How to make money at Woodbine Racetrack
Woodbine Racetrack is a massive monolith on the outskirts of northwest Toronto; a beacon, visible from miles around, calling to passers by with promises of easy money, cheap entertainment and greasy food. The surrounding area is a suburban Serengeti, speckled with the occasional young tree and just waiting for someone to plunk down a Home Depot Supercentre or a Costco (or both!).
But the vast nothingness that surrounds Woodbine only serves to heighten the experience of the approach; you don't so much drive towards the racetrack, as at it. The mammoth grandstand juts out into the sky with colossal lettering spanning the front entrance; when you pull off the 427 onto Rexdale Boulevard, you're immediately caught in the tractor beam; there's really nowhere else to go.
The races start at 1:00p.m. on Sundays (and happen everyday except Monday and Tuesday). We got there about a half hour early and were rewarded with a prime parking spot (lucky day?). But the real reason for the unusual punctuality was that neither of us had any idea how to bet on a horse — not how to pick them, how to place a bet, or any remote knowledge of strategy.
Luckily the good people at Woodbine Racetrack are more than happy to walk a newcomer through the process of building your wealth at exponential rates by the simple process of picking horses. Here's the deal: first off, you can place a bet with a real flesh and blood human being, or you can step up to one of the automated tellers and just feed in bills. Either one is pretty straightforward once you know what you want to do.
When betting on a horse there are a number of options at hand. You can bet to win (first place), place (first or second place) or show (top three). Obviously, payouts are best for each particular horse on a win and degrade down to a show. However, depending on a horse's odds, betting on one horse to show could pay out better than picking another to win — this is worth keeping in mind. Things can get even more complicated (and lucrative) by picking multiple horses, but I'll leave that for the experts at Woodbine to explain.
Also important are the odds, which are in constant flux right up to the moment betting stops. That's because they're not directly based on the horses record, or the opinions of the racing oligarchy — they're based on bets. The more money being laid down on a specific stallion, the better its odds become — or, to put that another way, the smaller the pay out if it wins. The more faith the greedy gambling public puts in a pony, the less money there is to scoop up. This complex system is set up to track the wagering on site, but also at hundreds of off track locations across the continent.
So because of that, the odds aren't totally reliable. Sure, there are thousands of experts laying money down and that is reflected in the odds, but there are also thousands of inexperienced idiots like myself doing the same thing. Anyway, lets get to the races.
The first one I didn't have a clue what to do, I went the "even more complicated (and lucrative)" route I mentioned earlier. It's called a triactor, basically you pick three horses in a specific order and they need to place first, second and third. Needless to say, I lost $10 on that race when only two of my three picks cracked the top three. Ironically, it was the favourite, a horse named Young Bohemian, that let me down.
For the next race I took an entirely new strategy. I picked one horse — based on name alone — and I picked him to win. Three Hour Tour had a bad start out of the gates and trailed for most of the race, but remarkably, in the final stretch he pulled it together and made me a cool $35 by beating Fashion Jenny by a nose.
At this point I'm hooked, completely. I turned $5 into $35 in a matter of about 90 seconds. So, high on victory and with the confidence that by the end of the day I would dominate the pseudo-sport of gambling on horses, I chose my next horse — S S Seraphim — and laid down a $4 bet to Win or Place. This horse was a long shot 12-1 odds, but I had a feeling about him and if that feeling were right, I would walk away approximately $40 richer. Of course, I'll never know the exact amount, because S S Seraphim is a bum and actually finished close to six seconds behind, and in a race that only lasts 90 seconds that's atrocious.
The next few races I experimented with various bets, combining horses and wagers with no real luck. But my Dad (did I mention I brought my Dad?), he hit the holy gambling grail on what some might consider kind of a stupid bet. He bet three horses to win, which doesn't really make sense because no matter what happens you're going to lose at least two wagers. Anyway, one of those horses had 50-1 odds against him. Also kind of a stupid bet (but who am I to judge, I'm basically throwing money away at this point), but I'm sure it's clear where this is going. The damn thing won; and on a measly $4 he picked up $218.
I continued to lose money for the rest of the day until the very last race when I laid down my final $10 and scooped up $57 in return, just enough actually to make all my money back with a few bucks to spare. All in all, it was a super fun afternoon. Watching the horses run is a good time on its own and putting small, insignificant amounts of money on one of them just increases that — I love gambling!