Horse racing is known as the Sport of Kings but you don’t have to be one to enjoy the thrill and excitement of a day at the races. Still, the track can be a confusing place for beginner betters. You may think a horse is just a horse, but in racing the word technically refers to a male horse of five years or older who hasn’t been castrated. Tricky, huh? Let’s get ‘off to the races’ and start with the basics.
If you’re heading to the track for the first time, pick up a racing form and program, full of important information on horses, jockeys, races, and odds. Most tracks offer bets as low as $2 so those on a budget can take part in the fun. If you’d rather play from home, many forms are available online, though you won’t have the advantage of checking out the horses prior to race time.
“Handicapping” — the art of determining the ability of a horse — is just a fancy term to describe choosing a horse to bet on, and that’s often done in the “paddock” where horses are saddled and shown off. Most serious betters keep an eye out for a horse that’s alert but relaxed, light on its feet, isn’t sweating too much, and has a shiny coat. You’ll be happy to learn that betting at the races is different from gambling in casinos in that you don’t bet against the house. You compete against fellow spectators — and somebody always wins!
All money for a particular bet is pooled so if you win the bet, you get a share of the pool — but betting isn’t as easy as slapping down money. You must specify the name of the track — as some screen races from other tracks — the race number, the amount you’re betting, the type of bet, and the horse number. Beginners start with “straight bets” on a horse to win (come in 1st), place (1st or 2nd), or show (1st, 2nd, or 3rd.) Here’s an example of what you might say at the ticket booth: “Woodbine Racetrack, race 3, $20 to show on number 2.”
To make things more complicated, there are also “exotic bets” which have a higher payout. An example is a trifecta, when you select the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place horses in the correct order in a single race. You’ll learn more about exotic wagering as you get accustomed to the track. For now, keep an eye on the “tote board” — the large sign with flashing lights that tells you track conditions, race numbers, money bet on each horse, results, and more. When you’ve got a winning ticket, cash in, and don’t forget to have fun!