How to Bet on a Racehorse

A day at the races can be fun – and maybe even profitable – if you know what you’re doing when it comes to placing bets.

By Jenn Webster

Have you ever wanted to place a bet on a racehorse, but became overwhelmed by the thought of it? Wagering at the track, when done in moderation, can be a fun way to spend an afternoon. In honor of the Kentucky Derby today, we have compiled an easy guide to placing bets on racehorses. There’s no bigger thrill than watching the powerful equine you bet on, cross the finish line first!

Thoroughbred racing is the oldest form of organized racing in the world but in North America usually means the horses are flat racing on a dirt or turf surface. Race lengths can vary. In Canada, Thoroughbred racing is seasonal so it’s normal to see many short races at the beginning of the season when many of the horses are not yet conditioned for longer races. Younger animals too, usually run shorter races, taking into consideration the horse’s rate of growth and inexperience. However, some horses (all ages) run consistently better at short distances and these statistics are all recorded – something seasoned bettors note! Depending on the length of the race, Thoroughbreds may run straight sprints or on larger tracks that require them to go around turns.

Quarter Horse (QH) racing is much like Thoroughbred racing, however the race distances are much shorter. There are several different lengths available for these horses, ranging from one furlong (220 yards), to four furlongs (870 yards). Most QH races are straight sprints, which means they must be able to break well from the starting gate.

Standardbred racing is harness racing – the horse pulls a light cart or “sulky” and is driven, as opposed to being ridden. Standardbred horses are either pacers or trotters.


1 – Decide how much money you are willing to bet. The minimum bet is $2, but you can always bet more if you like.

2 – Pick your horse. People pick their horses in a variety of ways. You may like its name, colour, number, jockey or colour of its silks. Many advanced bettors choose their horses based on past performance, the trainer’s reputation or the jockey’s records. Other considerations they might keep top of mind is the type of track, the weather, bloodlines of the horse, or the size and shape of the track. And here’s a pro tip! If you’re ever observing the racers in the paddock prior to a race, the horse that is jumping, rearing or displaying a lot of extra activity is not usually the one you want to bet on – the horse that is calm, cool and collected in the paddock is the one conserving its energy for the race.

Race programs too, give you the information on every horse and every race for the day and they are usually available for a small fee. They can be helpful in picking a horse.

3 – Choose your Bet. Straight wagers are the best type of bets for visitors completely new to the world of racing. When you making this type of bet, you are only betting on one horse.

WIN – This means you are betting on a specific horse, to come in first place.
PLACE – Your horse must finish first or second.
SHOW – Your horse must finish first, second or third.

Odds are something else you’ll want to look consider. These are the numbers appearing beside the horse’s number (displayed in numerous places around the track, in the program, etc.) The more a horse is liked by bettors, the lower its odds are and the lower the pay-out will be. The underdog horses have higher odds and consequently, a higher payout.

4Master More Advanced Bets. Once you are comfortable with how win, place and show works in a basic bet, you may want to move on to a more exotic wager. Here is some terminology you should know:

EXACTA – You bet on two horses to come in first and second, in an exact order.
QUINELLA – You bet on two horses to come in first and second in any order.
TRIFECTA – You bet that three horses will finish in first, second, and third in an exact order.
SUPERFECTA – You bet that four horses will finish, first, second, third, and fourth in an exact order.

Many racetracks like Century Downs in Balzac, AB, even offer Betting 101 classes for free. You can join them and learn about placing exotic bets, multi-race wagers, Jackpot High-5 or Century Down’s own unique wager. Their experts can walk you through the betting basics so placing your first bet isn’t so daunting. Have fun and enjoy yourself!

California Chrome

The 146th running of the Belmont Stakes, the final jewel in Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, will take place Saturday at Belmont Park in the state of New York.

Here, California Chrome will attempt to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978. He showed us he had the speed in the Derby and Preakness, now we’ll find out if he has the stamina to go the mile-and-a-half distance at Belmont. This will be Art Sherman’s first Belmont starter, while jockey Espinoza (0-for-3 in the race) failed in his 2002 Triple Crown bid with War Emblem.

My regular horse industry news feeds have been blasting California Chrome insights all week and I thought I’d share a few of what I found the most interesting in prelude to tomorrow’s race.

Photo by Bill Brine

Photo by Bill Brine

1. Randall Lane at Forbes Magazine writes, “Those planning to actually make money on Chrome by spitting into the face of the underlay are making one of the dumbest bets possible in a horse race,” pointing out the current 3-5 odds on Chrome (meaning you’ll win $3 on your $5 bet), roughly translates to a horse with a 66% chance of winning – odds, which Lane believes are overrated for the horse. A much sounder gamble might be to hold on to your betting stub. The uncashed $2 tickets from Affirmed’s 1978 Belmont win are currently selling on eBay for around $150 — a very solid 12.74% annual return. 


