Show a couple of greenhorns a good time at Churchill Downs on Saturday
June 18, 2012 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Wife and I will be headed to Louisville, Kentucky this weekend for a quick getaway. We'll be spending Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs taking in some racing. We've never been to a horse race before. We're not gamblers, but we're willing to wager a few bucks in the name of fun. What is the best way for two horse racing newbies to have a great day at the track?
posted by teriyaki_tornado to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Make some $2 bets to show (which pay if the horse comes in 3rd or better) on horses you pick out based on names, colors, etc. There is about 20 minutes between races, during which you can walk down to see the horses being paraded before they are brought over to the starting position.

Also, you'll have more fun in the grandstand, as opposed to general admission (which lets you stand in a patio area adjacent to the track). Not only will it be more comfortable and less crowded, you get a much, much better view of the track and the horses with a little bit of elevation.
posted by deadweightloss at 6:50 AM on June 18, 2012

I'm a casual horse racing fan, who attended my very first (and only!) race at the Breeder's Cup at Churchill Downs a couple years ago. I definitely agree that $2 bets are the way to go - pick a horse at random and make a bet on it to show (it just needs to get third place or better). Then go out and cheer on the horses you've picked! Also, for kicks (and because you'll score some big cash if it pays off!), pick some races and bet the $2 trifecta as well - picking first place, second place, and third place in order. Who knows, you might get lucky...

Definitely walk around between the races - you'll have time and it's fascinating. You can circle the track and watch the horses being led out to the stabling area from the barns, you can watch them being saddled, there's the post parade, and just check out Churchill Downs in general. I don't know if the museum will be open or not when you're there (it wasn't when I was) but if that's open you can go check that out.

I agree that you'll have more fun in the grandstand instead of general admission as well.

Have fun!
posted by warble at 9:58 AM on June 18, 2012

Buy a racing tip sheet at the track for a few bucks. It's fun seeing what the experts say about who is likely to win each race and why. They'll also contain suggestions for special bets (trifecta, quinella, etc.).
posted by Wordwoman at 1:01 PM on June 18, 2012

"Across the board" bets are the simplest way to go as a beginner. Just walk up to the betting window and tell the cashier the amount of your bet, the number of the horse, and that you want to bet it across the board. E.g., "Two dollars on #4 across the board." If the #4 horse comes in first, second, or third, you win!

It can also be fun to place a few exacta box bets. In an exacta, you pick the two horses you think will come in first and second in the race. If you bet an exact box, you win regardless of what order the horses you picked come in. So, if you bet an exact box on #3 and #4, you win if #3 comes in first and #4 comes in second, or vice versa. The more horses you box, the better your chances. A 4-horse box is only $12, but if you end up hitting the exacta with one of those combos, it usually pays off pretty well. (Also: a 2-horse box is $2, a 3-horse box is $6, a 5-horse box is $20, and a 6-horse box is $30.)

When I go to the track, I make cheap bets just for fun, and I just play numbers - I don't even try to figure out from the tip sheets or the program who's actually going to win. I'll pick a few numbers for the night and play exacta boxes on those all night long. It usually pays out enough to buy a few beers - which is no chump change at Churchill!

Box seats for normal spring meet days are only $10 at Churchill, and (I think) well worth it. If you don't book online, ask for seats in section 317 - it's right on the finish line. You can reserve an entire box if you don't want to share it with anyone (they are pretty tiny - just 6 aluminum fold-up chairs in the space about the size of a pup-tent) for only $60, too. Letters B and up are under cover, if I remember correctly - good to know if it might rain that day.

Have a great time!
posted by pecanpies at 7:05 PM on June 18, 2012

Bet! Bet! Bet! Both of you. On every race. You will have more fun that way. Watching horse racing gets old fast if you don't have any skin in the game.

Specifically I'd advise you each place a $2 win bet on each race you stay for. The payoffs for win bets are generally much better than for place or show, and exotic bets like the trifecta, exacta, etc.. can quickly get expensive to make, and also are less likely to win.

Get a hold the day's entries. This sheet provides some basic info for each race. It will be available in an organized one page format at the track on race day, probably for free. If you're curious what I mean, it looks like Churchhill Downs will have the entries for Saturday 6/23 online tomorrow (Tuesday) on their site. Don't feel the need to print it out; like I said they'll have it at the track. A full-on racing form with past performances is overkill unless you really wanted to analyze the horses in depth the night before.

As far as picking out which horse to bet on, do whatever you want to. There is no magic formula. On some days picking the funniest name/prettiest colors, etc.. in each race will work the best.

That being said here are a few ideas I personally would use for a fun afternoon.

One angle that's fun and is pretty easy is to pick out a jockey and stick to his or her horses for the day. It makes it a little more like you're rooting for a team, and provides some continuity for the afternoon. So far this meet, Corey J. Lanerie is winning 25% of his races at Churchill, and Shaun Bridgmohan has a 20% winning percentage. Calvin Borel is doing okay too, and the guy has won three Kentucky Derbies.

To get a real at-the-track experience, before at least for one race, go down to the paddock and check out the horses up close for yourself. Bet on the one that looks good to you.

Probably the most simple: Bet on the favorite. They are the market's pick to win, after all. And winning is fun.

Have a good day at the races.
posted by eelgrassman at 8:12 PM on June 18, 2012

Hi, I was a horse racing newbie when I went to Churchill Downs a few weekends ago.

There are several ushers out front who are eager to help out. I definitely recommend getting grandstand tickets - they were $3 when I went and they get you a seat in the shade with some elevation.

Buy one of the racing forms when you buy your ticket. It'll have all the info on races, jockeys, and horses - sometimes too much info but I was able to figure it out. IME, the experts are more wrong than right. It looks like my semi-winning strategy of betting on jockeys is a pretty popular one.

The cashiers taking bets were pretty forgiving of betting mistakes, so don't worry about getting thrown out for being a newbie. Remember that they want your money.
posted by muddgirl at 8:30 PM on June 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers, everybody! This helps tremendously! One more sub-question:

So, it appears that races happen every 20 minutes or so, all day long. Thats a lot of races. Do you typically walk to the cashier to place your bet PRIOR TO EVERY SINGLE RACE, or do you go place wagers on several upcoming races when you go to the cashier?
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 8:17 AM on June 19, 2012

I bet prior to every race - sometimes horses drop out or odds change. Some other people seemed to place bets for the whole day, but again situations change so you may have to change your bet anyway.

It's not really that long of a walk, and there's not much else to do besides walk around. They have tons of cashiers so the wait is short.
posted by muddgirl at 9:30 AM on June 19, 2012

It's more like every half hour - not to nitpick, but that extra ten minutes does make a difference when you're trying to make a bet, swing by the restroom, and maybe pick up a drink or two all between races. Like muddgirl, I bet prior to every race (at least, the ones I'm betting in - sometimes I'll let one go by if I'm wrapped up in a conversation, getting food, etc.).
posted by pecanpies at 3:03 PM on June 19, 2012

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