A dummies guide to betting smart at the races

If your betting know-how comes down to scanning the race card for a horse’s name that tickles your fancy, these simple tips will significantly increase your chances of actually winning at a Cape Town horserace. Clyde Basel, who has almost 30 years of experience in the horseracing industry, shares some practical advice.

Study the race card

Before you can place any bets, study the race card. The first things you need to look out for in the race card are the number and times of the races. Each race has a certain number of horses, and they are listed in numerical order. Once you’ve found the race you are looking for, you look out for the horse’s name, the jockey who is riding the horse, and the horse’s trainer.

Most people who are new to horseracing will pick a horse entirely because they like the way its name sounds. But if you want to take it a step further, the race card will often show you what sort of form the horse has got. So, you look at its last run, where it finished, how it has run in the past, how close it got… that sort of thing. This will give you an idea of whether or not the horse is competitive.

Go see the horses

It’s not essential to view the horses in the paddock before the race, but if you do, there are a few things you can look out for. Often the best sign of the wellbeing of a horse is its coat — a nice shiny coat usually indicates wellbeing. You can try and gauge its fitness by looking at its ribcage. Usually if there is a little bit of ribcage showing, it indicates fitness, but bear in mind that you get different types of horses and some are just naturally more robust. If the horse looks relaxed and walks quite slowly and is not too concerned about its surrounding, this is often a good sign. What’s normally not a good sign is perspiration. If the horse is sweating down his neck or buttocks, it might mean that he is too full of himself or that he has taken quite a lot out and that is often not a good sign before a race.

Newbies: try an ‘Each Way’

If you have never placed a wager before, I think your best option is what we call an “Each Way” — it’s a “win” and a “place”. For example, if you like horse Number One, you will have R10 each way — R10 to win and R10 to place. That’s the easiest and simplest way to bet. So, the horse can either run first, second or third, depending on how many runners there are. If there are 15 runners, it pays out for first, second and third; if there are 16 runners or more, it pays out for first, second, third and fourth.

Box your bet

You’ll sometimes hear people talking about “boxing their bet”. When you move out of an Each Way, you get what you could call, for example, a Trifecta, which is the first three. So, you could choose a Trifecta straight line — so that they run one, two and three in a set order. A box is any order. So if you say ‘”I want a Trifecta box, one, two and three”, it doesn’t matter what order they run, as long as it is those three horses. It would cost you more to box your bet, of course.

Go for a Pick Six

I think one of the most popular bets is the Pick Six. All tote betting is pool betting, so everybody puts money into one pool and then that pool is distributed amongst all of the winners. So, a Pick Six normally runs from the first leg, which is race four, all the way to race nine. There are six races, and the idea of the Pick Six is to pick six winners — one in each leg.

You could do one choice in each leg, but if you wanted more because you weren’t sure who was going to win, you can bet on more horses. The more horses you put in each leg, the more the permutation will cost. What’s fortunate about that is what we call fractional betting. So, if you only want to bet ten bucks, no matter how many horses you put, you’ll get a percentage of the total cost — you’ll get 1% or 5% or 10%, depending on what you spend. Whichever numbers you’ve chosen, one of those has to win each of those legs, and if you get your numbers winning in each of those legs, you catch the Pick Six, which can often pay out one or even two million… or, if you have multiple winners, can pay out R20 000 or R30 000. Not a lot of people catch it, but the Pick Six is quite fun!

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