How to Bet on the Ponies

Growing up, I never visited a horse trail or saw one horse race.
That all changed when I met Kate and married into a horse race-loving family. Rick Surwilo, my father-in-law, had begun going to the racetrack as a teenager with his family. This was a time before lotteries and casinos, and horse racing was the only legal form of gambling, so it was something really different to go and do. His family lived in Connecticut but had bought a tiny home in Woodford, Vermont, and Rick’s dad loved to take the wife and kids to the Green Mountain Race Track in Pownal, only a little ways south of there. They had set up their lawn chairs from the end line, and Grandpa Surwilo would take everybody’s orders and go relay the bets into the tellers.
As soon as I started dating Kate, one of those first, and many romantic, dates was once she took me into the racetrack here in Tulsa. We had an excellent time betting on a couple of horse races while snuggling from the bleachers as a thunderstorm rolled in.
Following Kate and I got hitched, her parents could take us to the horse races every other summer or so, and also gave us poor newlyweds a little scratch to bet with. Rick’s dad had long since passed away, but Gram Surwilo–each inch the stereotypical feisty Italian grandma–still loved to go and bet on the ponies, as she had from the old days in Vermont.
I truly enjoyed these outings with my extended family, and placing a few bets myself, but I admittedly had no idea what I was doing. I mostly only picked the horses with the names I liked best.
So I jumped at the chance America’s Best Running offered me a month or two ago to come see one of the six pre-Kentucky Derby races–the Spiral Stakes–at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, and also get some lessons about how best to bet on the ponies. Kate and I had a great time there and learned a lot. Betting on horses is a lot more complicated than I’d imagined, but it is really a great deal of fun.
Now, I will share some of the fundamentals of what I learned, so that the horse racing neophyte can make the most of the superb spring weather and return to their local racetrack (or the Kentucky Derby! ) ) Feeling as though they know what they’re doing.

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