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Going to a calm race book to make the initial bet of your life (or of the visit to Las Vegas) might be a good idea, so you will not feel pressured to get everything exactly right on the first trip to the window. An often overlooked consideration is the question when a person should go to the race book. Serious race handicappers do as much homework as possible before race day. If it's ten minutes to the bell, and you are just now arriving at the race book, the probabilities do not favor any wager, as the handicapping simply can not be done that quickly. Even the pros -- who have been doing this every day for years, with the best of resources, memory and experience -- even the pros need at least 20 to 30 minutes to handicap a race. If it takes you much less time than that, you are probably not going to outsmart the "public," which, after all, is the objective.

So on the day before the trip to the race book, do as much research on the races of interest as possible, formulating as precise a judgment as possible. Additional information coming at you on race day will require some quick and clear thinking "on the fly," and it is too much to expect that you can do that and the basic handicapping all at one time and at the last minute. Then show up at the book well in advance of the first race of interest, so you'll have time to settle in and review the last minute details, including the simulcast from the track.

Be aware that Las Vegas is three hours behind the East Coast. The day starts early at the race book for the east coast races. A dawdler might only find action at the mid-western or far west tracks.

Most race books will give you a copy of the DRF. If they don't, there will be one to borrow. Presumably you already have a copy, but if not, there will be one at the book for you to use. Also, pick up the most recent printouts of the races and overnight lines (morning lines, usually from the book, not the track) for the track(s) you are interested in. Check the sheets against the board, noting any recent changes. Be especially watchful for late scratches, which can alter your handicapping. Note changes in the track odds, as the public places its bets, as that can alter your bet planning.

Take these resources, together with notes and records from home study (if any), and the money for betting, to your comfortable base of operations in the book. Having bills in the denomination(s) of the bets you intend to make is a convenience for the clerk at the window. It also helps you keep track of your bets and how you're doing.

From what you know about handicapping, you know that it is best to write everything down. Now assume you have formulated your bet. Make sure that the bet is written down, too. This has several advantages for you: You minimize your time at the window, you reduce the chance of calling out the wrong thing, and you make it easier to check your ticket before leaving the window. Most importantly for the long run, you have a written record of your betting for handicapping analysis later.

Smile when you are at the window. These people put up with a lot of discourteous and unpleasant people in any given work day, and you do not need to be one of them. It is customary to tip the window before leaving the book, perhaps on the last ticket of the day or whenever you cash in a nice ticket. Like dealers in the casino pit area, these employees are trained and encouraged to explain to newcomers how the process works. It is perfectly OK to ask any sort of question. Since it is your money on the line, it is appropriate to clear up any questions, doubts or confusions you have before too much of the money has been spent on wagers.

That said, do not expect to spend much time chatting at the window. This is all business, particularly if there are people behind you in line. The most abbreviated form of stating your wager is the best. And, even if it is not too noisy, it is really a good idea to enunciate clearly (but don't act weird). Hand the money to the clerk as you state your bet. (This is where exact change speeds up the process.) Here is the formula:

"Race 5"
"to Win"
"number 4"


Read this from your notes to minimize the chance of a mistake. Once the ticket has been "punched" (in fact, it is printed out of a machine - the clerk's keyboard is as close to punching as it gets), check it against your notes. The clerk will correct it right away if it is wrong. Once you leave the window, the ticket is yours, for good or ill.

If you are making multiple wagers, tell the clerk ahead of time how many tickets you're going to ask for. Then repeat the above ritual as many times as necessary to have all the tickets you want. You should be aware by now that many wagers are made in the last few minutes before a race. This is the most risky time for making bets, as haste can introduce mistakes into the process at many different points. There is also a chance that the bet may not "make it" as a valid bet before the bell. It is always smart to put bets in as early as you feel comfortable. Inevitably a last-minute rush will be necessary for something, but it is always wise to minimize the amount of this 11th hour, 59 minutes traffic.

Once the ticket is in your hand, it is a good idea to sit at the book and watch the race. If the simulcast shows you something that might disclose another overlay, go back to the window. But always be mindful of post time. Study the race with a pad and paper. Note the performance of various horses, their starts or breaks, their mid course moves, their behavior coming around the turn into the stretch, and how they react once the race is over. No doubt this will be useful for future handicapping, and it will help confirm or refute some handicapping theory you might have been trying in this race. It is said that a neurotic is one who fails to learn from experience, repeating the same mistake over and over. They receive no feedback and they do not adjust what they do in the light of what just happened. Many people display this neurosis in horse racing: Once the bet has been made, they feel their work has been done, and it's "Miller time." Not yet. The race provides the feedback to prevent repeating handicapping goofs in the future.

One important piece of advice from the experts pertains to the "first bet." This could be the first bet of the day, or the first bet of your life. Make it a good one. Obviously, the idea would be to win the bet, as always, but the point is to make a well thought out, well structured, high expectation, solid wager. The reasons are two: First, it is always good to start out a day at the races with a winning ticket. More importantly, the process of putting together a solid bet helps to focus the attention and frame the mind in such a way that it will help the remaining bets in the day. This bet need not be for a lot of money, nor for a big payoff. In fact, a smaller bet for a more modest gain is preferred.

Hang on to the tickets. Before destroying or throwing away a ticket, be sure there was no change of result based on a disqualification or a non-start that could change which horses ended up where in the rankings or (very rarely) what the payoffs really were. Even a dead ticket may be useful for income tax deduction purposes.