It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the Kentucky Derby. Here are seven tips for keeping sane when wagering at Churchill Downs.
Be prepared: The folks at the betting windows don’t care if you aren’t an expert—but they will mind if you don’t have your bets in order. Be succinct—“Race 11, $2 on #5 to win,” for example—and have your money in hand. Even more so with more exotic bets, even if you’re just starting out. The people in line behind you will also appreciate it.
Look ‘em in the eye: Just like you can tell by looking if a friend is under the weather, you may be able to get a sense of horses to avoid. Take a walk to the paddock if you can and see for yourself which horses seem most up to the task. Bandaged legs? Runny eyes? Look out.
Get with the program: Study the stats. Does your horse do well on a sloppy track, and there are puddles everywhere today? Is it the offspring of a speed demon or did a star trainer train it? You may be in luck. Does it have a history of great starts but then it tends to fizzle out at the end? Take this into consideration. Not sure how to place a certain kind of bet? Read up before you go—or ask loudly for help. People at the track love to share their wisdom.
Go with your gut: Remember Giacomo? Mine that Bird? Longshots, both. Odds of 50–1 may sound like a sure loss, but walking away with an extra $100 on a minimum bet is nothing to sneeze at. If you don’t have anything to go on other than the fact that a certain horse has the same name as your favorite nephew's childhood nickname, try it. You never know.
Don’t feel compelled to bet on every race: Try to skip some races—avoid even reading the racing form for those so you don’t have regrets later. Remember that you’re there to have fun, not spend all your time in line at the betting windows.
Going for broke: Physically restrict yourself to how much money you can afford to lose. Bring cash and a strong-willed friend to carry your ATM card. If you win $600 with the $25 you came with, congratulations! Know whether you want to gamble losing all of it—easy come, easy go, right?—or walk away with a tidy profit.
Go, baby, go: Is it true that if you see a horse, uh, relieve itself before a race, that’s the one to bet on? With five to ten pounds lost per defecation, wouldn’t you feel lighter? More seriously, though, avoid wagering on any horse that hasn’t been in a race in the last month. Just like you wouldn’t run the Mini without training, neither should your pick be out of shape for what may be the most important two minutes of its life.