Horse Racing Education: The Monster Odds Board

by Tom Amello

If Thoroughbred racing is to grow and flourish, what is the first and most important aspect of playing the game that should be made most clear to “newbies”…the Odds Board. Why? Because the business of Thoroughbred racing is staging racing for wagering purposes, and the Odds Board provides all the information anyone needs to make an informed wager.


Ocean Knight winning the 2015 Sam Davis

There is a proverb with which I am certain you are familiar: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Unhappy with the sentiment, a wise man, an optimist, added: “Ah, yes, but you can salt the oats and make the animal thirsty.” To grow its fan base, Thoroughbred racing needs to adopt a “salt the oats” philosophy with respect to “newbies”, a strategy that focuses on the odds board and wagering.

To paraphrase the above proverb, “Thoroughbred racing can lure newbies to the race track with big race day events, ABR VIP invitations, concerts, giveaways, frat parties, college scholarships, food tastings, etc., but, lacking clear and coherent wagering education, can’t turn them from fans into horseplayers.” Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™ presents a strategy that “salts the oats” for “newbies” with respect to successful wagering.

The power of the Odds Board lies in its simplicity. Achieving fluency in several race track terms, demonstrating the ability to both count from 1-5 and recognize repeatable situations is all that is required of “newbies” to make informed wagers with reasonable probabilities of cashing tickets…and for the industry to “salt the oats” to increase the probability they return to the track to wager.

For example, consider what we identify and teach as the Monster™ Odds Board. No matter what the venue, more often than not, several race day Odds Boards will show a heavily favored horse offered to the betting public at extremely short odds: 3-5, 4-5, 1-1, and 7-5…while at the same time showing a substantial gap/distance in the wagering between this favorite and the public’s second betting choice, often at 7-2, 4-1, and 9-2.

Long-term statistics support the fact that, though they do lose, heavily bet favorites win more than their fair share. Experienced horseplayers decide, based on information and opinion, whether to play or play against the heavily bet favorite. “Newbies,” lacking both information (too much and too difficult to digest) and opinion, are lost. What, then, could/should the “newbie” do when confronted with this Odds Board situation?

  1. Concede the race to the heavily bet favorite…use the Monster™.
  2. Eliminate horses ranked 2nd & 3rd in the betting from winning or running 2nd.
  3. “Key” the heavily bet favorite to win in exacta bets over horses ranked 4th, 5h, 6th and/or 7th in the betting.

Why? The heavily bet favorite has a high probability of winning. Exactas with the 2nd or 3rd choice finishing second are, generally speaking, not worth the risk (short payouts). Fair and good payouts result when one of the lesser regarded but higher odds runners (choices 4, 5, 6, 7) manage to beat the 2nd and 3rd choices and finish second to the heavily bet favorite.

Regardless the outcome, the “newbie” has purchased tickets keying a horse that is “live” on the Odds Board, with a high probability of not only contending but winning, with a runner(s) expected to be contending in the race to the wire, and a reasonable opportunity to cash a double-digit exacta. And this situation presents itself numerous times each racing day at racing venues throughout the country, making it a perfect application with simulcast wagering.

Bringing new fans to Thoroughbred racing and keeping them coming back is the game’s most daunting challenge. Winning and almost winning is of paramount importance for “newbies” because losing/non-winning is such a huge part of the Thoroughbred racing experience. Having great fun while near-winning, if not winning, is the “salt” and Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™ is the shaker.

 Editor’s Note:  Tom Amello is a long time turf writer who created Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™, a product designed to make the game more fun and winnable for novices.  Learn more here.

Horse Racing Education: Begin in the Shallow End



by Tom Amello

As a young lad growing up in Bayside, NY summers meant CYO camp. Three days each week we bussed to either the Whitestone or Cresthaven swimming pool. Counselors and pool staff provided supervision and guidance. On the first swim day of each season, we were tested, grouped according to ability and given caps: Bright red rubber swim caps identified non-swimmers limited to the shallow end; floaters and weak strokers wore blue; accomplished swimmers roamed the deep end, were permitted use of low and high diving boards, and wore their white caps with great pride. It was clear, simple, and, for safety purposes, quite logical: stay in your cap zone until you demonstrate to the staff the ability to move on to the next. Earning your white cap was the goal.

