can use the William Hill app, which you don’t have to be at the track to download and deposit funds. If you need help with the process, ticket-takers at the track can assist you.

Live horse racing no longer has to preclude other sports gambling in Iowa. Want to place an MLB bet in between live horse races? You can.

Assessing the three betting areas

Online horse race bettors are getting a tech upgrade.

Prairie Meadows can now transmit an HD signal of the entire meet for the first time, according to Derron Heldt, vice president of racing. This upgrade will improve the streaming quality for those wagering via their apps.

This advancement benefits “looksplayers who examine the post parade to determine their betting level for each race.

  • Does the horse look fresh or washed out?
  • Is the head bowed?
  • Was a leg placed down gingerly?

“Looks” players set their betting amounts based on how well they see the field, so HD is a significant plus.

The live meet at Prairie Meadows, meanwhile, has distinct late-afternoon and early-evening start times.

“We want to gain a special niche with the horse racing players,” Heldt told

“You don’t want to be running opposite major East Coast tracks, like Belmont Park. But at 6 p.m. EST on a Saturday, they are usually done, and we hope to get a few bets made on us before the bettors leave those facilities.

“Monday is a great spot for us, too, because that’s 5 p.m. on the East Coast, and there is not a lot of other racing. That helps put attention on us.”

Prairie Meadows offers several handicapping variables based on class. Heldt said:

“The variety of horses makes Prairie Downs special. The majority of them come from Oaklawn Park (AR), but then we also have a good number from Tampa Bay Downs (FL), from Sam Houston (TX) and some from Oklahoma and Nebraska tracks.

“There is a wide range of past performances to look at, which will determine what angle you want to favor. Do you think the racing is better at Oaklawn or at Tampa Bay? Your evaluation of that will determine who you give an edge to.”

Top trainers, top jockeys to watch

Bettors will recognize familiar leading jockeys.

Alex Birzer, its five-time leading rider, including 2020, is expected to return.

So is fellow Prairie Meadows hall-of-famer Glenn Corbett, who recently notched his 4,000th career win.

Keep an eye on Ken Tohill and Walter DeLa Cruz, too. Timothy Martin, Jon Arnett and Karl Broberg head the list of top trainers from last year.

A horse featuring a top trainer and jockey will usually gain high betting volume. The quarter horses present an interesting betting variable. The race takes about 20 seconds and everything hinges on the break.

The race distance is what the name suggests, a quarter-mile. That’s one straightaway sprint at Prairie Meadows.

A slow start often ensures a horse not winning. Heldt says research indicates that none of the post positions have an edge. That contradicts the conventional wisdom of the outside post and ensuring a clean trip without traffic problems.

Bettors will assess that variable individually. There will likely be an average of three quarter-horse races on the mixed card. On a date to be determined, one race is going to be 100 yards.

Clear your throat and it’s over. The highlights of the thoroughbred stakes calendar are the Iowa Festival of Racing on July 2-3, along with the traditional Iowa Classic stakes races on Sept. 25.

Most common types of horse racing bets

  • Win: The horse to cross the finish line first.
  • Place: Second or better.
  • Show: Third place or higher.
  • Exacta: The top-two finishers in exact order.

It’s good to “box” your bets. A 2-4 exacta box, for instance, provides a victory whether the horses finish in second and fourth or fourth and second.

  • Trifecta Box: A $1 box of any three horses in the top three spots costs $6.
  • Trifecta Key: Using a four-horse example, “key” the first to win and any combo of the 2-3-4 to finish second and third.

A $1 trifecta key costs $6. Or, “key” the first in the second position with the 2-3-4 comprising the first- and third-place finish for $6 more. In this example, the keyed horse must finish first or second, with the other horses filling the remaining slots. Consider this bet if you think a couple of long shots can hit the board.

COVID-19 precautions at Prairie Meadows

Here’s one for Iowa gamblers combining the outside horse-racing card with an indoor casino experience.

At Prairie Meadows, every 15 minutes, 100% of the air inside the building is exchanged for fresh air, an excellent health-and-safety measure.

Face masks are a must on the property. If you forget one, all is not lost; the track has installed a face-mask vending machine.

Photo by Conrad Schmidt / AP
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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and iGaming player, among others. He writes significantly about the emerging world of legal sports betting.

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