Unlike the Double, the EXACTA is expensive, and though the winnings may be high, the likelihood of winning is correspondingly low.
“6-1, 6-3, 3-9, 9-1 twice and 4-7," rapped out the man in front of me in line, checking each ticket as it was flipped toward him by the shiny tichet-machine. The face of the ticket seller was impassive—this was nothing new to him. But I was incredulous.
" I just liked him. that’s all. I remembered his name from somewhere. I guess...”
"What the hell kind of system is that7" I wondered, half-aloud. But the man. in comfortable loafers and the narrow-brimmed hat that marks a true acolyte, shouldered past me. and it was my turn to place an offering on the altar of chance.
"Well, little lady, what can I do for you ?" asked the ticket seller, suddenly all smiles.
"Uh. 6-1, I guess." I stammered, suddenly unsure of my carefully thought-out (that is to say, formed) semi-guaranteed bet, reluctantly handing over my two dollars, never to see it again.
In exchange, the ticket seller punched two buttons and the machine snapped out a little rectangular piece of cardboard, with my chosen numbers stamped on the front along with the newly ominous words, DAILY DOUBLE.
The Daily Double is a two-dollar bet on the first two races of the day. where the object is to pick both winners for the price of one, for possible winnings of 40 to 1000 dollars, depending of course on how many other people liked the same horses you did. Winning the double isn’t so easy I managed to get nosed out of $78 in the photo finish of the second race, but the
returns are high and the investment low, so just about everybody starts off the day with it.
Some, like the man in line ahead of me. bet on several possible combinations, while others “wheel’’ that is, figure one horse as a sure win in either race, and bet all the horses in the other race in combination with it (if you're sure of number I in the first race, you could be 1-1, 1-2, 1-3. 1-4, etc. so that no matter who won the second race, you won the double if no. 1 comes in in the first). I’ve seen big spenders wheel everything to everything in the first two races, but it’s a high price just for a trip to the win window.
In the fifth and ninth races you can bet the EXACTA, a special S3 ticket where you bet the first and second places in the proper order of finish for the same race. Unlike the Double, the EXACTA is expensive, and though the winnings may be high, the likelihood of winning is correspondingly low. General tactics for the EXACTA are finding two (hopefully) or three horses that could win, and betting them in combinations of first and second, as 6-1, 1-6. Some people bet on nothing but EXACTAS, developing whole systems around these two races of the day.
Most of us, however, bet for enjoyment rather than scientific research into the mathematics of probability, and we stick to the one-ticket-a-race scheme. These tickets can be bought in $2, $5, and $50 increments, and you can risk your funds in the various degrees of win, place, or show. A win bet pays off if the horse is first, in approximate proportion to the closing odds. A place bet pays off if the horse comes in either first or second, and pays a correspondingly smaller amount, while a show bet pass if the horse comes “in the money” at all first, second, or third and will return the price of your ticket if not much more.
Then there’s the six-dollar “combo” which bets the same horse to win, place, and show. This is generally a safe strategy, since if the horse shows, you don’t lose much: if it places, you get your money back (which isn’t so bad): and if it wins, you get three payoffs and it’s all gravy.
"But how do you decide which horse to bet on?"
Ah. that’s where your system comes in. Most newspapers have "experts" pick the winners, which assertions appear daily in the sports section. Several individuals and organizations will be happy to sell you their choices at liquor stores, on the road to the track, or outside the gates. When you leave, you’re liable to find you car littered with printed material proselytizing system after system for S5 to $100. And then there’s the Colonel’s $500 Guaranteed Daily Double for only $25, and if you don’t win today, you get tomorrow’s Double free. I always wondered why these systematizers weren't in there betting, but maybe I’m being unfair, maybe they’re truly altruistic.
Like the man who sidled up to me and muttered. "Hey. I’ve got a tip for you," pointing at a little pink sheet of paper with $100 at the top and “TIPSY SUE and LOCO LADY in the Fifth EXACTA bet of the day" below it. "There, you bet that for your exacta, you be sure to bet it now," he said with some satisfaction, sidling off again. It turned out that those were the favorites in the race they didn’t win. either, but I suppose the man got his money’s worth in his own way.
Probably the most information for your money (in this case $1) comes in the Daily Racing Form. The form contains a list of the horses in each race, their jockeys, weights and post positions. It also gives a rundown on past performances, listing over 25 separate pieces of information of each horse’s last 10 races, his breeding lines, owner, trainer and recent workout times. This gives you a basis for comparison of the horses, and with a little practice you can learn to weight each bit of information to find a likely prospect there’s no such animal as a sure thing). Fortunately for the novice, there’s an explanation of the terms and symbols used at the beginning of the form.
