A Day at the Races: The Full Experience

You don’t have to wait until Kentucky Derby day to hit the races. Experience the excitement of race day right here in Almost Heaven, West Virginia!

The state’s two horseracing venues, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Mountaineer Racetrack & Resort, and two greyhound racetracks, Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Mardi Gras Casino & Resort, offer daily live racing as well as televised races from all over the country. 

Not only that—these resorts offer the full package, with lodging, dining, gaming, and live music—so why not turn your day into a weekend getaway for the grownups?

If you’re never been to the races, there’s no need to feel intimidated. Most people are there just for fun, and maybe to place a casual bet or two on their favorite filly. And many of them are paying their first visit to the track, too.

There’s no official dress code at the racetrack, but many guests opt for a “casual Friday” look, with slacks and polo shirts or casual skirts and tops being popular attire. And comfortable shoes are a must, for both men and women. Remember, you’re going to be up walking around or climbing steps in the grandstand.

For special events like the West Virginia Breeders Classics at Charles Town Races, you’re apt to see more suits and ties and dresses. Fancy hats—like the ones made famous at the Kentucky Derby—are always fun, but you might just want a little something to keep the sun out of your eyes if you’re going to be outside.

The betting part isn’t complicated if you start simple. The minimum bet is only $2. You can bet numerous combinations of a straight wager, which is when you pick a single horse or dog to win (finish first), place (finish first or second) or show (finish first, second or third). Then there is the exotic wager, which is when you place a single bet involving multiple race entrants finishing in a specific order. The stakes are much higher on these bets.

The race day program will have detailed information on all the entrants and, if it’s a horse track, their jockeys, too. Consider that betting the race favorite to show (1st, 2nd or 3rd place) pays off the majority of the time, although the winnings may be more modest than if you had bet on a long shot.

If you’re new to the sport, it’s best to place your bet with a human teller rather than at a machine. That way the teller can assist you if needed. Have your money in hand and be prepared to give the teller the following information:

  • Race number
  • Amount of bet
  • Type of bet
  • Race entrant’s program number (You don’t need to give the animal’s name, just the race number they’ve been assigned.)

For example, you might say, “Race No. 3. Two dollars to win (place, show, etc.) on No. 7.”

See, that was easy, wasn’t it? Now hang onto your ticket, because you will need it to claim your winnings!

You’re sure to work up an appetite with all the day’s excitement. If there was ever an excuse for fine dining, a day at the races would be it. Carve into a big juicy steak or make it a surf and turf with lobster tail or a side of fried calamari. A day at the races also is the ideal time to enjoy drinks you wouldn’t typically have, like the traditional Derby cocktail, the mint julip. Or you can channel James Bond at the baccarat table with a classic vodka martini—shaken, not stirred.

And speaking of baccarat … once you’ve played the ponies or hounds, you might want to check out the racetrack’s gaming room, where you can try your luck at the beginner-friendly slot machines, test your skills in the poker room or strategize over table games like craps, blackjack and roulette.

What are you waiting for? It’s your lucky day!

This post was last updated on March 17, 2022