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By Jude “Pontiff of the Pick Four” Feld
Summer has arrived and that harkens the opening of American racing’s two most attended meets, Del Mar and Saratoga. Thoroughbred racing fans are quite divided about which racing Mecca is best. Both have their strengths and weaknesses but it really boils down to personal preference or family custom as to which side horseplayers take.
The one thing both tracks share is their challenge to bettors. Trainers gather from across the country at both venues, so horses from different circuits converge, in races that are well subscribed.
Each track features a plethora of two-year-old events, often replete with first-time starters. Only workouts and trainer stats are printed in the past performances, so players must rely on rumors emanating from the stable area and private workout reports sold online to aid in the selection process.
Turf racing plays a big part in cards at Del Mar and Saratoga. That means trips are of the essence. It is not unusual to bet on the best horse and get beat because of circumstances during the running.
The stakes schedules are lucrative and tough. Like the Breeders’ Cup, when several top horses are entered in every race, someone will be overlooked in the wagering and results become less predictable.
There is no need to have a “staycation” because Del Mar and Saratoga are tough to beat. Players should embrace the sport on both coasts and enjoy the best racing has to offer, but when readying for your trip, don’t forget to pack your patience.
Racing vacations are always highly anticipated and most of the time we can’t wait to hit the turnstiles. We’ve been handicapping well in advance and have all the races doped out.
“I’m gonna crush Saratoga like a McGee this year.”
“I’ll win enough to buy my beach condo so I won’t have to rent it anymore.”
Optimism is great, but when you brought a grand to play with for the week and you bet $500 of on your first visit, bad things can happen. Great things can happen too, but that’s a racing rarity.
Early in the meet, form is unsettled. With all the aforementioned hazards that Del Mar and Saratoga offer, a more conservative approach is wise. Go easy early on, feel your way around and remember there will be plenty of good wagering opportunities coming up.
Play to your strengths. If you are great with maidens, concentrate on them. If sprints are your thing, put the bulk of your bets there. If you’re a turf player stick with grass races and if it rains, leave most of your money in the hotel safe and take just enough for some action bets to the track.
Schedule your bankroll for the whole visit so you can enjoy your time and the great racing. There are several ways to do this. I like to divide my vacation bankroll equally between days. If I am going to a track for five days and taking a $1000 stake, that’s $200 a day.
At the end of the first day, I add the total balance from the day’s play to my $800 and divide it by the four days left to bet. For example, on Wednesday, I lose $80. I take the remaining $120, add it to my $800, giving me $920. I divide that by four, so I have $230 to bet on each remaining day of my trip.
Continuing on, I win $360 on Thursday, so I add the $590 to the $690 and divide the $1280 by three. So my Friday, Saturday and Sunday bankroll is $426 per day.
You get the picture.
If you manage your money this way, you’ll be in action for your whole trip without a visit to the ATM. If you are winning, you’ll be able to bet more and if you are losing, you won’t tap out until the races are over on the final day of your vacation. (That would suck.)
Remember too that just because you have money to bet, it doesn’t mean you have to bet it. If you continue to pick your spots, you’ll be able to take some dough home with you.
Racetrackers often say, “Scared money never wins.” You never want that pressure, especially on vacation. It is much better to know that you’ll be able to play all week and have some fun than it is to have to cash your next bet in order to come back tomorrow.
Turf writer Ray Paulick often hashtags #DelMarorBust in his summer tweets, but my wish for you is Del Mar and don’t bust.
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