Horse racing is an equestrian sport, involving two or more jockeys riding horses over a set distance for competition. It is one of the most ancient of all sports and its basic premise – to identify which of two or more horses is the fastest over a set course or distance – has remained unchanged since the earliest times.
Horse races vary widely in format. Often, countries have developed their own particular horse racing traditions. Variations include restricting races to particular breeds, running over obstacles, running over different distances, running on different track surfaces and running in different gaits.
While horses are sometimes raced purely for sport, a major part of horse racing’s interest and economic importance lies in the gambling associated with it, an activity that in 2008 generated a world-wide market worth around US$115 billion.
Horse racing has a long and distinguished history and has been practised in civilisations across the world since ancient times. Archaeological records indicate that horse racing occurred in Ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. It also plays an important part of myth and legend, such as the contest between the steeds of the god Odin and the giant Hrungnir in Norse mythology.
Chariot racing was one of the most popular ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine sports. Both chariot and mounted horse racing were events in the ancient Greek Olympics by 648 BC and were important in the other Panhellenic Games. This was despite the fact that chariot racing was often dangerous to both driver and horse as they frequently suffered serious injury and even death. In the Roman Empire, chariot and mounted horse racing were major industries and from the mid-15th century until 1882, spring carnival in Rome closed with a horse race. Fifteen to 20 riderless horses, originally imported from the Barbary Coast of North Africa, ran the length of the Via del Corso, a long, straight city street, in about 2½ minutes.
In later times, Thoroughbred racing was, and is, popular with the aristocrats and royalty of British society, earning it the title “Sport of Kings”.
Historically, equestrians honed their skills through games and races. Equestrian sports provided entertainment for crowds and honed the excellent horsemanship that was needed in battle. Horse racing of all types evolved from impromptu competitions between riders or drivers. All forms of competition, requiring demanding and specialized skills from both horse and rider, resulted in the systematic development of specialized breeds and equipment for each sport. The popularity of equestrian sports through the centuries has resulted in the preservation of skills that would otherwise have disappeared after horses stopped being used in combat.
Profitable horse racing betting is a tough game. Often valid favorites dominate the card, while longer shots hide amongst a vast sea of speed figures, track bias and post positions. Casual horse racing betting fans turn to Ultimate PP’s or the Daily Racing Form, while serious horse racing players flock to the Ragozin sheets or Cary Fotias for advice, searching diligently for vulnerable favorites and ‘value plays’.
The racing equivalent of hitting .300 in baseball is hitting winners more than 30% of the time at odds greater than 3-1. The truth is, there are many players who do win betting regularly, but for most of us, horse racing betting is a very tough game.
However, there are days when the number junkies can make a killing. These days are few and far between and always show their true colors when there are big races, with big crowds and there is plenty of ‘dumb money’ fueling large pools. There is no better time than to use the dumb money to your advantage than during the Triple Crown series.
The Kentucky Derby is not only the granddaddy of racing, but the grand dad, grand mom and cousins of ‘dumb money’. Everyone bets the Derby. Everyone from the lady in the giant red hat to the mega movie star to politicos and star athletes, the Derby brings in the dumb money like no other.
Of course, dumb money is simply wagers from people who normally do are familiar with horse racing betting, or follow the horses, or even know what a Derby prep race is. Dumb money is the opposite of actual handicapping, where players blindly play the post position number, the color of the silks, the name of the horse or the fact that ‘the big gray one is sweating’ or ‘prancing’ or the favorite of one friend, ‘the horse that just took a dump’. The dumb money is in full force during the Triple Crown series and for these folks it is OK to bet on a whim, they do it only one day a year…
The great thing about Triple Crown series is that the dumb money invades the track. While daily handle is generated from OTB and both casual and serious horse racing betting fans, Churchill Downs brings in the dumb money by filling the stands almost entirely with horse racing bettors who ONLY go to the track on this day. This is something that even the most casual player can capitalize on.