Thoroughbred racing might do well for its new fans to consider an approach similar to the CYO swimming model. Currently, “newbies” stand outside pari-mutuel pools very much like young, non-swimming campers on the edge of massive swimming pools. “Newbies” arrive at the track as uninformed about odds, betting, betting pools and handicapping as new campers are of the dangers of deep water. Unlike young campers, however, non-handicappers receive little, if any, guidance and absolutely no supervision. “Newbies”, metaphorically speaking, are “thrown” into the pool. We certainly don’t want young campers struggling, swallowing too much water and potentially drowning. Many programs and protocols are put in place to prevent those outcomes and develop competent swimmers. Of course, learning about Thoroughbred racing is in no way as life threatening an experience as learning to swim. But, since Thoroughbred racing’s most challenging goal is growing the game by increasing the base of horseplayers, new fans are surely worth the attention and guidance that moves them from red-capped “newbie” to blue-capped recreational horseplayer and, perhaps, to the level of white-capped serious handicapping-contest participant.

At the concluded Saratoga summer meet I was privileged to participate in several programs specifically designed for and targeted towards fans with little or no experience in Thoroughbred racing. Each presentation, in my view, achieved its own  degree of success. In general, fans loved Saratoga Race Course and all that it is. Fans loved the “scene” and celeb-fest Saratoga can be on big race days. Fans were interested, to a point, in wagering and handicapping, but the setting was not at all conducive to learning or understanding. Too much going on, too many “distractions”, and, though interested, no one really wanted to be “in class.”

What setting, then, is best for the “red-capped” newbie? Tracks should consider offering regularly scheduled, small-group learning opportunities on dark days, as well as before and after certain race days. But sessions such as these are only the beginning of what should be an on-going relationship with attendees…a mentor program maintaining contact, continuing instruction and providing feedback…both at the track and via the internet.

 Editor’s Note:  Tom Amello is a long time turf writer who created Gateway To The Game, an innovative product to teach newbies and help them to enjoy the game from the very start.  Learn more here.

A Love of the Game

Belmont Park crowd


By Art Parker

When one decides to attach himself to the game of horse racing, where interaction with the sport occurs at least three to four times per week, then one begins to notice the details overlooked by those who do not have a frequent attachment. For example, those that go to the track a couple of times per year, or even as frequently as once per month, usually can’t talk intelligently about the industry because of ignorance, or lack of experience. They probably can’t adequately explain, with detail, the usage of the controversial drug Lasix. And they probably can’t explain the difference between take out and breakage. Those infrequent players can’t begin to name more than a dozen tracks in America and they have no idea how many horses are foaled in this country.

Just like the overwhelming number of casino patrons cannot tell you how a slot machine works, nor do they have any understanding of probability.

Have you ever wondered why some people go to a casino instead of the track? I promise you it is not because pulling a slot machine handle is more intellectually stimulating than trying to select winners every August afternoon at Saratoga.

For years we have seen our attendance and handle diminish and there has been a tendency to blame this on the growth of casino gaming, among other things. And I will be the first to say that the competition from those institutions hasn’t helped racing. Let’s be honest, casino gaming has greatly escalated the demise of interest in greyhound racing. In fact, greyhound racing may have already evaporated if casino dollars had not propped that sport up with coupled institutions known as racinos (race tracks and a casino together on the same property).

The other thing I hear is that we need to improve our product, meaning the quality of racing. Really? How is that? Increase the purse of the  Whitney Handicap or the Travers Stakes? I don’t think so. That just means horses that can run in a Grade One race will be running for more money. What of the claimers, the ones that fill the cards every day? Are we going to increase the purses for those and tell people the quality is better? How many people that have never been to the track can tell you the difference, on paper, of a Grade One runner and a $25,000 claiming horse? How many people that have been to the track, only a few times, can tell you the difference between a graded stakes runner and a claimer if they are looking at both at the same time?

Being one of those truly attached to the sport of horse racing I see, hear and read about all of the problems frequently. I hear all of the arguments explaining what is wrong, and I readily fess up and admit I don’t have the answers. But what I don’t see in racing is what should come first before any analysis or any argument. “What does the customer want?” What can we do to get the customer we don’t have? These are the two questions we must answer first. After all, what could be more important than keeping the customers we have while we attract new customers?

I believe the money is there to find the answer and I believe the marketing people are there. Our sport needs to find the answer to keep customers and attract new ones, and when the answer is found then we need to do everything we can to have the player become a fan, and have them fall in love with the game.

