Kicking Back with Jersey Joe: The Sport of Kings – A Day at the Horse Race Track Mar04

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Kicking Back with Jersey Joe: The Sport of Kings – A Day at the Horse Race Track

It’s the sport of kings!  Horse racing has been around since well before explorers discovered North America.  While still popular as cheap form of gambling entertainment the industry has been on the decline for decades.  But as I found, the sport is more than just horses running around in a circle.

Recently, I had the chance to spend the afternoon at the Atlantic City Race Course.  A friend chose to celebrate his 30th birthday there.  The track opened in July 1946 and time has not been nice to her.  Now, she stands in the shadow of the casino gaming in Atlantic City.  While still offering full time wagering, the course only hosts a few races in April each year.  The building itself is in serious disrepair and mostly blocked off.  The grandstand is now inaccessible during non racing and half of the main building is barricaded off.  TV monitors and auto pay tellers now fill the mostly empty shell of time.

The AC Race Course is a testament to the decline of the industry in general.  When the track first opened, thousands would pack the gates on a weekly basis.  Now, the place is lucky to have a few dozen visitors inside at any given time.

Since the ancient Greek and Roman times, horse chariot racing would draw crowds of thousands to not only witness the event, but to wager on the outcome.  In early times, you could only bet on the race at the track you were attending.  But, technology has changed all of that.

The first horse racing track in the United States opened in 1665 on New York’s Long Island.  The American Stud Book was launched in 1868, which marked the official beginning of organized horse racing.  By 1890, 314 tracks were in operation.

An anti-gambling movement that banned book making nearly killed the sport completely in the early 20th century.  Once official pari-mutuel betting rules were established, in which participants are ranked and paid in order of finish and paid similar to a lottery drawing, the sport began to increase in popularity.  The creation of the event known as The Triple Crown, a series of three races at The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes; the popularity skyrocketed.

There are many forms of horse racing available, with the most common now being thoroughbred and harness racing.  Some races occur on dirt, others on grass.  Weather can affect a horse’s ability and usually that is a factor in wagering.

As with any sport, there are rumors of a serious dark side.  When horses are no longer able to perform it is said some are ground up for meat, sent out to pasture, or shipped overseas.  However, some online sites argue that the horses are in fact, well taken care of.  It is well known that some jockeys and their steeds will share a deep bond fcan even become like a family.  But rumors of abuse abound, and because of this, organized groups such as the Humane Society and PETA are strong opponents to the sport in general.

I for one, hope these rumors aren’t true.  No animal deserves to be harmed for any reason.  I’m not Betty White, but I am a major animal lover and cruelty to animals in any form is unacceptable.

There are also other dangers possible to both the jockey and horse.  There is a chance that the horse or driver could fall at a high speed and expose the jockey to being trampled.  According to the US Jockey Club, 600 horses died at tracks last year.  More than 100 jockeys were killed between 1950 and 1987.

In the mid-20th century, to wager on horses, fans would have to wait until race day at their nearest track, step up to the window and bet.  With the spread of casinos and simulcast facilities, patrons no longer have to wait to go to the track on race day to place their bets.  Now, betting can be done via satellite, phone, and even internet.  A simulcast facility or casino will broadcast the races from multiple tracks and allow gamblers to bet on any live event occurring that night.  That was the case during our visit to the AC Race Course.  No racing in Atlantic City was done on that day, but we did watch numerous feeds and were able to bet via automated betting stations.

Most wagers normally start around $2.  There are many $1 and even 10¢ bets.  Of course, you can double or wager as much as you would like above the minimum.  Here’s an easy breakdown of what all the wagers and all the numbers mean:

WIN/PLACE/SHOW:  You are betting on which horse will come in first, second, or third.  You can bet on all three or just two of them.  The payback will be more for win (first place), then place (second place), and the least for show (third place).  If you bet only show and the horse finishes first for a win, you win as well and will be paid.  The same works for a place bet.

EXACTA – You are betting which two horses will come in first and second place.  You will only get paid if your two picks come in first and second.  You can box the bet for double the money in case your choices come in the opposite order.

TRIFECTA – You are wagering on which horses will come in first, second, and third.  You can also box this for nine times the bet to cover any order your three picks will come in.  Since this is a much harder wager, the payoff is usually high.

SUPERFECTA – Even harder, you are now betting on all the horses that will come in first, second, third, and fourth.  Many tracks offer a 10¢ wager for this, so $2.10 will cover your four picks coming in any order.

Many other courses offer all kinds of other side wagers, including betting on the winner of three or four races in a row (a pick three and a pick four.)  Wagering in countries overseas can be very different.  Also, some state and local jurisdictions ban wagering all together, while in others it’s heavily regulated.

Looking at the boards, you will also notice an odds screen.  It’s simple, the lower the odds, the more people are betting on that horse to win.  The higher the odds, the higher you will get paid, but that means there is less of a chance for that horse to win.

If your horse is favored 1 to 1, on your $2 bet, you will get your $2 back and another $2 if you bet it to win.  You will be paid less on a place and show bet.  If your horse is 5 to 1, that means you will be paid roughly 5 times your bet.  If your horse is say 3 to 2, do the math… that is less than one and you will be paid your bet plus only one third.  It becomes basic fractions at that point.

With gambling becoming more and more accessible to US residents, the sport is now facing a serious decline.  In an effort to boost revenues back up, many states are opening racinos alongside their current tracks.  Many racinos only offer slot machines, while others offer full fledged casinos with table games.  I was shocked to see the day this happened in my home state of Pennsylvania.  In the next few months, Aqueduct in New York City is expected to open one of the country’s newest racinos.  New York recently closed all of their OTB, or Off Track Betting facilities in an effort for the state to cut costs.

Not all race tracks are in such bad shape as Atlantic City’s is.  Some, are down right beautiful.  New Jersey also has a few other tracks and they are in much better condition and offer many other amenities.  Some feature four star restaurants and attractions that are open all year long.  But, the trend towards adding casino slot machines (hence the term, racino) to the track is working and is keeping many of the older facilities from closing their doors.  New Jersey will need to take a hard look at their race courses and see what they can do to continue to make them profitable.

THE 411

What: Horse Racing

Where: Many states have multiple tracks. Wagering is also available at many casinos, off track betting parlors, and online where legal

Cost: Most wagers start around $2, although there are many options

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: Many of the older race tracks are going to close.  It’s a fact.  We are no longer just heading to the track for an afternoon to place a bet.  It’s an older sport and one that needs to adjust for the modern times.  Adding racinos, restaurants, and betting from other tracks make it much more of a destination.  The tracks themselves, even if they offer racing several nights a week, will not be able to last in our very tight economy.  There has to be more entertainment options than just betting.

I would suggest taking a few hours on a lazy afternoon and visiting the track near you.  Even if there is not a race going on that day, there will be one at another track you can bet on and watch as a silmucast.  I had a great time at the AC Race Course the other week and we were there for hours and hours.  No, I didn’t win, but one guy in our group took home $600 on a lucky bet.  For a small amount of money, you can last a long, long time.  To maximize your bet, keep placing $2 wagers to show.  True, you won’t win as much, but you will get more than your bet back if your horse comes in first, second, or third.  For a better payout, place an Exacta wager for $2 and box.  That is one of the appeals that allow this sport to hang on today.  It can be cheap entertainment, if you play it right.

featured image credit: Paolo Camera