1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault.

2. The Kentucky Derby Facebook Page has been posting vintage photos and great bits of trivia on the 11 previous Triple Crown winners all week. Did you know, for instance, that the 1946 winner, Assault, stepped on something sharp when he was young, leaving him with a permanent limp at a walk or trot. But at a full gallop, Assault was flawless.


3. Also on the Kentucky Derby Facebook Page, you can participate in a history-making share as they encourage you to share this image if you are rooting for California Chrome to win the Triple Crown, and at the same time help the Page break it’s record of 10,936 shares for one post. It’s currently sitting at just under 60,000 shares, so it’s safe to say that record has been shattered.

4. Catch up on Chrome’s past race results at Horse Racing Nation.


5. Check out his in-depth pedigree at this link. There you’ll find that while his sire’s bloodlines trace back to Secretariat, the bottom side displays a Canadian connection with Northern Dancer displaying a few generations back.

6. You’ll find one of the most comprehensive guides to the rest of the Belmont Stakes Contenders at Blood-Horse.


1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew.

7. Also at Blood-Horse take a walk down Triple Crown Racing’s impressive history of icons with their Past Triple Crown Winners, including such icons as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Citation and all of the 11 past winners.

8. A fun read is 10 Things You Might Not Know About California Chrome, including that Chrome was almost called “Seabisquik.” The story goes that when naming their now-famous horse, each of the four co-owners put their favorite name in Steve Coburn’s cowboy hat and had a waitress pick the winner. The options were Lucky at Love (Carolyn Coburn’s name), Big Chapter (Denise Martin’s name), California Chrome (Steve Coburn’s name) and Seabisquik (Perry Martin’s name). The waitress picked California Chrome. Whew.


9. Stay in touch with Chrome’s final up to race day preparations on his Twitter feed and Facebook page. Latest Retweet by CalChrome: “Champs like us. Baby, we were born to run!”

9. Finally, reader Melanie Crouch wrote in to let us know her friend Templeton Thompson has released a song: Bring It On Home California Chrome. Proceeds from every $1.00 download goes to Old Friends, a retired racehorse charity.

There you have it. Enjoy the race tomorrow!

Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale

Long considered to be a marker for the health index of the horse industry in general, the September Keeneland Yearling Sale, in Lexington, Kentucky, wrapped up last weekend with spectacular results, indicating a more-than-expected resurgence in the Thoroughbred racing world.

Gross sales of $280,491,300, the highest since 2008; the sale of 18 yearlings for $1 million or more, the most since 2008; and enthusiastic participation from what Keeneland termed a “globally deep buying bench” resulted in double-digit increases in gross and average, and a record median price.

Glenye Oakford, senior correspondent with Blood Horse Magazine explained what this means for the market and breeding industry, “Obviously, it’s great for the breeding industry, and it’s great for the sales. It’s also good because we saw signs of this, this doesn’t appear to be a fluke, we saw heading into this sale that the general market was pretty good for yearlings, the two-year-old sales this year were good, so it seems to be following a good upward trend, it looks like it is for real.”

Photo courtesy Keeneland

Interestingly and a key point to our western competitive breeding industry, she stated a huge factor in the success of the sale was not only the upswing of the economy, but importantly the smaller foal crops in the Thoroughbred breeding world, which have put supply much more in line with demand.

The current yearling crop comes from an estimated 23,500 North American foals, compared with the 38,361 in the 2005 crop that led to the peak 2006 yearling sale. This year’s North American foal crop — next year’s yearlings — is estimated at 23,000. The 2014 foal crop is projected at 22,000.

Additionally, international trade and a big demand worldwide for American racehorses accounted for the big gains of this sale.

Photo courtesy Keeneland

M.V. Magnier of Irish-based Coolmore Stud purchased the sale-topper, paying $2.5 million for a colt by War Front during the sale’s fourth session. Woods Edge Farm consigned the colt, who is out of the stakes-placed During mare Blading Gold Ring. Incidentally, War Front’s breeding fee in 2013 stood at $80,000, raised from $60,000 the year previous.

Keeneland Sales Director Geoffrey Russell — who warned about overproduction several years ago, now says he hopes there is some increase in the foal crop again, with people who took mares out of production bringing some of them back. He said the foals are needed to serve both domestic and international demand.

