New to Playing the Horses? This is the Easy Way to Start

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Wagering Tote self service machine

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By Art Parker, author of the upcoming “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns”

For several years my OTB location was a greyhound track.  This was not the best atmosphere for a horse player, sitting among a large number of those that play greyhound races. They think differently than horse players, handicap differently than horseplayers and, to a great extent, wager differently than horse players.

The pari-mutuel system is the same for both greyhound and thoroughbred racing, obviously, but the popularity of wagers differs. At greyhound tracks the quinella is the favorite bet and it seems like most greyhound tracks have a special tote board just for quinella odds. Exactas, trifectas and superfectas are popular at greyhound tracks also but there is little interest in horizontal wagers such as a pick 3, pick 4 or pick 6, which are popular at thoroughbred tracks.  Straight bets, such as win place or show, do not seem to appeal to those that play the greyhound races.

While I was using the greyhound location as my OTB home, I made several friends that played the other quadrupeds faithfully. Most of those tried to take an interest in horse racing since it was available. One of the attractions was the occasional big payout at the horse tracks in the vertical wagers, e.g. trifecta. Obviously one of the biggest factors for larger payouts is the size of the pools. At many greyhound tracks a big trifecta pool may be $8,000; trifecta pools at a thoroughbred track are often 10-20 times that amount, depending on the track. At almost all greyhound tracks fields are limited to 8 runners, and larger fields in a horse race can help trigger a larger payout especially when the longshots come home. The vertical wagers are often astronomical compared to those at a greyhound track.

One of the things that I could never get the greyhound enthusiast to grasp was the importance of betting to win or to win and place. It is deeply rooted with greyhound players to only play exotics wagers. Often I was asked for my favorite horse in a race. After telling my friend who I liked, he would go and throw my choice in an exacta box or trifecta box with a couple of other runners, only to tear the ticket up when his other horses didn’t run. I would often ask, “What happened? My horse won the race.” And then I would hear “Well I didn’t have the others,” or something like that. “Why didn’t you just bet the horse win,” I would ask only to receive crazy looks. I would hear “You can’t make any money,” or “That’s no fun,” or something else senseless.

All of this is one reason why I say, to anyone that is learning to play the horses or wants to learn, when it comes to wagering learn how to bet to win or bet to win and place first. It’s hard enough to pick winners so why make it more difficult on trying to figure out who will be there for second and third, etc.? Besides, if you are going to play any wager at a track you must first have some idea who can win the race, right?

The first advice I give anyone who is new to the game is this: Do not try and get rich in one day. The worst thing that can happen to a “debut” horseplayer is to hit a trifecta or superfecta and go home with $800 in their pocket. That person will be so entrenched on betting the bigger vertical exotics again they will probably send out $2,000 in the next few visits trying to score big again.

Making money at the track is like eating an elephant. You got to take one bite at a time and not try to eat the whole thing.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 12-time qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He recently won a $24,000 package into the 2016 Kentucky Derby Betting Championship. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is also a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program. He is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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