Win, Place or Show

For some people, betting on horse racing is a lifetime occupation.

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This is often the case of individuals who grow up near a race track. They start off by going to the track, hanging around the paddocks, talking to trainers, jockeys and hot walkers.

They become familiar with the horses and the odds. They learn about overlays and how trainers operate. They even find out about trainers who will juice their horses -- give them an illegal shot to help them win at long odds. It's all part of horse racing.

The real question I have developed over the years is how do you bet on a horse?

Do you bet the animal to win, place or show? Do you hook the horse up with another in an exacta or trifecta, or do you bet the daily double to get a better return on your money?

Pittsburgh Phil was a famous gambler who grew up near Pittsburgh, PA. He supposedly won millions of dollars at thoroughbred race tracks around the country. He won his money in several ways-- by learning of secret workouts, by knowing which horses were in condition, and by fixing races.

Phil also came up with a theory that proved lucrative for him. Instead of betting on a horse to win, he bet on it to place.

A show bet rarely returns much money, especially on a favorite. But betting the horse to come in second often gives the gambler a much better return on his investment.

I used to frequent the race tracks like Turf Paradise in Phoenix, AZ. or Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, or Gulfstream in Florida. I lost a lot more money than I won.

People call horse racing the Sport of Kings. I saw many more paupers than kings at the race tracks.

I tried to analyze why I was losing. The best answer I came up with was that I bet too many races.

The people who own race tracks are aware that while you can win a race or two, you can't beat the races. That's why they throw in cheap claiming and maiden races with these allowance and stakes races where the top horses run.

The 2018 Kentucky Derby is a good example of what I mean. During the days before the race was run, I saw a television clip showing the favorite Justified in action.

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Justified was a beautiful roan that reminded me of Rincon, a horse I came close to buying. It was sleek, full of energy, and looked magnificent.

I had ridden Rincon and kicked the horse into a gallop. It was so fast it scared me. I eased back the reins because I wasn't sure I could stay on if Rincon ran at its top speed.

The same is true of the best horses in Stakes or Allowance races. It is much easier to handicap such a race than it is to figure out which animal will win a cheap claiming or a maiden race.

When Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon starred in 'The Odd Couple,' Walter, a veteran horseplayer, takes Jack to the race track. There he proceeds to give his roommate a lesson in handicapping. He loftily tells him that he can bet a horse to win, place or show and if the horse comes in, he wins.

He also explains that he can collect a lot more money on a win ticket than on a show ticket. Goggle-eyed, Jack says, 'You mean I win if my horse comes in third?' Cynical Walter nods and says, 'Sure, Felix.'

He proceeds to bet the horse to win while Lemon wagers on it to show. Matthau loses and Lemon wins. It goes on that way all afternoon and Matthau loses all his money while Lemon collects a small profit.

I had a strong feeling Justified would win the Kentucky Derby and tried unsuccessfully to find a bookie to make a bet. Unfortunately, I did not find one. Justified won the race and paid $7 for each $2 wagered.

My advice to my readers is to handicap the best races and stay away from the secondary ones. Bet your selection to win rather than show. Good luck. Let the races begin.

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