THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Win, place, show? Picking the ponies too darn hard

Probably less than a million wagered at Foxfield

I know two things about horses. 1) The older and fatter they are, the more likely my mother is to ride them. And 2) if you want to make money, you'd be better off buying a yacht. At least you can rent out the yacht.

Even betting on horses isn't worth the headache. The 136th  running of the Kentucky Derby is Saturday, May 1, and if you have any sense, you won't have any money riding on it. All right, we're allowed a little fun– you won't have any real money riding on it. If you attend a Derby party and have $20 to lay down on Paddy O'Prado (not that I'm recommending Paddy O'Prado), go ahead, live a little. 

But when it comes to serious betting, you have to be a lot smarter than the average bear. 

Have you ever bet on horses? Really bet on horses? Gone to down to the track or bought a racing form? 

If you have, you know there are about 100 ways to lose your money on a horse, and 99 of those are pretty difficult to understand. Shoot, even understanding odds is confusing– how exactly can odds on a horse be 50-1 if there are only 20 horses in a race? (If your horse wins, you get $50 for a $1 bet. But there aren't even 50 horses in the race! What's that all about?) 

Currently, the odds on Paddy O'Prado are 30-1, if you're interested.

Consider the array of betting possibilities for just one race. There are futures, the straightforward practice of betting on a future race. The odds may change as the race nears, but you get paid at the original odds you took. (All Derby futures are closed, by the way.) 

Then there's Quiniela– a bet on two horses to finish sequentially, in either order. The Quiniela Box is betting on three horses and winning if any two finish sequentially in either order. But a Quiniela Box counts as three bets. 

A Prefecta requires two horses to finish sequentially in exact order, and then there's the Trifecta– betting on three horses and a $1 Trifecta Box.

My favorite is the $1 Trifecta Key. In the $1 Trifecta Key, you pick your favorite horse to win, then two or more others to place and show in any order. To bet, you say, "$1 Trifecta Key on 1 with 2 and 3." 

You're actually making two $1 bets, so your total bet is $2. To win, your Key horse must win, and the other two must finish after him (or her) either 1-2-3 or 1-3-2. Pretty simple, eh?

Last year, the total recorded on- and off-track wagers for the Kentucky Derby were $104,563,501, an 8.7% decrease from the $114,557,364 total in 2008. 

That's a lot of money, even without the millions in unrecorded bets made at country clubs and cocktail parties. But it still doesn't come anywhere near the total bets on the NCAA men's basketball tournament: $2.5 billion as estimated by the FBI. If the Kentucky Derby really is the most exciting two minutes in sports, and there are so many ways to bet on horses, why the discrepancy?

Frankly, serious betting on horses is just too darned complicated to be fun– and even semi-serious betting isn't much better. A friend of mine works in an office that has a pool for almost every sporting event involving more than two players or teams (they had one for the Master's, for heaven's sake). 

But there's no mention of starting a pool for the Kentucky Derby.

Sure, it could be done, and done fairly simply at that. Put your money in the pot and pick a winner. 

But that's too simple– it lacks the sustained headiness of the NCAA bracket— but let's face it: anything more complicated requires a bookie and a wall safe. And really, after those two minutes are up, it's pretty difficult to get excited over a $1 bet for 15th and 16th places, isn't it?  

Aw, what the heck? Who am I kidding? Come Saturday, I've got $20 on Paddy O'Prado to show.


Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her">Sports Doctor site.