john skinner

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How to enjoy losing money at the racetrack.

To get one thing straight from the beginning: I am no enemy of the racetrack. I go regularly with friends to Baden-Baden for the spring and autumn races, and have a ball while I'm there. We always joke about having a few plastic bags handy to carry our winnings home in, but we have never won more than we spent in some restaurant on the way back. I like race meetings, and would encourage everyone to go at least once. Just don't think that you will come home rich.


  1. Know that you will lose money; accept it; embrace it; be at One with this Truth.
    Go to the racetrack for a nice day out in the fresh air, in the company of happy people. Go for the excitement of watching the field thunder past you into the home straight. Stand by the rail, and feel the ground shake beneath your feet as they pass. Go to the refreshment booths near the VIP stand, and check out the clothes and hats of the rich and fashionable. Treat your significant other (you did bring them?) to a glass of champagne.
    If you want to make money, go to work instead.
  2. Decide in advance how much money you wish to lose, and stick to it. If possible take only that amount with you to the track (plus a little for food and drink, of course). Never take a credit card or cash machine card to the track. Never accept an offer to gamble on credit, and never again associate in any way with someone who offers to let you do so. Can you spell "Mafia"?
    Decide also, just in case the Gods do smile on you, what to do with your winnings: do you want to take them home or add them to the pot of money to be lost? If they are to be kept, consider giving them to someone else for safe keeping while you gamble. At the very least, keep them in a different pocket.
  3. Wait for and note the Advance Betting odds. These are placed by the habitual gamblers, ie the nearest thing there is to an expert. Their advice is free and valuable, since:
       - the favourite wins one race in four
       - the favourite places one race in three
    However, the favourite never pays enough to cover your bets in the two races in five where it loses. That is what keeps the bookies in business.
  4. Winners don't fall from Heaven. They are owned by someone; they are trained by someone; they are ridden by someone. Look at the lists of winning trainers and jockeys; a horse from a good trainer with a good jockey is worth considering [actually, that's what makes a horse the favourite]. As the day wears on, write down the winners and placers of each race. If an unknown trainer or jockey is having a good day, add him to the list to watch.
  5. Don't be greedy: a win-or-place bet is good enough. Doubles and triples are only for those who like to play lotteries: you might just win thousands, but the odds are millions against it. My friend A. once spent 150 Marks in very small bets covering possible triples on a single race, and still lost. Another friend bet only doubles and triples, won in nearly every race — but still made a nett loss of fifty Marks on the day.
  6. Don't bet against yourself. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and put down several bets that cannot all come true. If you've bet on horse A to win, then don't bet on horse B to win too. There are no ties at the racetrack. If you aren't sure, then bet on both A and B to place, maybe they both will. (This sounds as self-evident as breathing, but believe me that it happens. Keep your eyes open, at least one member of your group will fall at least once into this trap.)
  7. Everybody has bad days. If by the fifth race you have not yet picked a winner, then just stop betting. Save your money for a luckier day.

Remember: you will lose. Almost everybody loses almost all of the time, if they didn't then the bookies and racetracks would go broke. If you happen to win, accept this as the enormous cosmic coincidence that it is — and spend the money straight away on making yourself and your companions happy (e.g. food and drink, or silly hats). If you lose, accept this too as the simple fact of life that it is — and smile anyway. Haven't you had a nice day out?
Copyright © John Skinner, 2002. All rights reserved.
Last updated 2002.09.18