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Playing the ponies: Fun with a chance to earn some green
Ray Simpson of the San Joaquin County Fair and Winners Gaming and Sports Emporium checks a ticket at an automated machine during a day of simulcast racing. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

STOCKTON – It’s become somewhat of a tradition for my father and me.

We somehow circumvent a massive Pacific winter storm and find our way into Reno without any chains, spend the night gaming away happily and magically find our way home without having to chain up.

The last time the wind was blowing so hard there was snow on the gas cap – which was behind a hinged door with spaces barely large enough to fit a credit card through.

But along with the weather, the other constant on these excursions is winning money. A lot of money.

Thanks to the Grand Sierra Resort and their willingness to give me seed money to start my stay – play chips that I take straight to the craps table and immediately turn into real chips – means that within two hours I’m flush with enough cash to do whatever it is that I want to do for the rest of the trip.

So I play the horses.

In $2, $3, $4 and sometimes even $12 increments I comb over the statistics in the Daily Racing Form, make what I consider at the time to be an educated decision and make a pick.

Maybe I win. I get the added benefit of turning my ticket into the window clerk knowing that I’m a winner as I make my next picks.

And maybe I lose. Maybe that $2, $3, $4 or $12 bet disappears into thin air. Lord knows my win-to-loss ratio could use a little bit of work.

But the bottom line is simple – it’s fun. It’s inexpensive to make a $5 bet on a race that only happens once every 30 minutes. Even if you add a pair of other tracks to the mix – making $15 the standard bet among the three – it’s still less money than you could end up losing in three minutes at the blackjack table.

Am I going to be able to quit my day job and pursue this as a career? Not unless I manage to win the lottery.

I can, however, have fun while at the same time getting into the pastime that my Grandfather dedicated himself to towards the end of his life.

If you want to get into the mix and have a good time, here are a few pointers:

• Ask questions – There are pamphlets available that describe all of the bets and those nice people at the ticket window will explain them to you.

• Be courteous – Just DON’T stand at the window for the full five minutes before the next race at the local track because you can’t figure out how to parlay your winnings. Respect is earned and it comes from being given away.

• Don’t get cocky – So you pick back-to-back winners because you liked the color of the jockey’s silks. Don’t go bet the mortgage on the next race just because polka dot is your jam. Bad idea.

• Study – The Daily Racing Form is the Bible of the horseracing industry and lays out all of the races at all of the tracks and all of the information needed to handicap said races. Split times, speed figures, ownership history, jockey stats – everything is contained within its pages. It’s available at selected retail stores 48 hours before most races (even longer for Triple Crown races) and should be tattered and ragged when you start flashing it around.

• Have fun – If you’ve so much money that you’re holding your breath every race, you’re not doing it right. Relax. Reel it in a bit. Enjoy yourself. Heart attacks should be reserved for the roulette wheel or the craps table. Not the horse track. Enjoy yourself.