How to Play Horse Race Drinking Game

The Horse Race Drinking Game, also known as “At The Horses”, “Camel Racing” and simply “Horserace”, is a rowdy drinking game that is perfect for large groups of people.

In this article, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know to play the game, from the basic setup to the rules of play.

What You Need

To get started with the Horse Race Drinking Game, you’ll need a few simple items:

  1. A Standard Deck of Cards: Ensure you have a full deck of cards, including all suits and numbers, with jokers removed and the 4 Aces set aside.
  2. Drinks: Each player should have a drink. The type of drink can vary according to personal preference, but you’ll be betting and assigning ‘sips’, so typically beers or mixed drinks work best.
  3. A Playing Surface: A table or flat surface to lay out the cards and for players to gather around.
  4. Players: There’s no strict limit on the number of players, but the game works best with a larger group to keep the excitement high and the game flowing. We’ve played this with groups of around 20 people before!


Setting up the Horse Race Drinking Game is straightforward:

  1. Nominate the Announcer: Choose one player to be the ‘announcer’. They will manage the gameplay by flipping cards, but more importantly they will be narrating the race. Ideally this person should be one of the more charismatic and louder characters in your group!
  2. Place the Horses: The Aces act as the horses. Place these at the start of the track in a starting line, as shown in the image below. You can choose to name each horse if you wish, but most people simply call them by suit (Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, Spades) for simplicity.
  3. Place the Hurdles: Shuffle the rest of the cards and lay 8 cards face down in a vertical line, going down the side of the playing area. The hurdles represents the length of the ‘racetrack’, and you can choose more or less cards to change the duration of each game.
At the horse races card drinking game (game setup)
Card setup for the Horse Races drinking game. The Aces represent the horses, and the 8 face down cards are the hurdles.

At The Horses – Gameplay and Rules

Now you’ve got everything setup, here’s how the Horse Race Drinking Game works:

  1. Opening Bets: Before the race starts, players place bets on which horse they think will win. This is typically in the form of drinks (e.g., two sips). If the players horse wins, they can choose to assign double the number of drinks (e.g., four sips) to other players.
  2. Building up the Race: For a fun game, the announcer may want to build up a bit of hype at this point, and we recommend players create a drum roll on the table as the race is starting. In a larger group, the announcer may also want to get players to recap which horse they chose, such as getting a raise of hands for each horse.
  3. Starting the Race: The announcer begins the race by flipping the top card of the deck.
  4. Moving the Horses: Each card flip corresponds to a horse (suit) moving forward. For example, if the announcer turns a Heart, the Heart horse advances one space (hurdle length). The game continues with the announcer flipping cards, and each suit advances accordingly until one horse reaches the end of the track.
  5. Hitting the Hurdles: Once the first horse reaches a hurdle, the announcer turns over the face down hurdle card. The horse that matches the card suit moves back one length, e.g. if a 7 of Hearts is revealed, the Hearts horse is pushed back.
  6. Winning the Race: The first horse to advance past the hurdles wins the race. Players have their own variation of this, so agree in advance, but typically this means moving past the last hurdle. If you are playing with 8 hurdle cards, this would mean the horse has advanced 9 lengths.
  7. Assigning Drinks: The winning players now assign their ‘winning drinks’ to the rest of the group. These can be split up, e.g. if a player bet 5 sips and therefore has 10 sips to hand out, they could split that 5/5 between two players.
At the horse races card drinking game (mid play)
In this photo, the Diamond horse is in the lead. The Club horse has advanced two lengths, but the latest hurdle has revealed a Club, forcing it backwards one length.

Declaring the Hurdle rule (two variations)

An important point to highlight with the hurdles part of the game is that we have seen two variations of how it should work, and there is plenty of debate as seen here on which is the correct method.

In the method highlighted in this guide, the face down hurdle card is turned over when the first horse reaches the hurdle.

In the other variation, the face down hurdle card is turned over once all four horses have reached the hurdle.

We don’t think it’s necessary to have a ‘correct’ variation here, so long as the announcer declares how the hurdles work at the start of the game.

Advanced variation of Horse Races: Including odds Betting

For players who want to increase the drinking stakes, a more advanced variation of the Horse Races Drinking Game is to replace the hurdles with odds betting.

In this variation, the hurdle cards are dealt face up at the beginning of the game, and the concept of a horse moving back a length is removed from the game.

Betting then works slightly differently. Rather than the winning player being able to assign double the number of drinks they bet, the number of drinks is based on betting odds.

Lets say the 8 hurdle cards consist of 4 Hearts, 2 Spades, 1 Club and 1 Diamond. The odds at the beginning of the game would therefore be 4/1 Hearts, 2/1 Spades, and both Clubs and Diamonds are ‘Evens’.

In this example, a player who chose Hearts can nominate 4x the amount of drinks bet if they win (4/1), whereas a player who chose Clubs would only nominate the same amount of drinks as they bet (Evens).

Don’t forget, whilst a player may want to opt for the highest odds, we know the suit with the highest odds will also have the least cards remaining in the rest of the pack, meaning it is less likely to win.


In summary, the Horse Race Drinking Game is a fantastic and engaging way to add excitement to any social event. As you play, remember the spirit of the game is to have fun, so feel free to adapt the rules to suit your group’s preferences.

For those who enjoy Horse Race, you might also like to try Ring of Fire / Kings Cup, another popular card-based drinking game that requires only a deck of cards.

Finally, it’s important to remember to enjoy these games responsibly. Drink within your limits and ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable time.

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