Letter to a New Horseplayer

Making the Most of a Day at the Track
By Eric Wing, DRF.com Advertising Director

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito with a horse in the Saratoga paddock (Hello Race Fans)

The best way to experience racing, especially as a new fan, is by going to the track. Once you are there, try to soak it all in-but also keep things simple. My advice is to do the following five things during your time at the races and let the rest of the day take care of itself:

1. If your track has a handicapping seminar at the beginning of the day – either live or on the closed circuit monitors – devote the half hour or so and listen to it
Much of what is said may not make complete sense to you at this stage, but that’s okay. The session will plug you in pretty quickly to what the typical horseplayer is trying to figure out in order to make the day a profitable one. If nothing else, you will quickly see that there is an intellectual approach to solve the nine or 10 “puzzles” that each race represents. For many, it is this challenge that keeps them coming back.

2. Buy the track program
It contains virtually all of the information you will need in order to have an enjoyable day at the races. By the end of the day, this program should be dog-eared after you thumb through it dozens of times.

3. Spend at least part of the day at a seat that gives you an overview of the track
Most days you can get a seat like this for free. Even if you don’t have binoculars, such a vantage point will clue you in to the rhythms of where races start, where they finish, what happens when horses break from the starting gate, how races unfold, etc.

4. At least once or twice during the day, go to the paddock for the pre-race saddling of the horses
This typically begins at about 18 minutes to post time and takes 8-10 minutes. Here you will not only get an up-close look at the horses and jockeys and trainers, you will get a feel for the work and strategy that goes in to getting a horse out on the track for a race. Few other sports allow spectators to get THIS close to the competitors. For many of you, this will be one of the best parts of your day.

5. Bet on the races
Don’t bet a lot. Just a dollar a race will do. But look at the information about the horses, jockeys and trainers in the program, check out how the horses look in the paddock or in the post parade, take your best guess about who will win or finish in the top three, and make a small bet accordingly. For the rough cost of a movie, you will have nine or 10 intensely exciting experiences, even if you never cash a ticket. And when you DO cash a ticket, even if for very small money, you will fully appreciate the excitement of the racetrack and of being right when most of your fellow bettors were wrong. No one said that ego wasn’t a part of all this too!

Eric Wing
Director of Communications, New York Racing Association
Twitter: @NYRAwing

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  • How many races are usually held when the 1st one starts at 1:00 pm?? WHEN DO THE RACES USUALLY END??

  • Hi Betty,

    It’s depends on how many races there are, at Saratoga the day has been ending between 6 and 6:30 on days with 10 races. The Saturday card this week has 12 races and the last one is set to go off just before 7pm. It can be a long day! But, you don’t have to get there for the first race and stay until the last, it’s really up to you!

  • Can you give me any ideas on how to feel like I’m really at the track if I’m just sitting at home watching the races on TV?

  • That’s a tough one Ryan, so much of being at the track is being outside, walking around to the paddock or the rail, etc. I’m not sure there’s any to duplicate that, sorry!

  • That’s okay, Dana. I know it’s impossible. It’s all about imagination.

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