“A Day at the Races” was a popular Marx Brothers film from the late 1930s that used a horse racing theme, and for young people of that time and later, was often their first introduction to the goings-on at horse racing tracks. In fact, many of the scenes in the film were shot at the Santa Anita Racetrack, the venue of many triumphs by wonder horse Seabiscuit and home of the “Hundred Grander”, a well known handicap race. From the film, we get the stereotypical image of a row of $2 betting windows where wagerers can buy their pre-race tickets. Not much has changed in the way on-site horse race betting is done, and A Day at the Races today is still charged with fun and excitement just like in the good old days.
Once you arrive at a horse racing track, take the time to study the race schedule, and if you like, the Daily Racing Form. At most tracks, the betting windows open 30 minutes before the first race of the day, and you may bet on any of the day’s races after that time. The people working behind the windows are called Mutuel Clerks, after the pari-mutuel nature of the wagering and payoff system employed by the vast majority of racetracks. Here’s where things can become more complicated, and the pressure of a lineup behind you doesn’t make the process any easier. For this reason, it’s best if you’re a relative novice to place your bets as early as possible before the race.
When it’s your turn, state the nature and particulars of your bet or bets to the mutuel clerk in the following fashion:
1) The name of the track, if there is more than one at that particular location.
2) The number of the race.
3) The monetary amount of the bet.
4) The type of bet, for example Win, Place, Show or an exotic bet like an Exacta.
5) The number of the horse.
Reeled off one after another, your bet may sound like this: “Main Track, Race 1, $2 to Win on #4” or “Santa Anita, Race 5, $5 Exacta, #3 and #7”. Pay the clerk, collect your ticket, and sit down in the grandstand to enjoy the race – and good luck!