On the heels of this important industry-marking sale, it will be interesting to follow the western performance sales coming up this fall and see if our industry breeders have followed the lead of the Thoroughbred breeders.

Photo courtesy Keeneland

Quick stats:

– average price of $102,220 rose 17 percent from $87,330 in 2012. It is the highest average since 2006 and the third-highest September Sale average ever.

– median surged to a record $50,000, up 11.1 percent from last year’s $45,000.

– gross sales of $280,491,300, the highest since 2008.

– 18 yearlings sold for $1 million or more, the most since 2008.

~ with files from Keeneland and

Long-Term Plan For Horse Racing in Ontario

Ontario Racing Commision

Photo by Deanna Buschert

Is there a solution for Ontario's troubled Horse Racing industry? The  Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture and Food says there may be a long-term plan established as soon as this year. The government of Ontario has asked the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel to put forth a plan to get the ball rolling forward for the future of horse racing in the province. The panel has been asked by the province to propose a clear proposal for modernizing the governance and regulation of the horse racing industry, ideas for growing the fan base and providing more wagering options, providing ongoing government support and ensuring animal welfare.

It is expected that a draft plan will be in the hands of the Ontario government, by June 2013. The final plan is to be completed by October of this year and the industry is gratefully optimistic.

The Frankel Phenomenon

September/October Sneak Peek

Coming soon to your mailbox and newsstand, I’m excited to preview the September/October issue for y’all here.

When I watched seasoned chuckwagon driver Chad Harden’s lead horse collapse and the subsequent pile-up of horses, humans and wheels during a heat of the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby on July 12, my heart leapt to my throat. Reviewing it on film, it was unimaginable the humans escaped injury, but fortunately they did. Three horses however, were lost; the Harden family and his barn subsequently devastated and heartbroken. Those immersed in the chuck racing circuit culture know and understand the level of care and love that goes into these animals, where horses are truly a part of the family.

Chad Harden racing at the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby. Photo by Deanna Buschert.

 Just three nights later on July 15, after the last heat of the races, 40-year veteran driver Grant Profit, sold his entire outfit including horses, during a retirement auction at the same barns Harden’s team had pulled out of three days before. A highlight of the sale was the right and left lead of Profit’s team – Forever Grand and Anglian Prince, a pair of former race horses. The 13-year-old Thoroughbreds sold for a combined $179,000 to another experienced driver, Kelly Sutherland. He later stated he felt the two horses who had been “barned together” for many years should stay together, illustrating the value these horses represent to their owners – not only in monetary means, but emotionally as well.

I spoke with Shelly Profit after the sale and she reiterated their devotion to their animals:

“All of our horses that we sold meant the world to us and we spent hours every day with them. Caring for them, feeding, brushing and training, each one of them have their own personalities and likes and dislikes. Even in the winter we would just go out in the pasture with them and they would all come up to us for a pet on the nose, and most of them loved peppermints and that was their treats. They were truly a part of our family, and we miss them dearly.”

A study on chuckwagon horses during races is currently in progress by a University of Calgary researcher who was on the scene at this year’s Rangeland Derby conducting a series of medical trials on the horses. Deanna Buschert’s piece, Scientific Experiment, reveals how that research may help not only chuckwagon horses, but other equine athletes as well.

Max Gibb is confident of the Balzac racetrack’s future. “It will make us the Woodbine of Western Canada,” he says. “And, it will be a big, big boost for horse racing.” Photo by Jessica Patterson

The remains of a track of another sort stands abandoned in a field northeast of Calgary. The Balzac racetrack was destined to restore and nurture the growth of horse racing in Alberta. Instead it dissolved into a field of unrealized dreams. Writer Jessica Patterson spent a good month researching the timeline of how this dream went down for her story, Field of Dreams. There is a faint hope the track will move forward, though on a much reduced scale and with mini-steps. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.

When we came across this photo of Chantal Sutherland in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, we knew we had to include the Ontario born jockey in Jenn Webster’s feature piece, Generation Y Cowgirl. 

With numbers estimated as high as 70 million, Generation Y (those born 1981-1994) is the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce. This group of achievement-oriented individuals are both tech-savvy and conversely, uninterested in the fast track. They’ll gladly trade in the security of a job for a flexible work schedule and doing what they love. They are attention-cravers and motivated by praise and reassurance, whether by mentors or a much larger audience. Outside of the baby boomers, they are the most influential demographic group in our population. I love Jenn Webster’s interviews with four such incredibly driven females, including Chantal, in her story.

 This feature quickly came forward as the subject for this issue’s cover. Thanks to photographer Neville Palmer for his conceptualization of this cover shoot.

