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Your First Time at the Racetrack

by Akhil Kalepu

Oct 13, 2014

© Miltudog | Dreamstime


Before Vegas and Macau were gambling destinations, America’s favorite gambling pastime wasn’t in a casino. It was at the racetrack. Whether you are a high roller, a fan of equestrianism or just looking for a weekend adventure, follow these tips to enjoy your day at the racetrack.


There are two main categories when it comes to making a bet at the racetrack. A straight wager is a simple bet on one horse, usually at a minimum of $2. An exotic wager is a more complex bet with multiple horses. As a beginner, stick to a straight wager, but do consider the different types of straight bets you make.


A win is a simple bet on which horse will come in first; place is a bet on whether the horse comes in first or second; and show is a bet that the horse will come in first, second or third. A combo straight wager is an across the board bet, as in you are making a win, place and show bet on a single horse. If he comes in first, you win all three bets, but if he comes in third you only win the show bet. These kinds of wagers are more expensive and have less of a profit margin.


Now you’re ready to make a bet, so prepare your spiel and head to the teller. Your script should go like this: track name, race number, amount on bet, type of bet and the horse’s program number. When making the bet, it should sound something like, “Churchill Downs, race three, $2 across the board on No. 8.”


Now that you know how to make a wager, it’s time to figure out which horses to bet on. Be sure to purchase a racetrack program, which has all the information on the day’s horses, jockeys, trainers and owners. These can be difficult to decipher for a beginner, but Equibase has a handy interactive guide for learning how to read a program. A copy of Daily Racing Form will also provide performance history on competitors as well as handicap tips.


When picking bets, there are a few things to take into consideration. Racetracks have different classes for the skill level of the horse, and sometimes horses can move up or down a class, which could put them at an advantage or disadvantage. Horses also perform differently on different surfaces. Some tracks are natural dirt, where others use artificial grass, so be sure to check the program for performance history.


The jockey is also an important factor for a race. A good jockey riding a mid-level horse for the first time might be able to give an extra boost and finish a few spots higher. Horses that have a history with a particular jockey are also something to watch out for.



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