We’re “off to the races” with the opening day of the 154th season of the Saratoga Race Course. If you’re new to the racing scene, here are a few tips to help you get in on the action!
No summer in the Capital District is complete, without a trip to the races, but for the uninitiated, horse racing can come across as a little intimidating. With so many options for bets and odds across almost a dozen races, often newcomers resign to just sitting back and leaving it to the pros. While there’s certainly a terrific time to be had at the track, just enjoying the sunshine and atmosphere, you shouldn’t feel afraid to miss out on the action! We have a beginners guide to make betting simple, fun and easy.
Set a Budget…and Be Ready to Lose It
The first key to a successful day at the races, is to set a budget. Figure out how much you’re willing to spend, and stick to it.
Obviously the dream is to “hit it big” and leave with more money than you started, but unfortunately, that rarely works out. The fun comes in the bets you’ll win, but realistically, those rarely outnumber the bets you’ll lose. Think about your gambling budget less like “an investment” and more like “the price of admission” and you’ll set yourself up to have a much better time.
General Admission vs Clubhouse
Racing fans have a few options for admission. They can choose to sit in the grandstands, or clubhouse seats, or they can sit at picnic tables on ground level, with both options also offering premium pricing for reserved seating.
While movies and TV shows romanticize the grandstands, many locals opt for the low key and informal atmosphere that the picnic tables provide. While reserved tables are available, Saratoga has a long standing tradition of fans reserving tables themselves, by arriving early and claiming them with a tablecloth. Get your tickets here: https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/tickets/
Placing Your Bets
When it comes to placing your bets, you have two options; you can walk up to a live teller, or you can use one of the automated kiosks.
The teller option is pretty straightforward; simply wait for an open window, and describe your bet to the cashier. They’ll take your money and provide you with a receipt.
The only hang up with live tellers, is that there are only so many of them, so you may need to wait to place your bet, especially close to racetime. Automated windows will prompt you for the same information as a teller, and are much more widely available. Just remember that they cannot accept currency directly, so you will first need to convert your bills to credit at the window.
Racing odds are pretty straightforward. They are displayed as “units paid/units staked”. In other words, the first number is how much money you’ll receive if you win, in exchange for betting the second number.
For example, if a horse’s odds are “4/1”, then for every dollar you bet on that horse to win, you’ll receive $5 ($4 in winnings, as well as the return of your $1 bet). Likewise, if a horse’s odds are “3/2”, then you’ll receive $5 for betting $2, or $2.50 for betting $1.
In the case of horses that are heavily favored, you’ll see what are called fractional odds or “odd-on”. These bets are likely to hit, but won’t pay very well. For example, a horse with ¼ odds-on, will only pay $1 on a $4 bet.
It should be noted that there’s also a long standing tradition at the races, of inexperienced fans picking horses based entirely off of their names. While this might not be the most statistically sound approach, it can be a ton of fun…which is what the track is all about after all!
The Basic Bets
Alright, here’s what you really came for. You’ve got your seat, you’ve picked out your horse, you’re at the window; what do you do now? There are a ton of different bets you can place in horse racing, but as a beginner, there are really only three you need to focus on.
- Win – The most straightforward bet in the game. You’re betting that your horse will win the race.
- Place – You’re betting your horse will finish either first or second. Obviously this is a lot more likely to hit than “win”, so the bet doesn’t pay quite as well.
- Show – You bet the horse will “show up”; or finish first, second or third. Again, a much more likely option than “win” or “place”, so expect the payout to be significantly less.
There you have it! These tips really just scratch the surface of bets you can do at the races, but there’s plenty here to provide challenge and fun in one of our area’s greatest treasures!