Growing up, I visited a horse track or saw one horse race.
That all changed when I met Kate and married to some horse race-loving family. Rick Surwilo, my father-in-law, had started going to the racetrack as a teenager with his loved ones. This was a time before lotteries and casinoshorse racing was the only legal form of gaming, so it was something really different to go and do. His family lived in Connecticut but had bought a little home in Woodford, Vermont, also Rick’s dad loved to take the wife and kids to the Green Mountain Race Track in Pownal, only a little ways south of that time. They had set up their lawn chairs from the finish line, and Grandpa Surwilo would take everyone’s orders and move relay the stakes into the tellers.
As soon as I started dating Kate, one of those earliest, and most amorous, dates was when she took me into the racetrack here in Tulsa. We had an excellent time betting on a few horse races while snuggling from the bleachers as a thunderstorm rolled in.
After Kate and I got hitched, her parents could take us into the horse races each other summer or so, and also gave us poor newlyweds a tiny scratch to bet with. Rick’s father had long since passed away, but Gram Surwilo–every inch the stereotypical feisty Italian grandmother –loved to go and bet on the ponies, just as she had in the previous days in Vermont.
I truly enjoyed these excursions with my extended family, and putting a few bets myself, but I admittedly had no clue what I was doing. I mainly only picked the horses together with the titles I liked best.
So I jumped at the opportunity America’s Best Running provided 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 also get some lessons about the best way to bet on the ponies. Kate and I had a great time there and learned a lot. Betting on horses is a good deal more complicated than I had imagined, but it is really a fantastic deal of fun.
Now, I’ll share some of the basics of what I heard, so the horse racing newcomer can make the most of this wonderful spring weather and go down to their local racetrack (or even the Kentucky Derby!) Feeling like they know what they’re doing.

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