Betting for Beginners

Starting from scratch? We've got just the ticket to get you placing your first ticket


Hey, this is “The Big A” Anthony Stabile welcoming you to the wonderful world of horse racing. If you’re a hard-nosed veteran, weekend warrior or everyday player, we thank you for reading. But this piece is really for the new kids on the block, and I’m not referring to my favorite boy band.

If this your first time betting the ponies, or you’re fairly new to the Sport of Kings, I want you to remember that almost everyone at the track with you today WAS YOU at one point in their lives at the track. Hopefully, we’ll give some ideas on how to make yourselves right at home, have a bunch of fun and, of course, make some money!


The two things you need to focus on are what type of wager you want to make and how to make your selections. I’ll keep things simple today but promise to throw you into the deep end of the pool once you become a fanatic and love the sport like I do.

Let’s start by discussing a few fun ways to try to pick some winners. We’re going to talk about a few of the more popular methods, but I assure you if you take a walk around the track and drum up a conversation with a fellow fan, you’re bound to get some more memorable ones!

NUMBERS: I would say this is the most popular. It seems, especially nowadays, that everything is a number. Your pick can be something as simple as your favorite number, birthday, anniversary, your old sports jersey, parking space at work, you name it. And don’t worry, as I’ll explain later, we have a wager for all your numbers!

NAME: Your name. Kids name. Significant others name. The list goes on and on. You may just like the horses’ name. On the racing program, you can find the names of the parents of the horses racing in each race. Maybe you’ll spot something clever you like. You can study the program in a number of ways, not just handicapping.

COLORS: The saddle towels the horses wear have a number and are colored. The jockeys wear different colors jerseys, called silks, as well as hats. The horses ARE different colors too; choose your favorite color horse. And, yes, I know, the greys are so pretty!

Now that we have how you might come about your selections, let's put them to work! Here are three wagers to get your feet wet:


  • WIN – As basic as it gets. Just pick the race winner. I can almost guarantee, you will never forget the first winner you picked. Ever.
  • EXACTA – Just pick the first two finishers in the race. It sounds a bit more complicated, but I’ll give you a cheat code, if you will. There is a variation of the wager called a box, where you can take a number of horses and have two of them come in first and second. For example, say you like number 1,6,7. A $1 exacta box combining those three numbers would cost you $6 and would just need two of the three to finish first AND second.
  • DAILY DOUBLE – Pick the winners of two consecutive races. You don’t have to keep your selections down to one horse in each race. I like to use the criss-cross method. Say you like the 1 and 2 in Race 1, then the 5 and 6 in Race 2. You would make a $1 double 1,2 with 5,6 for a cost of $4. Then, you’d have two chances to win each race!

Putting It All Together

For the record, I use these methods on a regular basis. And while I’m not big on the colors approach, I’ll play me a hunch name on occasion and am OBSESSED with my numbers!

When I was a kid, I hit my first trifecta (that’s the first three finishers in a race) with the numbers 1-2-4. If I am betting the trifecta in a particular race, you can be assured I will play that number combo as well.

I’ve made a lot of money at poker with the hand 3-9. Awful cards. Magic for me. Then I realized I was 9 lbs. 3 oz when I was born, the numbers start and end the address of the only place I have ever lived, and I met someone very special to me on 3/9, at Aqueduct, for the record. Needless to say if the exacta comes out 3-9 or 9-3, I’m cashing a ticket.