Like life, every race has a start, a middle and an end. Also like life, all can be disastrous.
On the flat, virtually all races use starting stalls in a determined but still sometimes failed attempt to get the horses off on level terms. Having been driven 200 miles to the racecourse, a horse sometimes refuses to go into the stalls although he is perfectly happy to be driven 200 miles back home for dinner.
It is not unknown for the stalls to open and an occupant to stand perfectly still, as content and untroubled as his rider is the opposite.
More commonly, a horse emerges, slowly, resulting in an analyst’s final comment, ‘Started slowly, faded.’
At some tracks, over certain distances, the horse’s draw – the stall it is allocated – can be very important. Stalls are numbered from the inside running rail, so the horse drawn nearest to the rail is in stall 1. At Chester and Beverley, for instance, particularly in sprints, over five or six furlongs, a low draw bestows a significant advantage. Horses drawn badly have a tendency to fall sick and be withdrawn with a vet’s certificate. If they run, it is part of a jockey’s expertise to exploit a good draw or overcome a bad one.
Reading the race
Interpreting what is going on, is a skill that takes a while to acquire. At a higher level, it involves knowing the characteristics of individual horses. Whether or not they are likely to be suited by the distance of the race, by a fast fun race, by the conformation of the track and the state of the going. Some horses perform best when making the running, preferably without being harnessed by another horse. While others, particularly those with a ‘‘turn of foot’, the ability to accelerate, are more likely to be ‘held up’ and brought with a ‘late run’.
Jockeys prepare for a race by trying to work out how it is likely to unfold. Which horses are likely to make the running? What is the pace likely to be? What tactics should the jockey adopt, to maximise his chance of success?
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Often referred to as the ‘parade ring’, the paddock is where the horses running in the forthcoming race are paraded for racegoers to get a proper look at the field. It is also to get the animals moving and more relaxed in a frantic environment. The ‘pre-parade ring’ is effectively the same but is hidden somewhere out of sight of the cameras and the horses are not kitted out with their racing equipment etc.
You may here a term like ‘paddock pick’ from time to time. This is essentially someone with knowledge (supposedly) assessing a horse’s movement and demeanour in the parade ring. If they are judged to be moving well, then this is a good thing. If a horse becomes sweaty, or noticeably anxious, then this is deemed negative to its chances of winning.
When talking in the context of a racecourse, this is where the horses are kept before and after races. It is here where a vet will assess them for pre and post race injuries. They will also eat and drink according to trainer instruction. The paddock is the last place that the horse will be in away from the gaze of the racegoers, and as such is usually the last place where they are calm.
Traditionally an integral part of the racing experience, bookmakers with names like Jolly Joe, loud check jackets, and voices like foghorns used to shout the odds and hand our colourful cards as receipts. While their clerks entered the bets in their ledgers and tic tac men, standing on orange boxes, waved their white gloved hands in signals of the trade, communicating changes in the horses’ prices.
How to bet with a bookmaker
There is nothing to be afraid of, apart from losing your money. Walk up and tell the racecourse bookmaker which horse you would want to back. You used to say the horse’s name, and still can, but racecourse bookmakers go by numbers now, so the horse’s race card number will do.
To back a horse to win, simply say ‘£4 win number 7, please’ provided the minimum stake is not £5. You will be given a ticket with the details of your bet, including the odds and how much you will receive if the horse wins.
To back a horse each-way, say ‘£4 each-way number 7, please.’ In effect, it is two bets – £4 to win and £4 for a place, making the total stake of £8. If you only want to spend £4, you need to bet £2 each-way.
Each-way is a simple and popular bet, complicated by the fact that whether or not a horse is placed, as well as the odds applied the the place part of the bet, vary according to the number of runners and whether or not the race is a handicap or non-handicap.
Place terms can vary and you should look at the bookmaker’s board to see what they are.
Races with five to seven runners – one quarter the win odds for places one and two.
Races with eight or more runners – one fifth the win odds for places one, two and three.
Handicap races with 12 to 15 runners – one quarter the win odds for places one, two and three.
Handicaps with 16 to 21 runners – one fifth the win odds for places one, two, three and four.
Handicaps with 22 or more runners – one quarter the win odds for places one, two, three and four.
Be vigilant when backing a horse each-way in a race where there is an odds-on favourite, particularly in non-handicap races. At the standard terms, there are often attractive bets to be struck in such races and bookmakers protect themselves. Either by not offering each-way bets on the race, or by offering, say, one sixth or one seventh the win odds a place rather than one fifth the odds.
You place your bets at Tote ‘windows’, giving the race card not the name of the horse you want to back.
There are two main differences between betting with a racecourse bookmaker and with the Tote. First, Tote bets are pool bets. All the money bet goes into a pool. The Tote takes a percentage and the balance is divided between the winning tickets. The odds are determined by the size of the pool and the number of winning tickets; the bigger the pool and the fewer winning tickets, the higher the dividend. When you place your bet, a screen will show the dividend for each horse at that moment but it might change by the time the race starts.
Second, as well as win and each-way bets, the Tote allows you back to back a horse just for a place.
Types of bets:
Exacta Select the first and second horse to finish, in the correct order.
Trifecta Select the first, second and third horse, in the correct order.
Placepot Select a horse a horse that is placed in each of the first six races.
Jackpot Select the winner of each of the first 6 races
Scoop6 Select the winner of each of the six selected Saturday races. A consolation dividend if all your selections are placed, and a bonus to aim with six winners.
Not all of these ‘exotic’ bets are available on every race, nor every day. In the case of some bets, the pool is rolled forward if there are no winners. This sometimes produces very big pools for the Jackpot and Scoop6.
The Placepot is a very popular bet, providing an inexpensive interest throughout the afternoon (or, at least, until one of your selections is unplaced). You will be amazed at how many times 5 of your 6 selections are placed. It’s almost a rule.
Furthermore, you can have multiple combinations of selections, increasing your chances of winning but also increasing the cost, which can be as small or as large as you choose.
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Heading for a day at the races? wondering what to expect? Other than high class equine sporting action and a fantastic day out, there’s a whole host of things to see, do and experience.
It is advised that you research the programme for the day prior to arrival for directions and timetable of events. The gates will usually open 2 hours before the first race, and there will be roughly a 35 minute interval between each race. Full details of the day and what to expect at the races can be found on the racecourse website.
Aside from the horse racing, there are numerous bars and food stalls available for the general public, as well as formal restaurants and lounge areas for the more premier enclosures. On-course bookmakers are available to accept bets as well as betting shops who are willing to take a wider range of bets. Some summer venues entertain after the day’s racing with live music, which can be a perfect end to a fantastic day.
Your day at the races:
Visit the Parade Ring – This is where the jockey’s receive their instructions and mount the horses before the race. The perfect time to assess a horse’s physique and condition prior to the race. Read more about the Parade Ring here.
Place a bet – Head down to the betting ring to place a bet. Experience the high paced, exciting atmosphere where money is made. For more information on how to place a bet click here.
Get Track-side – Where better to watch the race, than by the finishing post? Watch the drama unfold from the most exhilarating spot on the entire course. Get up close to the mighty athletes as they pass the finishing post at speeds of 40mph.
Visit the winners enclosure – After cheering the winner home, celebrate with the owners at the winners enclosure where the winning horse is paraded. The owners collect their trophies and continue the celebrations with pictures and applause.