By Gene Kershner
Thursday afternoon was a beautiful day to spend at the track and I found myself in the comforts of Finger Lakes Race Track watching a card full of $5,000 - $15,000 claimers. I was with my childhood best friend from Syracuse who met me halfway for a round of golf and his maiden voyage to a horse racing venue.
Bringing potential new fans to the race track and teaching them the art of wagering is a great way to get people excited about horse racing and the thrills it can provide over an afternoon of sunshine, adult beverages and cashing a few tickets. By mid-afternoon my friend hadn't cashed a ticket but was getting the hang of the game.
We played a joint trifecta ticket (I was forced to put my money where my mouth was) keying a favorite over three horses, an easy bet to teach when you have a pretty solid favorite and we cashed. The important thing when bringing a potential new fan to the track is to make sure they cash at least one ticket. Well we took the $12 that we bet and the $5 that we won and we rolled it into a $17 show bet on a horse named Winco in the 5th that proceeded to close hard down the stretch for second, doubled our money and produced some high-fives. Mission accomplished.
It was only a few bucks, but I could see that he was hooked to at least give the track another try again someday, whether it is at the Finger or Saratoga. Going to the track with a bunch of friends and creating a show pool like we did is a good way to introduce potential fans to the game and ease them into the betting without going too deep into how to read the form.
I spent some time educating him on certain things on the form like speed figures, wins at the distance, running lines and the type of horse (early pace, stalker, closer) each runner was, but could see that it was starting to intimidate him and we just stuck to the basics. Learning how to call out a bet is just as intimidating to reading a racing form.
In the "new thing happened to me at the track" category, I cashed the strangest and perhaps, luckiest Pick-4 (P4) ticket of my wagering lifetime during the card's early Pick-4. It was the first time in history I cashed a P4 with only two winning horses on my ticket crossing the finish line. How does that happen?
My ticket was a $12 play for $0.50 (4x2x3x1) with a big single in the final leg to heavy favorite New York Tough. It got off to a rousing start when 9-Seek to Destroy won the first leg paying $8. The second leg is where things got interesting. I had two horses, neither whom won as 5-Afuwa finished third and 8-Contender's Queen had issues getting out of the gate and finished last. I thought the ticket was dead until I heard announcer Tony Calo say that the stewards were reviewing the gate break and decided Contender's Queen did not have a fair start and deemed him a non-starter.
Well that meant that my bet on Contender's Queen transferred to the post time favorite, 6-Kicken Livi, who just happened to win the race. Boom, I'm still alive. Things then began to really get strange.
In the third leg I had three horses, including the 9-Head Spin was around 7-1 at post time. For the third time on the day there was an issue at the gate and the track veterinarian decided to scratch the 1-horse, Axspect the Best, who was not on my ticket. However, he was a coupled entry with 1A-Alpha Galpha Amber, so the stewards determined that he would run for purse money only and would not be a wagering interest. When 1A-Alpha Galpha Amber finished ahead of Head Spin, I thought my ticket was dead for the second time and even uttered a bad word.
Fortunately, he was only running for purse money and my 9-horse was put up as the $15.40 winner. Holy Toledo, batman, the racing gods were with me. At this point there is no way my single can win. I've received all the racing luck that any one individual could have.
Live in FL P4 due to a non-starter and a coupled gate scratch in middle two legs -- no way my single wins, right?— Gene Kershner (@EquiSpace) July 10, 2014
The P4 will-pay if 8-New York Tough wins was $67.12, a $55 profit on my $12 investment. No hedging for me, if he wins, I win. God bless that nice New York Tough, who won by a cool 8 1/2-lengths running away from the field, eliciting more high-fives and a nice cold beverage.
I've had my share of bad beats and losing photo finishes. Let's just say I won't be complaining the next time either happens to me.
Sometimes you step in the mud and pull out a $20 bill. On Thursday afternoon at the Finger, it just happened to be a bigger one.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.