The Chili Parlor


For shear entertainment, there's not much that can beat a day (or night) at the races. Whether you're viewing the races over dinner and drinks at a table in the Club House Restaurant, or takin' it all in from the grandstand with a group of rowdy friends, you can bet that a good time will be had by all. And lets face it, betting is an intrical part of the festivities. Unfortunately, a lot of people are intimidated by the betting process and are too embarrassed to ask what all the terms mean so they can get the most out of their racetrack experience. Obviously, we're not suggesting that this article will prepare you to go head-to-head with the likes of Nathan Detroit or Nicely Nicely. We're talking the basics here. Hopefully, we can give you a few pointers that'll not only make you feel right at home in the homestretch, but increase your odds of walking away a winner. But, win or loose, we hope the information you'll take away from this article will help you understand what's going on around you at the track and so, you'll enjoy the experience that much more.

Like anything else you attempt in business or for pleasure, the going's a lot easier if you know some of the terms used in your new endeavor. So, the first thing we'll do is give you a glossary of some of the terms you should be familiar with.

Asterisk (*)
When found next to a jockey's name or the weight the horse is to carry (in the racing form or program) means the jockey is an apprentice rider. These apprentice riders are called "bug boys" because of the asterisk next to their name.

This is the straightaway on the far side of the track.

Blinkers The eye cups on the blinkers block the horse's side and rear vision.

Chalk (Horse)
The favorite or most heavily bet on horse in a race. The term "Chalk" comes from the days when bookies chalked the odds on slateboards.

An extension of the homestretch or backstretch straightaways used when the distance of the race would otherwise cause the race to be started on a turn.

Clubhouse Turn
This is the turn to the right of the grandstand. The Club House is usually to the right of the grandstand and hence the name.

The silk (or nylon) cap and jacket worn by a jockey. Each distinctive pattern is registered by the horses owner with The Jockey Club and the state racing authority. This is a tradition that dates back to England in 1762.

A male Thoroughbred under the age of five. Once past the age of five, he becomes a horse.

The mother of a Thoroughbred.

Dead Heat
In the case where the photo-finish camera shows two horses exactly tied at the finish line, the race is declared a dead heat or a tie.

Eighth Pole
The pole that sits one eighth of a mile from the finish line.

Entry (also called "Coupled")
If two or more horses in the same race are owned by the same stable or trained by the same trainer, they are called an "entry" and "coupled" as one betting unit. This being the case, a bet on one is a bet on both or all.


This is a blacksmith who specializes in shoeing horses.

Far Turn
The turn off the backstretch.

Hold on to your hat, this could get tricky. In racing, field has two meanings. (1) The entire group of starters is called the field. (2) However, a "field horse" is any one of a group of horses designated by the track handicapper when there are more starters in a race than there are betting units provided by the pari-mutual equipment. The group, more correctly called a "pari-mutual field", races as a single betting unit. A good example is the 1951 Kentucky Derby. There were only 12 betting units but there were 20 horses in the race. Seven horses started as individual bets, four stables had each entered two horses in the race making four "coupled entries" and the track handicapper grouped the remaining five horses as a "field". If any one of the five horses in the field won the race, as Count Turf did that year, and you held a ticket for the "field", you had a winning ticket.

A female Thoroughbred under the age of five. Once past the age of five, she becomes a Mare.

One eighth of a mile. It comes from the term a "furrow long" which referred to the length of a plowed field.

The unit of measure when determining a horses height. A hand equals four inches. A horses height is measured by placing one hand above the other from the ground to the horses withers, or where the height at which the saddle sits.

Again, there are two meanings. (1) A person who makes selections in a race based on in-depth study of the past races of the horses in a given race. (2) The person at the track that assigns the weights horses will carry in a handicap race.

This refers to the total amount of money wagered on a race, a day, a meeting or a season.

The straightaway leading to the finish line.

The area between the inner track rails, inside the track.

When the track stewards check the videotape of a race for possible infractions, this is called an inquiry.

A two year old horse.

This is a horse that has never won a race.

This is the area where the horses are saddled just prior to the race and the best and last place to view the horses before placing a bet.

The starting point of a race.

Post Position
This is the position of a horse in the starting gate going from the inner rail outward. Post Positions are determined by a drawing after close of entries the day prior to the race.

Post Time
This the time the horses have to be at the start, ready to go.

Quarter Horse
An established breed that is very fast at short distances.

Quarter Pole
On a one-mile racetrack, the quarter pole is located at the turn leading into the stretch, a quarter mile from the finish line.

When you "scratch" a horse, it means he has been withdrawn from a race.

The colors (jacket and cap) wore by a jockey.

The father of a Thoroughbred.

A 3-year old horse is called a sophomore.

A stallion used for breeding.

Track Conditions

Fast: This is the best condition for a track, dry and even.

Sloppy: After a heavy rain (or it might be raining during the race) puddles may form on the track but the base is still firm and the times remain fast.

Muddy: The track is soft and wet.

Heavy: The track is drying after a rain and it's in between muddy and good.

Slow: Still wet but drying nicely, it's between heavy and good.

Good: Drying well but still wet.

Off: If the track is in any other condition than "fast", it's said to be "off".