There are also five experts' selections for every race, including Sweep’s Graded handicaps (in which every horse is rated) and a consensus of the experts’ picks something to check your own conclusions against. I have a friend who watches this section during the day. seeing how accurate (or "hot") who is. and betting with any expert who is consistently winning that day.
But when your head begins to hurt from all the fine print in the form, you can turn to the program, which contains the only really necessary information for betting the horse’s name, number, post position, jockey and the kind of race (at Del Mar, six furlong, mile, and mile and 1/16lh races are the norm). Trainer and jockey standings are there, too. for those who have favorite combinations or who simply like to bet with former winners. Some people will bet on the jockey regardless of what he's riding Willy Shoemaker is sufficient by himself to bring a 20-1 horse down to 10-1, even if he’s not quite sufficient to bring him in a winner.
If you're stymied by the form, and you don't know Pineda from Jones, you can wander over to the paddock before the race and feast your eyes on the horses as they are paraded before the crowd and mounted by the jockeys, going from there out to the track. If you’re fortunate enough to get a spot by the rail, you can examine each horse at fairly close range. Things to look for are bandaged legs, excessive sweating or jumpy nerves, generally regarded as bad signs. Some people like a horse who keeps his head down, though the last time I bet on one of those, it turned out that he wasn’t confident, he was asleep, and didn't manage to wake up till the race was almost over. A deep chest and long legs are important in a distance race, but here, as with any system, there are no hard and fast rules.
My system is rather simple: I look at the racing form, concentrating mostly on speed ratings, and pick a horse that has a good chance to win but isn’t the favorite (there are times when this wonderful beast doesn’t exist). The advantages of betting this way are twofold if you win. it will pay more than a favorite would, and if you lose, you can always shy. “Oh. it was a crazy bet anyway!”
There are, however, a lot of things to look at and remember in the form. Speed ratings are numbers (usually from 50 to 100) which compare the speed of a horse’s earlier races to the track record for the same distance race.
Some tracks have higher records than others, so a horse that got a 90 (ostensibly very good) rating at Caliente or one of the fair tracks, translates down to an 80 or so for the Del Mar competition. Also when the races were run. the actual time of the race and the weight the horse carried all affect the importance of the speed rating.
And then the odds carry their own connotations. Many people check for last-minute fluctuations in the odds, looking for a possible stable bet or “expert” bet big money going on an otherwise indifferent horse. Almost everyone at the track believes that somebody knows more than they do I can see it in myself. I never know whether to be glad or miserable when everyone in line ahead of me is betting on my horse there go the odds, but what a confidence builder! And then again, a long-shot in a race with a small field (only 5 or 6 horses) is a better bet than a long-shot in a big field. There are those who bet solely on the basis of the odds, regardless of rationality.
But there are always some who will say, “Oh. what a sweet name. I’m going to bet on him!”
This kind of system, which is no kind of system at all. rarely pays off. but when it does, it can be spectacular. There was the newlywed who bet on Boudoir Prince and made $30. and the drunken sailors who bet on Navy Lieutenant wheeled in the double, and won a couple of hundred dollars each....the stories are endless, and every one of them true. But if you hang around the track much, you’ll hear far more of the “I KNEW he'd win. dammit, I KNEW it but”...or “Didn’t I tell you I liked him. huh. Charley, didn’t I tell you he could do it'.’But no, you wouldn’t believe me, you never believe me..."
My father had a system that worked 95% of the time, but after spending hours and hours working everything out, he’d go to the track and bet something else.
I bet on a hunch sometimes, with a defensive “I don't know why I picked him. I just liked him, that’s all. I remembered his name from somewhere. I guess...” before the race and usually a “Well, so much for my instincts!" after.
Then there's the old Ouija Board dodge. Early on in his career with the horses, my father made my older brother and sister chart his betting course with such mystic skills. One night, after sitting up rather late, painstakingly answering questions put to it. the board simply refused to cooperate further, insisting that my brother go to bed.
I don’t remember how reliable it was as a racing system, though I do recall that daddy’s big wins were few and far between. But then, few people win big at all, and the consistent winners are lucky to make their money back.
Astrology gets into the act. too. although it's difficult to get accurate information on the horses (a thoroughbred's official birthdate is January 1 no matter when he was born), so you have to rely on the charts of the jockeys, if anything, and they often ride three or four races a day.
Numerology is much easier, and can be used in any number of ways. Many people bet doubles and exactas using the numbers of birthdays and anniversaries or just consistent pairs. Wait a minute, that’s the answer. That man’s bet has been driving me crazy. trying to figure out what kind of system would give him such disparate pairs for the daily double. Numerology is the answer...it couldn’t be anything else! It must be that he was 6' 1” tall, was born June 5. was 39 years old. had been married on September 1 twice and had four children under the age of 7. Hmm,. an interesting bet. Let's see now. I'm 5’5’’...