Often you hear that ‘this is great horse betting race’. Of course, this qualifies with valid contenders usually going off at 5 -1 or better and the entire field being better than 5/2. The Triple Crown races themselves present a great horse betting opportunity every race, and generally every card. Exacta boxes and trifecta wheels can turn huge profits and every pick 4 and pick 6 is worth taking a shot at.
What horse racing betting players need to do is use the dumb money at the track in their favor. Morning-line favorites usually get bet at a high rate, but the large fields featured during the entire day’s card bring all comers. And this is why these are ‘great horse betting races’. This is not to say that a valid 2-1 favorite is not going to win the race, but the value of so many horses in races where favorites are vulnerable is fantastic.
Every Derby is a great betting race, as evidenced over just the last several years. In last year’s Kentucky Derby, Street Sense paid $11.80 to win, while Hard Spun gave back a nice payout of $9.80 to place and Curlin a respectable $5.60 to show. The 2006 Derby saw public favorites Lawyer Ron and Brother Derek take large parts of the pool leaving Barbaro, a valid contender in anybody’s book, to pay $14.20. The same race saw Bluegrass Cat place at $28.40 and Steppenwolfer, $7.80 show. In the 2005 Run for the Roses, huge public darling Afleet Alex finished third and still paid $4.60. That year, longshot Giacomo paid over $100 as the winner!
This year look for the horses that are PUBLIC darlings, yet vulnerable favorites. The ladies with the hats and the celebrities will lean on a public favorite, preferably with a well known trainer and ‘hot’jockey and if there is a tear-jerker story or the barn has a human angle, all the better. These are races where legitimate contenders can make smart bettors some real money. Box ’em, wheel em’, play them for big money to show, because if the public darling doesn’t win, or better yet, hit the board, every horseman in the world, who avoids low odds favorites like the plague, wins big.
Smart Money Rule #1 – Play against the dumb money when a vulnerable favorite is present.
Three huge factors that do not factor into dumb money wagers are weather, pace and historic track bias. The odds for the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes are all put out extremely early, after the post position draws on Thursday. Though odds makers will look at conditions, they cannot know the exact track conditions on race day. Usually morning line favorites are just that – put out on the day of the race. A sloppy track or track where conditions change during the days’ races, will simply not factor into horse racing bets from players who visit the track on one big day. The race pace is something that a novice bettor simply does not understand as a concept and is what yielded the $100 Giacomo win. Finally, the meet at Churchill is just getting cranked up at Derby time and thus, there is no current track bias. Handicappers will have to dig into historic data as well as their own crystal ball to factor bias into the races.
Smart Money Rule #2 – Put a bit of extra handicapping analysis on factors such as weather and race pace shape, as the large betting public simply does not use these statistics in wagering on big races. Use historic track bias for an edge.
As a rule you should NEVER bet every race on the card. Experienced players hit and run, where oppor¬tunities exist. So during the Triple Crown series, avoid races where legitimate favorites are getting bet like crazy with dumb money. If the morning line favorite at 3-1 is very solid and gets bet down to 8/5 this is a race to avoid. Most of the public at the track will just bet any and all races and every favorite. Dumb money will drive down a legitimate favorite to the point where even the trifecta payout is largely affected.
Smart Money Rule #3 – Avoid betting any races where legitimate favorites are bet down with dumb money to unfavorable odds.
In Watergate, Woodward and Berstein were told to ‘Follow the Money’. The opposite exists in situations where dumb money is present. The trick for experienced or casual horse racing betting players is to avoid the money and find valid contenders who are not public darlings. Horses, trainers and jockeys who are hyped by the media generally do not deserve your wagers. This year the hype is underway for horses like Pyro, War Pass and Denis of Cork. Perhaps contenders like Cool Coal Man, Z Humor and Hey Byrn will yield value. In any event, the Triple Crown is certain to offer some great betting races…