That’s how racing will survive and thrive.


Remembering Birmingham’s First Track Announcer

Off the Charts Trip Notes – August 20, 2014

Playing the Odds – Gateway to the Game™

Horse Racing Handicapping is a Process

Playing the Odds – Gateway to the Game™

“What’s the best experience a newbie could have at the track?”

By Tom Amello offers this first installment of fan education and player development opportunities for Essential Core Players. Our long-term goal is to provide effective fan education and player development opportunities in a variety of formats. Today’s presentation targets new fans.

As the Thoroughbred racing industry fine tunes the concept of “Big Race-Day” events that entice new fans, racing venues, more than ever, face the challenge of helping these newbies gain a quick understanding of how to play the game.

Ask anyone in the industry this question: “What’s the best experience a newbie could have at the track?” The near-universal answer: “Win!” But, since the fact is that not everyone at the track can or will win, so what then? This question: “What’s the second best experience for newbies when they don’t win?” The near-universal answer: “Have fun, of course.” Which means exactly what, in terms of growing the fan base?

Woman and Man playing the horse racesI agree about having fun, and America’s Best Racing is doing a fine job of bringing the fun everyone experiences at the track to the crucial 18-35 demographic. But, if the answer to the first question is found in the context of wagering, then the answer to the second question must lie in that same context…making a wager. Newbies must be taught to wager in a way that empowers them, more often than not, to be on horses that will be in contention. Therefore, the second best experience for the “newbie” is cheering and rooting for horses in contention in the run to the wire because they are holding tickets on those horses. That’s the real excitement and fun to experience at the track…even when you don’t win.

Current on-track instructional programs, to the extent they exist, attempt to introduce newbies to handicapping, a difficult task made daunting by the limits of time. “Figurating”, the words of Colonel John R. Stingo in A.J. Lieblinngs’ The Honest Rainmaker, involves a process for working towards some form of opinion about race contestants and various outcome scenarios. The wagering that follows is the expression of those opinions. What, then, is a newbie, unskilled in past performances, and thus devoid of opinion, to do? How, in the absence of experience with past performances, can a newbie be expected to develop an opinion about a race?

For newbies, one immediate solution is Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™, and this is for several reasons. First, the Odds Board is the single constant at every racing venue. Second, the Odds Board represents the opinion of all bettors. Third, experienced horseplayers, players with informed opinions, makeup the bulk of the betting crowd. Fourth, the “informed” crowd’s opinions are represented on the Odds Board. Fifth, the Odds Board is a relatively “efficient market” in that, for all races, the crowd’s favorite (the horse at the lowest odds) wins more than the second favorite; the second choice wins more than the third choice; the third choice wins more than the fourth choice…and so on. The crowd’s long-term opinion is quite sound. Therefore, an understanding of the odds board is crucial for newbies. Experienced horseplayers have a context in which to evaluate the crowd’s opinion…the odds…and decide whether to play with or against the crowd. Newbies, without context or opinion, should, more often than not, play WITH the crowd.

Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™ , our betting guide for newbies, features a limited glossary of key terminology, four unique concepts for mastering the Odds Board, facts to support our concept, and specific examples for making wagers grounded in the Odds Board. Applying these concepts increases the probability that a newbie will wager on “live” horses, horses the informed crowd supports, and gain an appreciation for the game. The guide is the “Gateway to the Game”™.

To be clear, concepts about the power of the Odds Board are useful to all players. The guide is, however, intended as a road map into the game for the uninitiated and unfamiliar, not in any way a system that promises to change one’s life with a winning system of methodology.

Gateway to the Game by writer Tom AmelloDOWNLOAD THIS GUIDE & LEARN TO ENJOY HORSE RACING!
Get a printed version of the brochure at no extra cost

Purchase Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™ and receive a downloadable pdf file which you can view on any type of device. Additionally, for a limited-time you will receive a hard copy in the mail. Questions about the guide will be answered here on our website at  The two-for-one “Playing the Odds Board – Gateway to the Game™” is only $7.00.

