Growing up, I never visited a horse trail or saw one horse race.
That all changed once I met Kate and married into a horse race-loving family. Rick Surwilo, my father-in-law, had begun going to the racetrack as a teenager with his loved ones. This was a time prior to lotteries and casinoshorse racing was the only legal form of gambling, so it was something quite different to go and do. His family lived in Connecticut but had bought a tiny home in Woodford, Vermont, also Rick’s dad loved to take the wife and children to the Green Mountain Race Track at Pownal, only a little ways south of that time. They’d set up their lawn chairs by the finish line, and Grandpa Surwilo would take everybody’s orders and move relay the bets to the tellers.
As soon as I started dating Kate, one of those first, and most amorous, dates was when she took me to the racetrack here in Tulsa. We had a great time gambling on a couple of horse races while snuggling from the bleachers as a thunderstorm rolled in.
After Kate and I got hitched, her parents would take us to the horse races each other summer or so, and even gave us bad newlyweds a little scratch to wager with. Rick’s father had long since passed away, but Gram Surwilo–every inch the stereotypical feisty Italian grandma–still loved to go and bet on the ponies, just as she had from the previous days in Vermont.
I truly enjoyed these outings with my extended family, and putting a few bets myself, but I admittedly had no clue what I was doing. I mainly just picked the horses together with the names I liked best.
So I jumped at the opportunity America’s Best Racing offered me a month or two ago to come see among those six pre-Kentucky Derby races–that the Spiral Stakes–in Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, and get some lessons about how to bet on the ponies. Kate and I had a terrific time and learned a lot. Betting on horses is a lot more complex than I’d imagined, but it is a really great deal of fun.
Today, I will share a few of the fundamentals of what I learned, so that the horse racing neophyte can take advantage of this wonderful spring weather and return to their regional racetrack (or even the Kentucky Derby! ) ) Feeling like they know what they’re doing.

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