Retirement - Gangster Style

Horse Racing

Cashmere and Polyester
Who Wins?

It's a Race
Horses are Human Too
The Night Before

At the Track
Meet the Horses

When it comes to sport pageantry, nothing compares to horse races. The perfectly groomed track sets the background. The trumpets, the jockey's colors flashing, and the roar of the crowd fills the air.

Even on rainy days, the majesty comes through. The biggest difference — trainers wear green calf-high mudders, in true British tradition. The picture is one of earthy elegance.

When the race starts, announcers belt out a song that details the horses' progress around the track. Their cadence carries the practiced tone called out for hundreds of years, from Churchill Downs to the summer dirt track at Ferndale. The shrill cry of names like Bar Room Dancer and Eye of Gold lets you marvel at the announcer's golden tongue.

Just being at the track qualifies you for Gangster Style credits. It may be the one place where your spats won't seem out of place.

Cashmere and Polyester

In fact, nothing seems out of place. The grandstand is a mixing bowl. Muted tones of cashmere sit next to plaid polyester. Panama hats and porkpie covers bob through the betting lines.

Behaviors differ also. Some players spend as much time studying their reflection in the betting windows as they do watching the race. Others stare at tip sheets in glazed confusion. Yet others frantically flip through "The Form" while referring to a tattered notebook.

The racing crowd enjoys itself. As a single body they rise when the horses come down the stretch. Mixed with the announcer's call, cries of, "Get up," and "Go baby" ring out from all sides. At the finish line, a combined groan and cheer spills from the crowd.

It's nothing like a hometown sporting event where the crowd groans and cheers in sync. Racing fans are all on different pages, each encouraging their special entry. The overall effect is frantic, edgy, and uncoordinated. Excited, yes; organized, no.

Who Wins?

This motley, err...elegant, crowd is key to your betting strategy.

You place a bet on a horse, but you're really betting against the crowd. It's called pari-mutuel betting and will dictate your handicapping selections.

An example:

In the sixth race at Pine Tree Downs, a ten horse race has three horses that are faster then the rest. Workout times are listed in the local paper, so everyone at the track has the same information. As a result, the crowd distributes their bets across the three fastest horses. Everyone is on even footing.

On the day of the race, however, the morning paper printed a glowing article on one of the three horses, named Ace. In addition, the pick sheets all got on the bandwagon and projected Ace as the winner.

With so much publicity, the crowd bets on Ace to win. The other two choices, as a result, get 20 to 1 odds instead of the proper 2 to 1 odds they deserve.

A $2 bet on one of the ignored horses would net $40. That's a huge advantage, and with a good race from that horse, you would make a nice profit.

Don't worry about the details on the odds. You can learn the mathematics later. The point is that you're betting against the crowd. When the crowd is wrong, you can profit.

That changes things. The crowd doesn't look quite so charming and intelligent. For goodness sake, they're all cheering for a different horse. They're starting to look foolish.


Rick said, "Ha... Everyone at the track has a special system. Some bet on the jockey's colors, others watch the horses' ears. They couldn't agree on whether the sun was shining."

Winning money at the racetrack is about understanding crowd behavior. Many times they will all disagree; other times, they will read the same news article and bet as a flock of lemmings.

In Reality

In reality, winning at the track is not that easy. The track takes a percentage (around 15 - 20%) to fund the purses and maintain the facilities.

Also, many of the betters are pretty sharp. They study past performances and only bet strong contenders.

This doesn't mean that they can't be beat. It means you need to do your homework. Then it's a matter of recognizing when the crowd is correct and has uncovered a critical factor, or if they're headed for a cliff.

It's a Race

What's so hard about picking the winners?

The Racing Form supplies a speed rating for each horse. A quick glance through the listings, and you know the fastest horse. is a race. Bet the fastest horse to win.

That is the main principle — bet on the fastest horse.

Let's say, for example, I raced the guy next door to the end of the street. We were timed, and I won by two seconds. Next time, the margin was three seconds. Clearly, I was faster.

Unless I tripped or was ill, I was going to win. I'd be a good bet.

If, however, the race organizers added twelve other neighbors and made us carry one of the local children. Assuming I'm still the fastest, I'd continue to win, but the bumping and positioning of John junior would become a factor.

Again, the fastest horse is usually the best bet. How could it be otherwise?

Horses are Human Too

When it comes to racing, horses are not that different than humans.

Given a fair race, and I'm the fastest, I'll win. Same with a horse.

Unfortunately, external factors can have an impact.

