By Jennifer Morrison
Imagine the days when the Ontario Thoroughbred racing season ended and there was no place to watch and wager on winter racing (without travelling to a track that was still in action) until the end of March. Yep, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s when off-track betting shops in New York State started popping up closer to the Canadian border.
I visited my first OTB in Niagara Falls, N.Y. during that time and frequented the “little shop on main street” as much as I could when the weather allowed.
Off-track and simulcast, locations arrived in Ontario in 1993 when the first one, under the “Champions” teletheatre banner opened at the Doctor’s House restaurant in Kleinburg, ON.
Teletheatre locations are plentiful today but now we don’t even have to go there to play the races year round, virtually 24-hours a day. We can watch and wager on races all over the world on the computer, television and place bets on the phone.
Playing races off a screen is convenient but can also be trickier than if you were trackside. Let’s look at some relevant topics:
We love horse racing and we love every handicapping puzzle. But it is virtually impossible to come out on the plus side of the ledger if you attempt to wager on every race, at every track that comes up.
It is a better idea to have a game plan before settling down to a day of simulcast wagering; pick out the tracks or races you are interested in ahead of time or focus on one or two tracks. Sure, with so many tracks available on one any afternoon, you don’t have to sit around and wait 30 minutes for the next race to go off, it is still a better bet to pick your spots.
The one advantage of multi-track simulcast wagering is that should your favourite circuit be washed out by rain - and a sloppy track has led to many scratches, you can switch your focus to your back-up track.
Knowing what your specialty is - stakes races, turf, claiming races or maiden races - is also important to consider as you lay out your wagering strategy for the day. Being prepared for the afternoon’s action will help you avoid frantically slapping down a bet just to have ‘action’.
Know the track
You may not know the track you are playing on simulcast as well as you know your own track but some advance work and observing the early races of the card can be helpful.
There are nuances of any track surface that could change on a daily basis; was there a strong speed bias three weeks ago when a horse you like today tried to come from far off the pace?
This is where utilizing some of the loads of information that can be found on the internet can come in handy and much of it is free. Charts of every race from every track can be found at Daily Racing Form
(www.drf.com) or on the statistical provider for DRF, Equibase
(www.equibase.com). Take a look at the running lines and chart comments of the winners and note what the odds on the winners were - could there have been a track bias on that day?
It helps to know the betting menu and takeout rates of the tracks you are interested.
For example, at Woodbine, there are two Pick 4 bets, one of the most popular wagers, and those bets start on the same races most days. During winter meetings such as Gulfstream or Aqueduct, there are not only Pick 4’s but Pick 6’s, rolling ‘Doubles’ and a litany of other bets. Some have minimum outlays of less than $1.00 (Woodbine has 20 cent wagers) but usually not lower than 60 cents.
Serious players will note the takeout rates (how much the track takes out of each dollar wagered) on various bets and play accordingly. Wagers that have large takeout rates (for instance, 25%) are avoided by the big bettors.
Getting a good look
The drawback of watching and wagering at a simulcast teletheatre, on the computer or in front the television is that you are not seeing the horses in person. That makes it difficult to get a good look at these beautiful athletes, an integral part of successful wagering. Most tracks do have good coverage of the paddock, post parade and warm up, so that you should see your horse of interest at least two or three times.
Andy Beyer, in the DRF publication “Bet With the Best” said, “A bettor depending on television for all his information will surely lose some wagers because he didn't know that a horse dumped his rider and ran off in the post parade or that a sudden shower just before post time made the track wet-fast".
An interesting example occurred recently at Gulfstream on Jan. 10 when, once the final Pick 4 of the afternoon had started, two races in the sequence were taken off the grass when the rains came.
Bettors are often protected in some way and the Pick 4 players received ‘alls’ on every horse in those grass races, but the sloppy surface made another of the middle races a crapshoot.
Virtually every racetrack has its own form of simulcast show before and during the race card. If you are a faithful follower of certain handicappers, you may want to be tuned in at noon or earlier to get a rundown of the races and some picks from the handicappers.
The show hosts are then often on before each race as the horses get saddled and make their way to the track. Some will have a person placed in the paddock to alert viewers to any unsettled horse or other observations.
As with write-ups in the DRF or the track program, you won’t need someone telling you where the horse finished in his last race and other obvious points. A good on-track handicapper will provide more detailed information about the horse’s most recent races such as trips and race set-up.
Time is not necessarily on your side
If you are playing the races from home on the computer or phone, remember that there can be signal delays of many seconds because of satellite signals and the like. A field of horses could be entering the gate on your screen and you could be putting your ticket together only to find that when you place the bet, the windows have closed.
There is also always that possibility of a technical malfunction or slow internet so be ready, early.
Horses to Watch list
This may be one of the most valuable tools for the casual or regular horseplayer who wants to play an out-of-town circuit.
In the 1980s, we had to scribble down horses named we watched get into trouble in a race and then scour the entries for the next time he raced. Today, we can simply punch in a horse’s name on free services such as Horse Watch at www.drf.com or Virtual Stable, a product at Equibase, and be alerted to when the horse is entered or if he had a workout.
Following a horse who had a troubled trip or a hot trainer (the services also have trainer watches) can provide you with some key wagers.
Statistics on trainers can be found in many places but are easily seen in the expanded track program or in DRF. The importance of tabbing how a trainer typically does with, say, long layoffs (longer than 180 days), or first-time stretching out to a route distance, etc. is crucial to having success when playing out-of-town tracks. Some of these stats are found in the daily publications and can be useful.
Some trainers excel in certain categories and a more in-depth study for each trainer can be found on the DRF Formulator service, which has a fee but is an invaluable tool. Formulator gives you access to replays, charts, trainer statistics and pedigree all with a click of the mouse.
Formulator also offers a ‘notes’ section where you can include your own thoughts on a horse which will come up any time you download a race card.
Give Yourself a Chance
Finally, in addition to playing races to your strength, consider the differences between certain race meetings. For example, the Gulfstream winter meeting is one of the toughest to handicap all year with horses coming in from all over North America, horses coming off layoffs and first-time starters, some of whom could be Kentucky Derby contenders.
The big stables, such as that of Todd Pletcher, will attract a lot of attention and will be low odds and then win a lot. But the longshots roll in with great frequency also. It is a tough circuit with a huge daily handle and the biggest bettors in the world are playing against you.
Conversely, a meeting such as Laurel or Oaklawn Park may not be as daunting simply because the horses racing there are mostly locals to the meeting. There is no grass racing and the pool sizes are considerably smaller than that of Gulfstream.
Clip out these reminders and tips for use on your next day of wagering from the comfort of your own home or at one of Ontario’s Champions telethreates and it’s a good bet you will have a better chance of winning.
(Live Thoroughbred racing returns to Ontario in early April and Quarter Horses in May. Standardbred racing is on-going in Ontario year-round.)
For an up-to-date list of Ontario teletheatres, visit http://ontariohorseracing.ca/Learn-About-Horse-Racing/Off-Track-Betting-Locations.aspx