The Value of the Tip Sheet


Tout sheets can be give you the best horses in an given race but most of the time you have to figure out how to bet their selections. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)

Tip sheets, tout sheets, Pink Sheets, Bullsheets. Depending on the track you’re at, they go by different names, but every racetrack has got them: the ubiquitous tip sheets.

Usually, you’ll see them sold at the entrances, maybe at the same kiosk or booth as the programs and the racing forms. Sometimes they hock them outside the gates of the track. Young boys yelling out “$400 exacta yesterday!” or “We had the Daily Double!”

What gives with these curious, colorful broadsides? Who makes the selections and why should you pay $2-$5 just to get a peek? What makes them so much better than the handicapper in the newspaper, whose selections you can read for the cost of the paper? Or the on-track announcers who usually share their own picks for free 15 minutes before the race?

Tip sheets you buy at the track usually have a deal with the racetrack. They pay for the privilege of being sold on-site - either an up-front yearly amount or some percentage of their sales. To keep this deal, they often have to produce results. Some tracks will monitor the selections in the tip sheets to make sure that they are really picking winners and not just selling snake oil on brightly colored paper. If they aren’t, the track will dump them and make room for a newcomer. At some tracks, they will reward the best-performing tip sheets, or “flashes.” At Santa Anita Park, the best two sheets get to sell the next day’s sheets to race goers as they leave the track. At Oaklawn Park, they give the best sheets a spot on the top of the board over each program kiosk with big bold markings showing their wins from the prior day.

Who are these guys, anyway? Warren Buffet, for one. He used to publish his own horse racing tip sheet in his younger days. So did Jack Ruby, the famous assassin-assassin who killed Lee Harvey Oswald.

Mostly, these sheets are written by handicappers who have a reputation for picking winners. On any given day they may not do any better than the newspaper handicapper or the on-track announcers, but you can take some solace in knowing that the professional tout earns a living by making good selections - having high-paying winners on the sheet means more sales the next day. The same isn’t true for the daily news.


The rub is that often these tip sheets don’t tell you how to bet their selections. They give you their top 3 or 4 picks in each race, sometimes they’ll add in a “Best Bet of the Day” and a “Best Longshot of the Day” or something like that. From there you are on your own.

This makes it a bit unfair and disingenuous for touts to claim they had big-money exotics or multi-race wagers on their sheets each day. Rare is the tip-sheet customer who can just box every horse the sheet picks in every possible bet.

You may be wondering “if these picks are so good, why doesn’t this tout bet on them himself and get rich?” The answer is simple - they are! Who says touts are betting their own selections in addition to selling them to you? If their skills, reputation and results have earned them the ability to make some money selling their picks to the public, why wouldn’t they? Like we just covered, picking winners is a lot easier than hitting big exactas. And on a big day, something like 2-3% of the people who walk through the door will buy a sheet. That can be thousands of dollars!

If you’re looking to have a little fun or want an edge on your friends but don’t have any idea how to pick winners out of the program on your own, why not pick up a tout sheet? It’s not much different than taking a hot tip on a horse from a guy down at the paddock, after all. 

For $5 you can have a pro narrow down the field to three or four horses for you. And even if you’re used to handicapping the race yourself, it can’t hurt to get a little confirmation of your opinions.

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