Place Your Bet

While you can certainly have a good time at the track just hanging out with friends, suckin' some suds and watching the show, it seems like not placing a bet would be like going to Disney World and not going on any rides. So, lets lay out the types of bets you'll be making, what they mean, how you actually place a bet (there really is a right way) and how to determine what you could/have won.

Win, Place or Show
Everybody's heard the phrase, Win, Place or Show. When you place a bet on a horse to Win, your bet only pays off if your horse comes in first. A bet on a horse to Place requires that your horse finish first or second. Finally, if you bet on a horse to Show, you're in the money if that horse comes in first, second or third. However, you get first place winnings only on a bet placed TO WIN. If you placed $2 on the #3 horse to Place and he finished first, your payoff would be at the Place amount.

Across The Board
Here, you're placing 3 equal Win, Place and Show bets on one horse. If your horse finishes first, you collect on the Win, Place and Show pools. If your horse comes in second, you share in the Place and Show money. If your horse comes in third, you get Show money. So, betting $2 "Across The Board" on the #3 horse means you've put $2 to win on #3, $2 to Place on #3 and $2 to Show on #3 for a total wager of $6.

Daily Double
You must pick the winning horses of two races predetermined by the track to be the Daily Double, often the first two races of the day. This bet must be placed prior to the first race of the Daily Double being run. This is a tough one to hit, but if you do, the pay-off is great.

Pick the two horses that will finish first and second in the race, in ANY order. If you pick the #2 and #7 horses in your Quinella, it doesn't matter which one's first and which one's second just as long as they finish in the first and second places.

Pick the two horses that will finish first and second in the EXACT order. If you pick #2 to finish first and #7 to finish second but their order is reversed, you loose.

Pick the horses that finish first, second and third IN THAT ORDER.

Pick the horses that finish first, second, third and fourth (yes fourth too) IN THAT ORDER.

Pick 3
You must pick the winning horse in each of three races in a row that make up the Pick 3. All bets must be down prior to the running of the first of the Pick3 races.

Pick 6
You must pick the winning horse in each of six consecutive races that make up the Pick 6. All bets must be down prior to the running of the first of the Pick 6 races.

If you think two or more horses will finish in the top positions in a race, but you're not sure of their order, you can "box" them. As long as both or all three horses you "box" finish in the money, you've won.

Bet on one horse to win and All the other horses in the race. This means for example, you bet on the #2 horse to finish first and any other horse in the field finishing second completes your win.

Key or Part Wheel
Bet on one horse to win and some of the other horses. For instance, #2 horse to win and 3,5,6 to come in second.

Now you know the types of bets you can make, you need to know how to bet.

First: Say the name of the track. e.g. Churchill Downs

Second: The amount of your bet. e.g. $2.00
Third: The type of bet. e.g. Place
Fourth: The number of the horse. e.g. Horse number 5

So in this case, when you step up to the betting window you would say; "Churchill Downs, $2 to Place on #5. The clerk will punch out a ticket and you give him the $2. Check your ticket before you leave the counter. Once you leave the counter, you can not change your bet.

By the way, the reason you need to stipulate the name of the track is because many tracks simulcast their races to other tracks throughout the country. You can bet on races at those other tracks from the windows at the track you are in and watch them on closed circuit TV.

The Odds

Once the race has been run, the winning horses and their payouts (odds) are posted on the Tote Board, a large display board positioned in the infield, or on closed circuit monitors. The minimum bet you can place on any race is $2, but the odds are quoted based on a $1 bet. If the odds on horse #5 are 10 - 1 to win, it will pay out $10 for every $1 bet. So a $2 to Win bet on #5 will pay $20 plus the $2 you originally put up for the bet. Since the odds are determined by the amount of money bet on each horse, the odds can change right down to the final seconds before the start of a race.

A Few Tips To Get You Started

There are no hard and fast rules governing outcomes in gambling of any kind and that certainly applies to horse races. It's a game of chance, you pays your money and takes your chances. However, betting at the track isn't just dumb luck. At legitimate tracks, and that's not to say there are any tracks that are not on the up and up, you can increase your chances of winning by study, knowledge about the horses, courses and jockeys and by being able to restrain yourself from making bets when you don't know enough to make an educated guess as to the winner. Becoming a knowledgeable better takes a lot of time and hard work. But, for the casual better who's just out for a good time, here are some basic facts that might increase your odds of winning.

Favorites win 33% of the time.
Favorites place, coming in first or second, 53% of the time. Favorites show, coming in first, second or third, 67% of the time.

Races Over A Mile
Favorites win 35% of the time.
Favorites place 54% of the time Favorites show.

Under A Mile
Favorites show 70% of the time.

2-Year-Old Race
Favorites win 36% of the time.

Fast Dirt Tracks
Favorites win 35% of the time.
Favorites place 56% of the time.
Favorites show 70% of the time.

Well that's all we can do for you. If you've taken the time to read through this whole article, we'll take that as an indication that you're not quite ready to entirely sign yourself over to tea-totaling, white bread and quilting bees. That's good, 'cause a day at the races promises a good time for all. Next to a WWF wresting extravaganza, the track is one of the last places that encourages you to get loud, get excited and generally make a spectacle of yourself (provided you're winning of course). The best news of all is that your odds of winning at the race track are better than the odds staring you in the face at any of the casinos that are cropping up anywhere there's enough water to float a barge. But win or loose, I think the combination of good friends and a day at the track is hard to beat for a flat out good time.

Happy betting.

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