The sport of kings, like most things, is being taken over by technology. But fear not horse racing fans, the art of placing a wager in person at the betting window is alive and well.
If you're betting on the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs Racetrack on Saturday, you better know what you're doing. The handicappers around you and tellers taking your bet, despite all their Southern charm, have no tolerance for uneducated wagerers slowing down the line.
The first thing is to be certain you have the right amount of cash ready. This means really knowing how much a bet costs. It's not as easy as it sounds. For instance, a $2 trifecta box costs $12, not $2.
Reduce the chance for error by writing your bet on your program in the order you'll say it. You might want to use a pencil in case you get a hot tip on the way to the betting window and need to make a quick change. Take your program with you in case one of your horses scratches (isn't racing) so you can quickly find the number of a replacement horse to bet on.
So, walk up with your bets written on your program. Then, here's what you say:
1. The number of the race you're betting. If it's The Derby you can just say that. No need to say "In the 11th race."
2. How much money you're betting.
3. The type of wager. That can be anything from "to win" to "superfecta wheel."
4. The horse(s) you're betting on.
For example, if you want to bet $4 on Carpe Diem (#2) and Dortmund (#8) to come in first and second respectively you would walk up to the window, with money in hand, and clearly state:
"In the Derby I would like a $2 exacta on 2 and 8 please." Not so hard right?
If you really love one horse, like American Pharoah (#18) but you're not so sure he'll win, you might consider betting "across the board." That means you're in the the money if he finishes first, second or third. It will cost three times the amount you say. For that wager you say:
"In the Derby I would like $2 across on 18 please." This bet costs $6.
You can make as many bets as you like at one time. You can also bet on multiple races. There are actually 13 races at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.
Don't know whom to bet on? You should know that post 10 is the winningest starting spot at the Derby. This year, that number belongs to Firing Line. Post 17 is the only spot that's never started a Derby winner. Mr. Z will be wearing the unlucky number this year. Or maybe just bet on the bay? There's a reason for that line in Stephen Foster song. Bay-colored horses have won the Kentucky Derby 60 times, more than any other color.
After you deliver your bets, the teller says the total cost at which point you hand over your cash and you'll get your ticket. Put it in a safe place because this is the only proof of your wager. Do not lose it and, for goodness sake, don't throw it away until the race results are deemed "official." The people scouring the ground for discarded winners know well how often people don't wait for the official results and accidentally discard winning tickets.
If you win, all you do is take the ticket to the window and they'll count out your winnings.
Sure, you could do all this on an iPhone app but nothing beats the thrill of waking up to a betting window and shouting a series of bets like a pro.