Understanding Luck: Episode 1
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

There will be no shortage of places that do narrative recaps of HBO’s Luck, but that may or may not help you understand the “inside baseball” that’s going on with regard to horse racing. So, starting this coming Sunday night we’ll publish a guide to help you better understand what’s going on and/or learn more about horse racing, as long as HBO Go makes the next week’s episode available in advance, that is!

Understanding Luck Archive


“11 seconds down the lane”
That’s what trainer Walter Smith played by Nick Nolte says as his promising young horse is finishing up his workout. There are a few important things to note about this:

1. Workouts are the equivalent of practice for human athletes in that trainers work their horses to get them ready to race. There are plenty of different approaches and goals for a workout, and as trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz) said to Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina) back at the barn, “the horse will tell us when he’s ready.”

Find Our More
You Better Work, a Primer on Workouts

2. Races and workouts are broken out by “splits”, this tracks how fast or slow the horse is running at different points during the race or work. The final fraction is significant, particularly if a horse is speeding up. A strong final kick is always something a trainer (or handicapper!) wants to see. An 11 second final fraction indicates that the Walter Smith colt has plenty of talent and is in good condition.

Find Our More
Fractionally Speaking


“You gave him our ticket?”
When Jerry (Jason Gedrick) gives the guard his selections for the Pick 6, he undercuts the Pick 6 crew’s potential winnings. Playing the ponies is not like casino gambling in that you’re not playing against the house, you’re playing against everyone else who is wagering. This can make some players a little-tight lipped about their selections.

Find Our More
Overview of Wagering
Mutuel respect, a look at pari-mutuelism
The participatory nature of the game


And how about that ticket?
A Pick 6 is a wager where you must select winners in each of six races in a sequence. It’s customary to select multiple horses in each race to make sure you have good “coverage”, as it’s called. The Pick 6 crew singled a horse in one of the races, a technique one can use to “spread”, or have broader coverage, in other races. Here’s how they constructed their ticket with the race number and number of the horses they selected (e.g., 1,4,7 are the numbers assigned to the horses):

3rd Race: 1,4,7
4th Race: 5
5th Race: 1,3,6,9
6th Race: 2,3,5,7,8
7th Race: 1,4,7
8th Race: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 (all)

This ticket singles the 5 horse (Mon Gateaux, trained by Escalante) in the second leg of the sequence (4th race) and spreads in all other legs, particularly the last leg where they select all, which in this case was nine horses.

What does this ticket cost? Quite a bit, at least for the casual player. And certainly more than the $864 that the guard mentioned when he thought it was too much for a ticket with a longshot singled.

The Pick 6 is a $2 minimum wager, to calculate the cost of the wager you multiple the number of selections per leg by the amount of the wager:

(3x1x4x5x3x6x9) = 1,620 x 2 (cost of the wager) = $3,240

You might be thinking that compared to the $2M+ payout that $3K is a bargain, and it is. But the more likely scenario is that you lose the $3k, certainly a consideration before one starts plunking down giant wagers!

Find Our More
Types of Wagers and Pools
Singling and Spreading
Introduction to Exotic Bets by Steven Crist
Book Review of Steven Crist’s Exotic Bets

We also have a Beginners’ Corner where you can explore and learn based on activity or topic… or feel free to ask us any questions!

Last 5 posts by Dana Byerly

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