Place your bets… thoroughly4/16/2014
It begins with a slow murmur and gradually builds to a calm shake. Then to a noteworthy grumble. Eventually it feels like Iowa may be on a fault line, as the ground quakes beneath spectators’ feet. It’s racing season at Prairie Meadows. It’s time to see speed, feel it and appreciate the athletics it involves. After all, it’s called horsepower for a reason.
April 18 marks the opening day of racing season. From April through August, people of all ages (minors must be accompanied by an adult 21 or older) head to the track to enjoy good clean, thoroughbred racing, which is followed by quarter horse racing August through October.
“Thoroughbreds are bred to run longer distances,” said Mary Lou Coady, Media Relations Specialist at Prairie Meadows. “Thoroughbred race distances at Prairie Meadows typically vary between three-quarters of a mile — six furlongs in racing terminology — to up to a mile and an eighth in distance.”
She said because quarter horses are usually stockier in build, they race shorter distances. Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, are generally considered “hot-blooded” horses, known for their agility, speed and spirit. Used mainly for racing, Thoroughbreds are also bred for other riding disciplines such as show jumping, combined training, dressage, polo and fox hunting. That’s why thoroughbreds are the most valuable of breeds, representing a multi-billion dollar annual industry, worldwide.
Speaking of money, as a bettor at the track, it’s good to make an informed wager. There are as many ways to choose horses as there are people’s opinions.
“Some people look at the trainer’s record, meaning the trainer of the horse — that’s one of my primary ways of handicapping a race. If that trainer has a high percentage of wins and top-three finishes, that is one way to go,” Coady said. “Some people make their selection based on the jockey’s record. However, the good jockeys generally ride the best horses, and the best trainers generally train the best horses.”
Others like to make what you might call “sentimental bets,” meaning they like a certain horse’s name, the way the horse looks, its color, its post-position in the starting gate, etc. And still others are strictly ritualistic, betting the same numbers every time, like many people do when they play the lottery.
Whether you’re a figures person or simply go with your gut, staying responsible is the most important thing. And hitting the tracks doesn’t have to be a solo event. Families with children are welcome to attend the races and experience the heart-pounding thrill of Thoroughbred racing from the stands.
“You can feel the ground rumble if you are standing outside near the racetrack during a race,” Coady said. “As the horses get near the finish line, you can also feel the reverberation of the air and the ground in your chest.
“Genetics, body structure, overall health, behavior and desire are some of the most important factors of any athlete — horses are not much different than humans in that regard.” CV
David Rowley is an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and a master’s in film journalism from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
Catch all the racing action of the season (April 18–Aug. 9) every Thursday-Saturday starting at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday starting at 1 p.m.