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!

Cape Town’s got the big studs…and more horseracing trivia

Cape Town — or the Cape of Good Hope as it was known back then — has been the centre of horseracing in South Africa since 1797 and this elite sport is still a money-spinner for the city. Here’s how it all started…

Cape Town, the birthplace of horseracing in South Africa, has been hosting horse races since 1797. Here’s an even cooler fact: the country’s first recorded race, the Turf Club Purse, which was run on Green Point Common on 18 September 1797, was won by the five-year-old Zemman Shaw.

The Cape’s proud horseracing heritage can be seen in the quality of horses bred here. According to Candice Robinson of Mike Bass Racing, Cape Town has the best breeding grounds in the country: “If I mention some, I am probably going to leave others out, but a few of the larger studs in Cape Town are: Highlands Studs, Drakenstein Studs, Maine Chance Farms and Klawervlei Stud. Cape Town is by far the best breeding area in the country. They breed the best horses, and they’ve also go the biggest studs here.”

How Zemman Shaw would fare against the likes of Politician (the horse which won the J&B Met in 1978 and 1979) or Pocket Power (J&B Met winner 2007, 2008, 2009) is up for debate. After all, the industry has come a long way since Lord Charles Somerset first established and developed the sport in the region.

These days, the labour-intensive industry provides employment for around 12 000 people in and around Cape Town and contributes roughly R2.71-billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product — at least those were the numbers in 2009, the last year stats were made available. Between 2002 and 2009, the industry made a cumulative contribution of R16.81-billion to South Africa’s GDP.  Somewhat surprisingly, the industry seems to weather poor financial climates fairly well.

“The racing industry is pretty much dominated by your upper echelon of wealthy people,” explains Robinson. “Racehorses are expensive, so it’s not a sport for any old person in the street. While most of the people involved in the sport are from old money, in recent years we have had some new money coming into racing. The industry has certainly maintained itself through rocky financial times… somehow it seems steady. There are people with less money who have smaller shares who do it for the love of the sport and I guess, in hard times, those are the people who fall away.”

While the industry is fairly robust, Robinson laments the lack of interest from the general public. Enthusiasm for horseracing, she says, is limited to big events such as the J&B Met.

“It’s not what it used to be in the olden days; these days nobody comes to the races anymore, which is really quite sad. I think that there is just not enough marketing, or perhaps not the correct marketing. Obviously people come to the big events and you get people who come for the betting —the backbone of horseracing — but it is much easier to do that via the phone these days. People just don’t seem to come to the racecourse anymore.”

J&B Met: More than just a day at the races

The J&B Met is, without a doubt, one of the highlights of Cape Town’s summer social calendar. The beautiful people, flamboyant fashion and the prospect of winning big are almost as intoxicating as that rare blend of J&B whisky. Oh, and horses. There are also horses. This is how it all started…

For thousands of people — those who know little about betting and even less about horses — the J&B Met is not really about the horses. It’s about seeing and been seen. It’s about getting dressed up and socialising and posting it all on Instagram. It’s about the glitz and the glamour and that awesome after-party.

Don’t get me wrong; it is also about the horses. It’s about the thrill of placing a bet and cheering like a maniac when the horse you picked gallops down the home straight… but if your horse loses, you’ll shrug it off, grab another drink, and stalk your celeb crush.

For most, the J&B Met is just one of Cape Town’s top fun, social events… and this is a good thing. It is what draws tens of thousands of people to Kenilworth Racecourse year after year. It is what makes this event so successful and guarantees its longevity. But there was a time when the Met’s status as one of South Africa’s big three in horseracing wasn’t certain.

The first recorded winner of the Metropolitan Mile (as the Met was once known) was Sir Hercules, in 1883. The race was originally run on the Green Point Common: the competitors were English soldiers attached to the Cape Garrison; the spectators, ladies of the Cape. In the late 19th century the race was moved to the Kenilworth Racecourse and it became the South African Turf Club’s feature event each summer.

Over the decades, the event lost some of its sparkle and although it had been firmly established as one of the country’s top three races by the 1960s (alongside the Durban July and the Summer Cup in Gauteng), the general public — and even those in the industry — began to lose interest.

Then, in 1978, which was (not-so coincidentally) a mere year after Justerini & Brooks began sponsoring the event, a magnificent chestnut called Politician entered the race. The stake was R50 000 and Politician had an outstanding reputation. The crowds flocked to the racecourse and Politician, with “Big Race” Bertie Hayden in the irons, did not disappoint.

Trainer Syd Laird returned with Politician the following year, drawing an even bigger crowd, and Politician achieved something unprecedented by winning the Met two years in a row. Politician’s impressive feat was only matched — and then beaten — by the legendary Pocket Power, the horse that won the J&B Met in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Since J&B began sponsoring the event 39 years ago, it has grown tremendously and evolved into something quite spectacular. With a stake of R2.5 million, the J&B Met is now the largest outdoor annual horeracing event in Cape Town. In 2002, for example, more than 50 000 spectators pitched up at the Kenilworth Racecourse on the day, forcing event organisers to close the gates and put up “house full” signs half way through the afternoon!

The horses may once have drawn modest crowds to the Kenilworth Racecourse, but it is the grand spectacle, the opportunity to rub shoulders with the country’s rich and famous, and the promise of a day packed full of entertainment that bring tens of thousands of South Africans back to the J&B Met each year.