Also in this issue, Managing Editor, Dainya Sapergia, also takes a up close and personal look at the relatively underground sport of polocrosse.

Photo by Krista Kay.

Western Lifestyle Editor, Deanna Beckley, together with photographer, Krista Kay, put together an eight page Fall Fashion feature, which simply wowed us all.

Photo by Deanna Buschert.

Deanna Buschert and I enjoyed a positively lovely afternoon hanging out with this gal and her Corgi’s in her incredible western home, and I was able to write about it in my feature, Western Retreat. 

With show season in full swing we covered some of the very many events already completed, took a look at the Calgary Stampede’s Cowboy Challenge champion Jim Anderson’s favorite bit and kicked off a new regular feature, Show Ready, this issue showcasing must-have items every reiner has on their list.

In the realm of horse health, don’t miss our Equine Practitioners Guide, showcasing a selection of the top professionals in the business. As well, we take a look at five favorite equine supplements, get yourself versed on how to recognize and understand lameness, and develop an understanding for why some two-year-olds are shod.

Photo by Larry Wong.

Writer Melissa Sword penned a fascinating piece on barrel racer Gaylene Buff, in her piece, Driven to Succeed. As you will read, this is a competitor with a hard working attitude and intense determination to succeed.

Finally, it’s sale time! Check out the best sales of this fall in our annual Fall Sale Guide. (Be sure you are subscribed to our e-newsletter feed to catch updates on these sales and heads up of late additions.)

We hope we’ve hit the right mix of horsemanship, western culture and style for y’all with this issue. I hope you love reading it, as much as we enjoyed building it.

Horse Racing Economy in Canada

The Ontario horse racing industry is contributing $4.5 billion or 77 per cent of the total annual economic contributions from racing in Canada, according to a new study released today by Equine Canada and Strategic Equine. The Economics of Horse Racing in Canada, an in‐depth report on the horse racing industry on a province‐by‐province basis, identifies the significant economic contributions realized through horse racing in Canada – the industry generates more than 47,000 full-time equivalent jobs and $5.7 billion annually to the national economy.

The racing sector represents a small percentage of the total number of horses in Canada, but a significantly higher percentage of the overall economic contribution that comes from horses in Canada. With 45,000 horses active in the racing sector (five per cent of the total Canadian herd), the horse racing sector provides 26 per cent of the total economic contribution, and a $5.7 billion annual economic impact. Racing in Ontario represents the largest provincial sector for the national racing industry, with more than 68 per cent of the total racing opportunities and 86 per cent of the total purses earned in 2010.

The Economics of Horse Racing In Canada is the first in a series of ‘state of the industry’ reports to be developed by Equine Canada from the 2010 Canadian Horse Industry Profile Study, released in 2011. The 2010 study provided the country with the broadest and the deepest analysis of the national equine industry since Equine Canada first began producing the reports in 1998.

“The demographic and economic information garnered in the 2010 survey provided a wealth of information that is pivotal to demonstrating the contribution of the Canadian horse industry to the country’s overall economic health,” states Mike Gallagher, President of Equine Canada. “Our goal with the national study and related State Of The Industry reports such as this, is to better inform decision‐making and policy development as it affects our industry and our horses.”

“With a short, intense competition career for active race horses, the annual expenditure on products and services for race horses is significantly higher than for most other horses. Horse racing drives demand for specialist equine veterinarians, and equine health products and services that add to the health infrastructure for the horse industry as a whole,” states Vel Evans, author of the study.

“Through all our fifteen years of research for provincial, national and international horse industries, it has been apparent that where there’s a healthy horse racing industry, there’s a strong horse industry.”

“Horse racing in Ontario, and the thousands of men and women who work in this flourishing industry, play a very important role in this national success story,” adds Gallagher. “We strongly encourage the government of Ontario to work with the industry to ensure horse racing continues to grow and prosper. The benefits of this successful partnership are felt not only in Ontario but in every part of Canada, throughout our rural and farming communities, and among the tens of thousands of men and women who work with and care for our horses, or supply products and services to the horse racing industry.”



Kentucky Derby Traditions & Tales

I love this weekend, it's green, the birds are singing, spring has most definitely arrived, and, the Kentucky Derby is tomorrow! Yes, it's the 137th running of Thoroughbred racings first of the Triple Crown races – the Kentucky Derby. I can't wait, and though I think I have my favorite picked, this morning's scratch of Uncle Mo may change it all for me.

Here at the log house, we're still partially suffering from Royal Wedding withdrawal. Far too much of it, that is. Still, we loved the hats of the Royal Wedding, didn't you. If you think the Brits have the outrageous hats market cornered, check these out from past Derby events.

