Each new year in horse racing brings with it the hopes for a newly emerging group of star horses, an anticipation for all the best stakes races to come, and of course the hopes of truckload of winning mutuel tickets. As the calendar flips and we get accustomed to a brand new year, let’s take a look at some things horse racing fans can aspire to in 2023.
1. Pick the Kentucky Derby winner
This is easier said than done. There is no single race that gets as much attention and scrutiny for months and months as the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, and there is no other race like it in North America with a 20-horse field. If Rich Strike’s 80.80-1 victory and $163.60 payoff in 2022 reminds us of anything, it is that you cannot discount the chances of any horse in the starting gate. That’s what makes picking the Derby winner one of the toughest tasks of the year for horseplayers, even in years when one of the favorites wins the race.
2. Donate to a horse-related charity
If you love horses and/or horse racing, one of the best ways you can give back is by supporting a horse-related charity. There are dozens to choose from. Some of the most popular options include the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, Thoroughbred Charities of America, and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF). Do your research online and give generously.
3. Visit Del Mar and/or Saratoga
Saratoga and Del Mar are the summer showplaces of Thoroughbred racing, and both are worthy vacation destinations if you can swing it. Even if you can’t visit both coasts in the same year, you should put at least one of these racetracks on your summer travel itinerary. In Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (fly into Albany), the entire town lives, eats, and breathes horse racing for the entirety of the eight-week season and there is a horsey atmosphere everywhere you turn. Del Mar offers great racing and perfect summer weather “where the turf meets the surf” just north of San Diego. Go to the beach in the morning, bet the races in the afternoon, and go to town for a delicious dinner to cap off your evening.
4. Qualify for the National Horseplayers Championship
The NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas is the “holy grail” for handicappers. It is an annual three-day tournament that awards cash prizes in the $2 million range as well as an Eclipse Award to the winner. First you must qualify at one of the many on-track and online sites offering tickets to the finals. Go to www.NTRA.com/nhc for a full schedule, and all the information on how to get involved. The next NHC finals is scheduled for March 10-12, 2023, at Bally’s Horseshoe casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
5. Bet the Breeders’ Cup
If you’re reading this story, you’re already a racing fan and therefore this is a no-brainer. Yet it is included on this list because these are the two truly can’t-miss dates on the annual calendar for horseplayers. Put the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on your agenda and circle the dates now so there can be no possible conflicts later. Get your bankroll built up and ready for Nov. 3-4, 2023, when the Breeders’ Cup returns to Santa Anita Park for what will be the 40th anniversary running.
6. Hit the Pick 6 or the Pick 5
You can’t win if you don’t play. That sounds like a motto for the lottery, but it holds true for the biggest pari-mutuel prizes you can aspire to in horse racing, the pick 5 and the pick 6. Hit one of these bets and your bankroll could be bolstered for months to come. The pick 6 was once the realm of big-money players and syndicates, but not anymore. Sure, the traditional $2 pick 6 is still the king, but other pick 6 bets are available in 20-cent denominations these days. If the pick 6 isn’t your forte than certainly the much more accessible pick 5 can be. There is least one pick 5 per day available at most tracks, and with 50-cent denominations the norm, you can play plenty of combinations to increase your chances of hitting it big. Go ahead, swing for the fences.
7. Introduce your friends to horse racing
It’s a lot of pressure to bring your non-horse racing fans to the racetrack, because they assume you know everything and should be able to win every race. They will be disappointed when you don’t. This should not stop you, however, from bringing your novice friends out for a day at the races. Share your hobby with your friends. It’s your chance to turn them into racing fans, at least for one day.
8. Watch the morning workouts
Many tracks have open doors for morning workouts and many offer special breakfasts at the track where you can see the horses train while you enjoy a morning coffee. Some tracks have elevated watching the morning workouts to an art form. Saratoga offers tours of the Oklahoma training track, which is located smack-dab in a residential neighborhood across the street from the racetrack. Go and watch from the rail as million-dollar Thoroughbreds go breezing past you. Santa Anita is another place that offers a great working experience at its Clockers Corner at the top of the stretch. You can order breakfast and hob-knob with backstretch folk and railbirds in an unbeatable setting.
9. Eat at the track
Book a table and enjoy the races from the trackside dining room. From this perch, you get a great view of the races and a more upscale atmosphere at most tracks. You say you prefer a hot dog and a clam chowder? No problem, the racetrack food stands are usually pretty good too. Some tracks such as Keeneland even open their track kitchens to the public in the mornings. There is no better place to eat your omelet than a place like this, where you can rub elbows with racetrackers on the backstretch.
10. Support your local racetrack
Racetracks seem to be an endangered species these days, and some of them are here today and gone tomorrow. You might do your day-to-day watching and wagering online with an ADW account, or at a local OTB. These are all fine options – but wherever you live, you should always make time once in a while to visit your local racetrack and watch and wager on the races live and in person. It will remind you why you became a fan of the sport in the first place.