Why Do They Wear Those Hats?

May 6, 2007

Going into the Kentucky Derby yesterday, the only horse I had ever heard of in this year’s field was Street Sense. And that was because of a segment on Letterman on Friday. Paul is really into horseracing. And for the last couple of years, we have been watching the three major races, the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont.

This year we added a new element to our horseracing watching – online betting. As Paul was lining up his bets for the Derby yesterday on the computer, I queried him about the legality of online betting in the U.S., and he responded that is it banned but they exempted horseracing – you gotta love lobbyists.

In 2005, we were all rooting for a horse named Afleet Alex. The owners of Afleet Alex learned about a girl named Alex Scott who had an aggressive childhood cancer. At the age of four, Alex set up a lemonade stand to pay for her treatment. With the help of Afleet Alex’s owners, she raised over $114,000 from that lemonade stand. But a horse named Giacomo won with odds 96 to 1. In 2006, Barbaro won with a commanding lead at the Derby but as we all know, hurt himself during the Preakness two weeks later.

With an hour to the race, I decided that I would bet $20. As I didn’t know, there are many different combinations you can bet on in horseracing. You choose the top three horses. You can bet on the winner. You can bet on if the horse will place in the top three. And there are more and more exotic bets that pay huge amounts. I decided that I would only bet for winners. First, I wanted to bet on a long shot with a lot of buzz. So I put $10 on Zanjero (36 to 1). Second, I wanted to put a modest bet on a contender, $4 on Street Sense (9 to 2). Third, another modest bet on a long shot, $4 on Imawildandcrazyguy and to finish it out, $2 on a long shot contender, Circular Quay (11 to 1).

For that hour before the race, I began to think about if Zanjero actually won; I would have $360 – not too shabby.

Minutes before the start, all the bets were in and we had bets on all of the horses in the field but three. Paul could have been the biggest winner of the day with $50 on Curlin and some other bets that involved Curlin winning it all.

We all gathered around the TV and between the nine of us in the room, we had $250 in on various bets. As the gates opened, out of pure excitement for the race, we all yell incoherently during the start. As all the horses dashed out of the gates, it was clear within seconds why some horses had odds 36 to 1. Within twenty seconds, I knew that Zanjero was going to lose. He was in 16th place and was losing ground. Street Sense was in 19th coming around the first bend. And my other two horses were not going anywhere. I was in trouble.

Then something happened.

Street Sense was riding the inside rail and things began to open up. He got some lucky breaks and as they came around the final bend, Street Sense passed the leaders and pulled ahead 2.25 links to win it all. I was shocked.

With my $20 investment, I won $23.60. That is with Churchill Downs and the website taking their cuts. Claudia had the biggest investment gain. A $2 bet on Street Sense paid her $11.80. With the $250 in on various horses, we won a total of $35.40. It is clear that horseracing is not going to be a viable future for us. Instead of my $360 payout, I won $3.60 – not quite as good. But with money on the line, it truly added a cool new element to the fastest two minutes in sports.


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