Is it just me, or is there an odd likeness here?

A head-top re-enactment of 2009's race. Why do I just want to eat this hat?

Lost on the way to the Tournament of Roses?

Wearing this hat actually looks like a riot. Of fun, that is.

Check out this link for a slide-show of comparisons of Royal Wedding hats and Kentucky Derby hats. There appears to be no boundaries.

Here's a really great link to the 13 worst Thoroughbred names in Kentucky Derby history, including such memorables as The Winner (who unfortunately didn't live up to his name and finished second to last in the 1896 Kentucky Derby), Degenerate Jon and Air Forbes Won (yes, it really is a bad pun).

Of course the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep, but if that doesn't spin your wheel, offers up nine Kentucky Derby cocktails in this slideshow, from the Wager to the Aqueduct.

If that's too much alcohol infusion for your tastes, you can indulge a teensy bit and pay tribute to the excellent bourbons brewed in the state with a Chocolate Bourbon Walnut Pie. I may have to break down and make this one.

Whatever hat your wearing this weekend, enjoy, indulge, cheer and have a fabulous one and thanks for checking in with Screen Doors & Saddles this week.

First Down Dash Dies at Age 26

American Quarter Horse racing’s most prolific stallion, First Down Dash, died on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, at Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, California. He was 26.

“He laid down and went to sleep peacefully. He was missing Scoop and his sunflower seeds,” said Bonnie Vessels, referring to her late husband, Frank “Scoop” Vessels.

Dr. Ed Allred, the sport’s all-time leading breeder, released the following statement: “First Down Dash is unquestionably the greatest stallion of all time. No horse has had the influence of the great First Down Dash. He was an amazing horse. He was a sire of sires. What an incredible and great career…he was in one word ‘amazing.’”

The stallion was laid to rest at Vessels Stallion Farm on November 26. Bonnie Vessels said that First Down Dash was quietly eating hay in his stall when observed by ranch manager Kevin Dickson at 1 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. Three hours later, the night man observed First Down Dash taking his last breath.

“The entire family is here and First Down Dash is resting with a set of Vessels Stallion Farm’s silks and an ample supply of sunflower seed in the place which Scoop selected some time ago,” said Bonnie. The ranch crew joined the family at the ceremony.

Bred by A.F. Stanley Jr. and B.F. Phillips Jr. out of the Gallant Jet mare First Prize Rose, First Down Dash continued the legacy at stud that started with his own sire, Dash For Cash. First Down Dash went on to surpass many of the all-time records set by Dash For Cash.

From 20 crops to race, First Down Dash has sired 1,163 winners, which includes 224 stakes winners. His progeny earnings stand at more than $73.7 million, easily the highest total of all-time. Among his offspring are 35 champions, including Down With Debt, Dashing Folly, Ocean Runaway, Corona Cash, Corona Kool, Wave Carver, FDD Dynasty, A Ransom, A Classic Dash, Dash Thru Traffic and Royal Quick Dash.

For most of 2010, First Down Dash was on top of the leading sires of money earners list, and he currently is ranked No. 2 with $3.6 million. He is the only stallion with eight horses that have earned more than $100,000 each and the only stallion with five horses who have earned more than $200,000 each.

First Down Dash’s best year on the tracks was 2006 when his runners included 16 stakes winners and earners of $6,560,242. The 2006 runners were headlined by No Secrets Here, the Vessels-bred runner who was the stallion’s sixth All American Futurity (G1) winner; Ed Burke Million Futurity (G1) winner FDD Dynasty; and Champion of Champions (G1) winner Wave Carver.

First Down Dash is the sire of a record six All American Futurity (G1) winners — Royal Quick Dash, Dash Thru Traffic, A Classic Dash, Corona Cash, Falling In Loveagain and No Secrets Here — and a record six Champion of Champions (G1) winners–Wave Carver, Ocean Runaway, Cash For Kas, The Down Side, A Ransom and Dashing Folly. In addition to being a top sire of sires, First Down Dash is also a perennial leading broodmare sire.

On the racetrack, First Down Dash won 13 of 15 career starts and earned $857,256. As a 2-year-old, he won the Grade 1 Kindergarten and Dash For Cash futurities. Then as a 3-year-old in 1987, he had a near-perfect campaign with six stakes victories, including the Grade 1 Los Alamitos and Dash For Cash derbies and the Champion of Champions. He was named that year’s AQHA world champion in addition to champion 3-year-old and champion 3-year-old colt.

The Vessels family requested that memorials for First Down Dash be sent to the American Quarter Horse Foundation in Amarillo, Texas.