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.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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