1. Distance

If they change the distance to longer than the end of the block, I'm in trouble. I'm built more for short bursts of speed, and my endurance is only fair.

Horses are the same. There are sprinters and distance runners. Make sure your selection is in the right race.

2. Mud

I'm part slob, so mud doesn't bother me. The guy down the street, however, he can't run through a puddle without flinching.

Some horses don't do well on muddy track.

3. In Shape

For the last two months, I've been stuck behind a desk and haven't worked out. I'm in trouble for this next race. Conditioning matters.

Make sure your horse has run well recently. If his last good time was last year, wait until his conditioning improves.

You get the idea. It's just a race, and horses are a lot like us. Combine these concepts with common sense and your handicapping decisions will be sound.

The Night Before

If you wait until going to the track to do your race analysis, you're going to have problems. The track is too full of intriguing conversations, screeching cheers, and spectators doing the unexpected. Do your analysis at home the night before.

This means getting a racing form, or The Past Performances newspaper. Newsstands near the track carry copies, and versions can be downloaded online from The Daily Racing Form.

Expect to be confused the first time you look at the form. It has a ton of information. Don't worry, you only need to look at 30%. Once you know where your data is located, the paper is less confusing.

Look for the how-to section in the front of the form. Find the Beyer Speed Rating for each horse in the race. Find the column for distance information. You can profile conditioning based on the horse's last few races. That covers the three main factors.

Feel free to mark up the paper. Cross out the slow pokes and horses running at the wrong distance.

One Horse

If you end up with one horse, you're done with that race. That's your bet.

Two Horses

If you end up with two horses, you may wish to bet one or both to place. If you understand exacta betting, betting them together can be profitable.

Three or More Horses

If you end up with three or more horses, you should consider skipping that race. Stakes races are often like that. A race can have too many good horses. Anyone might win.

If you don't have a favorite pick, skip the race.

As you read the handicapping literature, you'll find additional factors to consider, such as, breeding, the jockey, the trainer, trip analysis, and workout times. Sometimes the information helps with a close call; other times it's confusing.

In the beginning, you might wish to stick with speed, distance, and conditioning.

Again, feel free to skip a race.


Rick said, "My wife is better at the strategic decisions. She can eliminate a horse instantly for being out of shape. I tend to over-think close calls. I've gotten better. It used to take me three hours to work through a day's races. My wife is done in twenty minutes."

At the Track

A day at the track — what a great outing.

If you have your betting picks completed, you can sit back and enjoy the spectacle. With a trumpet announcing the first race, the guy next to you says he has a hot tip, Pork Belly to win in the fourth. Hmm...

Your first decision centers on how you want to spend the day. If you only get to the track once a month, you'll be itching to play several tickets. Feel free to make a silly bet here and there.

An Entertainment Day

For an entertainment day, you might budget $2 for each race. And since it's a lot more satisfying to cash in winning tickets, bet your horses to place.

Even Pork Belly might be worth a $2 try.

A Serious Day

If you're at the Casino for a week, it's a lot easier to settle on one or two races each day. You've eliminated the close contests, and your picks are solid. Unless you're prepared to accept long-term results, betting to place is a good option. A few bucks from the poker room, a few bucks from the sports book — makes it seem easy.

Paper Play

Because the races run whether you've bet on them or not, you can check out your system with imaginary bets. Use The Racing Form to make your selections, and list your picks as if they were real bets. When the results are out, tally up your winnings.

With a profit after three weeks of imaginary play, you'll feel more comfortable laying down a couple of bucks at the track. If you don't do well, you have a chance to adjust your system and clean out those losers.

Home Based

Many states allow online and phone betting. If that's the case, you can take your time and bet only the most advantageous races. If that means two races a week, that's what it is.

Betting from home cuts into your Gangster Style benefits. You're stuck at home, and you miss out on the racetrack characters and weird events. If most of your betting is done in your pajamas, you need to get out more.

Meet the Horses

When you're at the track, you can meet the horses. Before each race the horses parade through the paddock area. A fence position puts you right next to these beautiful animals.

Some handicapping experts talk about gaining insights by seeing the horses up close. If a horse is very sweaty, he's out; big horses are best; light footed, prancing horses are sure to show. And the list goes on.

Of course you want to bet on the fastest horse. But if one gives you the eye from three feet away, how can you not put $2 on it?

After a few times at the paddock, you might get a sense when a particular horse is special. Talk about inside information. Many find these hunches as the greatest lark in sports betting.

A win from communicating directly with the horse earns you top story privileges at the next gathering of your local gangsters.

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