There’s no place on earth quite like Churchill Downs during the first weekend in May. After all, how many places do you know of where you can blow scads of cash and still have the time of your life?
This year, my girlfriend’s sister came through bigtime with Oaks tickets that I was able to share with Patrick and Jay of Text Links Ads. We all had a hell of a time, but the goal of this post is not to provide you with a boring story of personal experience. Instead, I’m going to try and shed light on some things surrounding the Oaks/Derby that traditional media simply cannot cover. With that in mind, kick back, and enjoy some inside info that comes straight from the horse’s mouth!
Betting the Ponies
For most of us, throwing money at horses is a total crapshoot. Some people pick a horse because they like the name – this is about as effective as allowing a chicken to go peck on a number and then betting that number.
Others, like myself, enjoy scrutinizing past performances, jockey records, workout schedules, won/loss records, and speed ratings in order to make what appears to be an educated selection.
Sadly, this is about as effective as allowing a chicken to go peck on a number and then betting that number.
There are handicappers and there are wannabes – most of us are the latter.
Needless to say, Courtney and I got beat up at the track, losing a few hundred on the first 8 races of the day. By pure dumb luck, we ended up in a $50 minimum betting line before the ninth race, and some guy holding oversized print-outs began to chat up Courtney while she was waiting to bet. She told him what a hideous time we were having, and he recommended that she place a bet on a particular horse in the ninth race. Since we hadn’t won a thing all day, we figured why not. Oh, and the fact that he was up a few grand on the day helped to persuade us…
Naturally, Mr. Handicapper was dead on the money, and the horse he suggested wasn’t the favorite by any means. He just seemed to know what was going to happen. After that ninth race, we managed to find the dude again, and he informed us that he follows horse racing all over the country by traveling from track to track during peak racing season. Despite his expertise, I still think it’s crazy that he can pick out a horse who’s never won a race and determine that today is going to be his day. Eerie.
What’s even eerier is that he called races 10 and 11, too, so we won all of our lost money back!
The bottom line here is that anybody can come in and claim to be a number crunching expert, but the smart play is always to give the nod to someone who lives and breathes the stuff.
The Derby Party You Didn’t Hear About
After the races, we headed for the car, which was parked in one of the old neighborhoods adjacent to the track. A friend had tipped us off to a little neighborhood dive that was hosting an after party, and since we were all starving, we decided to take a walk on over to check it out. Naturally, we had an 82 year old grandma who was born (literally) in the same house that she was currently living in escort us two blocks to the party.
At first, I think we were all a little bit skeptical, but once we took a good look around, we realized that the whole place was simply a mix of different classes, cultures, and backgrounds that were united to celebrate a local tradition. There was food, music, and more food, and the barbecue was the best I’d ever had!
Discovering this unexpected gem was one of the highlights of our day, and we continued to get our gambling fix by betting on a bike race between two of the local kids. The big kid won the race (and some cash), and Courtney got the award for “pic of the day” with the second shot below.
Little traditions and surprises like the ones I just highlighted are par for the course around these parts during Derby season. If the opportunity ever arises, make sure you get to the Oaks or the Derby at least once in your life – it’s an experience unlike any other!