Get Thee to a Race Track
By Teresa Genaro, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
My first day at a Thoroughbred race track was August 27th, 1979: General Assembly’s Travers. My family had moved to Saratoga the summer before; my brother and I were barely teenagers.
To Saratoga kids, the track was a social scene. What to do on an August afternoon? Go to the races. We knew that we’d see our friends there, and many of us found summer jobs in some element of the racing industry: at the track, at the sales, in the barns.
Through college and after, the summer tradition occurred. Did we bet? Sure. But that was only part of why we went to the track. Grabbing a picnic table in the backyard and dipping into a well-stocked cooler were as indispensable as an opinion and some cash.
So now, when I bring friends to the track, I make sure to emphasize the social-and inexpensive-ends of it. Entrance? $3. Refreshments? Bring your own. Grab a six-pack and a sandwich, and for less than $20 you’re set for the day.
Early on, unveil the mysteries of past performances to the rookies. Explain the abbreviations and the symbols; point out a few key stats (money earned, race record); leave it at that. Detail a few simple bets: the exacta box, the daily double, the ten-cent super. Leave it at that.
Let people make their own decisions. A couple of years ago, I went to the track with a friend who was a huge Lord of the Rings fan. Her first ever bet: $5 win/place/show on 18-1 My Brave Hobbit. He finished second. “I love this!” she said as she went to the window to collect. Within a year, she and her new boyfriend were going to simulcasting at the Meadowlands.
Encourage betting-the rookie can bet $2 a race on a typical card and spend $20, tops. Even with food and drink, that’s less than $50 for about five hours of entertainment. Considering the cost of most sporting and entertainment events, this is a flat-out bargain. And even $2 on a race makes it a heckuva lot more fun to watch. As my father told me once, consider the wagers part of the price of the entertainment.
Early in the day, take a tour of the track and get the rhythm of the race card. Watch a race from the finish line; go to the paddock. Remind people that those brown moving things aren’t little balls on a roulette wheel; they’re living, breathing creatures with personalities that are evident even to the novice observer. Point out loose on the lead types and deep closers-not to aid handicapping, but to give your rookies something to watch for.
Hang out between races; don’t bury yourselves in past performances. As I learned when I was a teenager, being at the races is fun… and the opportunity to make a little money makes it even more fun. I know that fans are expendable and gamblers are not, but maybe, if you bring friends to the track and they have a good time, they’ll come back and bet more next time.
And make sure that their first track is a beautiful one. A lot of tracks are named “Park” for a reason. On a first trip to Belmont a couple of years ago, a friend said, “I had no idea that it would be so beautiful.” It matters.
Arguably, the best thing my parents ever did was move us to Saratoga and let us go to the races. Unwittingly, they created two life-long racing fans who have shared the sport with dozens-hundreds?-of others. It’s my mission, and I choose to accept it. Get thee to a race track!
Blogger & Contributing Editor, Hello Race Fans
Totally agree with all your suggestions! I’d much rather spend an afternoon at the track with friends, even if I lose every race, than spend the money on something less enjoyable. Last year a coworker came to me frantic because he and his girlfriend were invited to a skybox for the VA Derby. He wanted to be able to “talk the talk” a little when betting, so I showed him how to read the program. They had a great time, won a bit and now can’t wait for Colonial Downs to open this year so they can go back!