The Claim, the Name Game and the Pooper


I was getting my nails done for an outing to the racetrack, and the nail technician commented she had never played the ponies. While she thought she would enjoy it, she was intimidated by her inexperience.

I launched into full recruitment mode, explaining that horse racing can be enjoyed on many levels. I told her that some of us who like to dig around in the data also relish simpler systems of selecting a horse.

Below are a few of my favorite methods that are accessible to all. 

Believing in the Holy Ghost. Once two horses with the same saddlecloth number win on the same race day, players of the Holy Ghost begin betting that number religiously each race. We believe good things happen in threes and anticipate the ghost (the first two winners were the father and the son). If a third horse of that number comes in, the faithful continue betting it. We are now looking for the Amen horse.

Betting a horse coming off a claim. Some races are designated as claiming races. This means every horse in the race could be purchased (claimed) for a determined price. A claim in a past race is noted in the past performances by a small “c” at the end of the race conditions line. One of my favorite fellow fans, Mark, taught me to bet a horse that was claimed in its previous race. The logic is an owner or trainer saw something exceptional in that horse and thinks it is poised for a breakthrough. Why shouldn’t we also cash in on that breakthrough? Bet that horse!

Going with gray. My husband, who dives into the fine print of the Daily Racing Form, is in the group who has difficulty resisting a beautiful, gray horse. If the horse has a hint of promise and is gray, he’s in. A lot of times this works out for him and other people who like to go gray.


Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Playing the name game. Horseplayers of all ability play the name game. On my last day at the track, Thoroughbreds raced with names reminiscent of my high school mascot, a favorite Italian destination and the shady character who ran the local movie theater during my girlhood. I’ve succeeded in bets on horses that share names with my neighbor and one of my husband’s golfing buddies. Do not be ashamed of selecting a horse based on name alone.

Naming the number. Similar to the name game, some gamblers select significant numbers and bet the corresponding horses. For example, if I were feeling sentimental about my childhood address of 23 Cattail Road, I could bet a 2-3 exacta. A 9-1-4 trifecta could be bet in honor of my husband’s Sept. 14 birthday.

Picking the pooper. Many people employ this technique, and many of these players seem to believe they have an original, super-secret strategy: “I like to bet the horse that POOPS in the post parade! Don’t you feel better after you poop? That horse is lighter and should run faster!” I force a smile and inwardly groan. Willis Horton, owner of champions Take Charge Brandi and Will Take Charge, once told me NOT to bet the horse that relieves himself before the race. According to Mr. Horton, that horse is scared. Even though I have not subscribed to either position of this crude method, the unrefined side of me must admit it can be entertaining to watch unfold during the post parade.

Anyone can bet the races and have a spectacular time. My growth as a handicapper has led me to consider additional factors, but I still play all of these methods and enjoy them immensely. Sometimes these wins are the most entertaining of all.

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