Growing up, I never visited a horse trail or saw a single horse race.
That all changed when I met Kate and married to some horse race-loving family. Rick Surwilo, my father-in-law, had begun visiting the racetrack for a teenager with his family. This was a time before lotteries and casinos, and horse racing was the only legal form of gambling, so it was something really different to go and do. His family lived in Connecticut but had bought a little home in Woodford, Vermont, also Rick’s daddy loved to take the wife and children to the Green Mountain Race Track in Pownal, just a little ways south of there. They had set up their lawn chairs by the finish line, and Grandpa Surwilo would take everybody’s orders and move relay the stakes into the tellers.
When I started dating Kate, one of those first, and most romantic, dates was once she took me into the racetrack here in Tulsa. We had an excellent time betting on a couple of horse races while snuggling in the bleachers as a thunderstorm rolled in.
Following Kate and I got hitched, her parents could take us to the horse races each other summer or so, and even gave us poor newlyweds a tiny scratch to wager with. Rick’s father had long since passed away, but Gram Surwilo–each inch the stereotypical feisty Italian grandma–loved to go and bet on the ponies, as she had in the previous days in Vermont.
I truly enjoyed these outings with my extended family, and placing a few bets myself, but I admittedly had no idea what I was doing. I mostly only picked the horses together with the titles I liked best.
So I jumped at the chance America’s Best Racing offered me a month or two back to come see one of the six pre-Kentucky Derby races–the Spiral Stakes–in Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, and also get some lessons about how to bet on the ponies. Kate and I had a great time and learned a lot. Betting on horses is a lot more complex than I had imagined, but it’s really a fantastic deal of fun.
Today, I will share a few of the fundamentals of what I heard, so that the horse racing newcomer can make the most of the wonderful spring weather and go down to their local racetrack (or even the Kentucky Derby!) Feeling like they know what they’re doing.
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