In all of sports there may be no more exciting betting game than thoroughbred horseracing. It is a heart-pumping, exhilarating few minutes as you watch the horses go by in the post parade, enter the starting gate, and make a mad dash for the finish line. Even more exciting is the fact that horseracing can be one of the most profitable ways to bet on sports if you understand the basics of racing and learn a few simple steps that will help you identify which horses are ready to win. Make no mistake, it can be a brutal game. Winning consistently requires diligence and study and all the information you can get your hands on.
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Understanding Horseracing – Some General Things you Need to Know
Before you can begin to understand how to pick winners and how to bet on horses, you need to have a basic familiarity with racing itself. Throughout the world, from the United States to Japan and many areas in between, thoroughbred racetracks present literally hundreds of races each day. Some of these races are ran on a dirt track, some on a grass course. The races are ran at different distances, anywhere from ½ mile to a mile and beyond! Races can be ran on dry tracks or conducted in a downpour of rain. Yes, the types of racing are varied, but they all share a common element—the noble and majestic animal we call the thoroughbred racehorse.
Thoroughbred horses are a very special breed of horse. Every thoroughbred throughout the world can trace its lineage to one of three stallions. These stallions were imported from the Middle East to England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. They are:
- The Byerley Turk (circa 1680)
- The Darley Arabian (1704)
- The Godolphin Arabian (1729)
The racing stable of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai in the UAE, is named Godolphin after the Godolphin Arabian that emerged from the desert to help found the thoroughbred breed. Each year, “Sheikh Mo”, as he is known in the racing industry, presents the richest horserace in all of racing. The Dubai World Cup has a $6 million purse! Godolphin has trained many champion racehorse including Street Cry and Moon Ballad .
Take a moment to comprehend this amazing fact. Breeding records are maintained in the thoroughbred industry with such meticulousness that anyone who owns a thoroughbred horse can literally trace which of these three stallion lines their horse came from! As you proceed through this website, you’re going to learn a lot about the importance of breeding in horseracing, but for now just soak in the fact that each time you watch a race you are literally watching the progression of history.
Of all the animals that exist in our world, the thoroughbred is quite unique. A fantastic combination of stamina and speed, thoroughbreds can cover a mile of ground in a little over 1 ½ minutes and run much longer distances before they tire completely. Yet, despite this athleticism thoroughbreds are very fragile and must be handled with extreme care. That is the job of a trainer and his staff.
Trainers are the men and women who are tasked with conditioning a horse for competition. They make sure the horse eats properly, exercises on a specific schedule, and receives preventative and curative medical care. Trainers also choose which races the horses in their care will compete in.
Grooms are employed by trainers to attend to the most basic needs of the racehorse. A groom will clean the horse’s stall, brush it down, place wrappings on the horse’s legs, and walk it over to the paddock on race day in addition to a hundred other small details of everyday care. Of all the people on the racetrack, trainers included, grooms spend the most time with the horse.
The only groom to ever be honored with a statue at the famous Kentucky Horse Park is Eddie Sweat, the groom for the legendary Secretariat. A life-size statue depicts Eddie leading Secretariat to the racetrack during his pursuit of the Triple Crown.
Jockeys are the diminutive men and women who ride a horse in a race. Their job is a dangerous one. Some of them have described it as similar to crouching on the hood of a car traveling at 45 miles per hour! A jockey typically weighs between 108-112 pounds. The average thoroughbred weighs roughly 1000 pounds. As you can imagine, it takes tremendous strength to pilot a racehorse, and jockeys are considered to be among the most powerful pound-for-pound athletes in the world. You can read more about them on our jockeys page.
As you learn more about horseracing, you will encounter other people who play important roles…jockey agents, stewards, breeders, etc…but, to begin, familiarize yourself with trainers and jockeys. You’ll be considering them when you begin handicapping.
The racetrack and racing distance
Horses compete on an oval-shaped racetrack that is slightly banked on the outside. Most American racetracks are a total distance of one mile, but some are longer. Most tracks consist of an outer dirt track and an inner grass or “turf” track.
Along the inner rail of the racetrack a series of colored poles serve the purpose of identifying certain distances. In racing, everything is measured in furlongs. A furlong is equal to 1/8 of a mile. The poles are given names relative to their position to the finish line:
- The 16th pole is 1/16 of a mile from the finish line.
- The 8th pole is 1/8 of a mile from the finish line
- The Quarter pole is ¼ of a mile from the finish line.
- The Half-mile pole is ½ of a mile from the finish line.
There are a few other designations for the poles, such as the 5/8th pole, that you should take time to familiarize yourself with. Knowing the poles is important because this is how a race announcer refers to a horse’s running position during a race. We’ll talk more about the poles in our discussion of handicapping.
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