This short guide is power packed and offers:

  • Four unique concepts for mastering the odds board
  • Facts to support our unique concept
  •  Specific examples for making wagers grounded in the Odds Board

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Fill a Void and Grow the Game

Growing the essential core of new, interested but unskilled fans stands out as Thoroughbred racing’s greatest challenge. Current big race-day marketing efforts appear to be successful at drawing crowds.

by Tom Amello

Thinking about Thoroughbred racing’s current forms of fan education somehow brought to mind the title of a well-regarded 1975 country ballad. The title, you might remember, warns mothers. A paraphrased version warns: “Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be horseplayers.” And, Mom, without innovative fan education and player development programs, you don’t need to worry…they probably won’t.

To further the point, consider these thoughts from the preface to noted author and educator James Quinn’s 2012 text The Complete Handicapper: You Can Beat the Races:
“Young adults that have come to racetracks for ancillary concerts and beer festivals, or to admire legendary champions such as Cigar or Zenyatta, ultimately will be confronted by the press of the handicapping and wagering. The experience can run downhill quickly.

From the moment the casual customer can be heard to remark, ‘Well, this is interesting, how do you do this?’ the industry has proved hapless to extend them a guided response. As a result, novices begin to lose more money than they would prefer to lose. The occasional payoffs and exotic windfalls do not reverse an inexorable pattern of defeat and financial loss.”

Thoroughbred racing is unlike any other major American sport…and “that’s a good thing.” In other sports, fans pay to watch players compete. In our great game, fans are players vying against each other via pari-mutuel wagering. For those new to the game, it’s a given that their early Thoroughbred racing experiences must be full of fun, friendship and excitement, but at its core this form of racing is “a game of skill,” a sport where, in the context of a horse race, fans who have acquired and refined a set of skills compete against other skilled horseplayers:

A Hierarchy of Skilled Horseplayers

Essential Core Players ripe for fan education and player development programs:
“Newbies”/novices/soon-to-be-horseplayers recently introduced to the game, lacking most basic understandings and skills about Thoroughbred racing, too often overwhelmed by past performances, arcane track jargon, and a steep learning curve; too often unsuccessful at wagering and driven away from the game.
Recreational players who regularly attend/participate in big race-day events like the Triple Crown Series and Breeders Cup, as well as occasionally/regularly attend or participate in boutique race meets such as Saratoga, Del Mar, Keeneland.
Serious Recreational players who follow racing year-round and participate in contests both on-track and on-line.
(Note: The following groups, essentially professionals, are equally important to the game but quite different in their play and needs:
“Wise Guys” are the near full-time or full-time players, many involved professionally in the industry, whose handicapping and wagering skills are known.
“Sharpies” are those astute individuals, largely unknown but successful bettors/syndicates, who opt to attack the betting pools while remaining well below the radar.
“Whales” are those few wagering giants often employing sophisticated programs and privately-purchased information, generating many millions in handle.

Growing the essential core of new, interested but unskilled fans stands out as Thoroughbred racing’s greatest challenge. Current big race-day marketing efforts appear to be successful at drawing crowds. The NYRA’s recent Triple Crown-enhanced Belmont Day attendance of over 102,000 with handle in excess of $150 million is further supported by significant July 5 Stars and Stripes program attendance and handle increases over this same Saturday in 2013. However, a significant gulf exists between efforts to draw new fans to the game and efforts to provide them with meaningful learning opportunities that facilitate transition from “newbie” to “Recreational Horseplayer.” Additionally, experienced players require more specific and targeted learning opportunities to fine tune their skills. Addressing and meeting this challenge begs a few questions: What must the “newbie” learn? Who will develop and provide a form of “continuing education” for experienced players? How to reach and teach all players so they learn both what we want them to learn and what they need to learn…the crossroads of curriculum and instruction.

Quality instruction causes learning. Educator Madeline Hunter said, “To say that you have taught when no one has learned is to say that you have sold when no one has bought.” That’s good advice for everyone in the teaching/learning business, including race tracks. To grow the fan base, Thoroughbred racing must reinvent fan education programs and ground them in good teaching. Good teaching involves:

• Presenting Learning Objectives (what learners will know, understand and be able to do)
• Offering both Guided Practice and Independent Practice (how to apply what you learn)
• Providing feedback (Q&A, maintaining a supportive relationship)

In coming weeks will present a series of fan education and player development opportunities for Essential Core Players. We will develop curriculum and provide instruction that adheres to the teaching-learning model described above. Our goal is to provide effective fan education and player development opportunities in a variety of formats.  Stay tuned.