Beginners guide to betting

Never placed a bet before? Or perhaps you have, but now you're planning your first trip to the racetrack. Don't let fear of the unknown put you off – there's plenty of ways to have a flutter.

Pick up a race book at Trentham (or get the guide from the paper or download from the link above)

Racebooks are pocket and handbag sized, and once you get the hang of it, easy to refer to. The race book lists all the races for the day, and the runners in each race, along with form for each one – that's how they've been performing recently.

It'll give you the all-important race numbers and runner numbers – and this guide tells you how to start making sense of the form as well.

How do I put a bet on?

Go up to a betting window, and talk to the TAB operator. There will be a queue if a race is starting soon. The cardinal rule is, get your bet on early. 

What do I say?

Just three simple things:
The number of the race (or just say “the next race here” if that's the one you want). 
The number of the runner – that's the number on their saddlecloth.
How much you want to pay for your bet. 

How do I pick a winner?

There's no magic formula, and the experts don't always get it right. Here's a look at picking for three levels of expertise... 

Take a lucky pick

Choose your lucky number. Watch out for the jockeys' silks (that's the name for their colourful jacket and hat) , and pick your lucky colour. Or back your lucky number in each race – odds are you're bound to have a win during the day. Lucky wins from random picks have a long and honourable tradition. 

Take an Easy-Bet

If you want to get a bet on but can't decide what to back, ask the TAB operator for an Easybet. The computer will pick your runner for as little as $2. 

View the horses at the birdcage or parade ring

Before the start of a horse race, the runners are paraded. At Trentham, this takes place in the birdcage – the enclosure in front of the members stand and on most days the parade ring (between the members stand and the saddling stables)  Take a look and see what you think. Also watch them on their way to the start line. Once the horses leave for the start you have about 10 minutes to place your bet. 

Good looking...? 

Look for a horse striding around purposefully, calmly taking in what is happening, looking alert and focused, coat well groomed looking strong and muscular. If a thoroughbred gives a “bunny hop” - a small buck - when the jockey jumps up, it signifies that it is feeling really well and in good form. If you see a horse do that, back it (at your own risk!) 

Or a bad vibe...? 

You'd be wise to avoid a horse that is charging around pulling the arms out of its groom and generally misbehaving. Likewise any you see loping around lazily like a labrador looking for somewhere to lie down. Also beware a horse whose coat looks dull or who is sweating-up a lot. A little bit of sweat is often a good sign but profuse sweating, especially between the legs (never a good thing in man or beast) signals an agitated, nervous horse unlikely to run well. 

What do the track ratings mean?

Different horses may prefer different ground conditions and may only show their best form when the horse is matched to their preferred "rating" track. Some prefer hard and fast, while other can shine when they have to plough through conditions that are reminiscent of the old Athletic Park on a bad day.

How a horse has performed on various track conditions can be found in their racebook form such as F(0-0-0) G(16-2-4) D(14-4-4) S(9-0-4) H(9-1-2). This shows in the format "Fast"(Starts-Firsts-Other placings) similarly for Good, Dead, Slow and Heavy tracks. Checking the conditions on the day and comparing to your selection may help to pick a winner based on previous form.

How to read the form

At the very least you'll use your race book for the race number (usually there are 8-10 races on a raceday), and runner number (that's your horse's number in the race, which it will also wear on its saddle cloth). 

But there's a wealth of information in the string of numbers by each runner's name. Here's an example: 

2        3X021        No Hero        5             65 Jonathan Riddell

The 2 at the start of the line is No Hero's runner number. He'll be wearing it, and if you pick him, it's the number you'll give the TAB operator. 

The numbers in the form column refer to the last five races No Hero has run, and they read from right (its latest race) to left. 

1 = 1st (he came 1st in his most recent race).
2= 2nd (he came 2nd two races ago).
0 = 10th or more (he came in 10th position or worse three races ago).
X = He had a three month break from racing.
3 = 3rd (he came third in his last race before the break)

5 is the barrier number – that's where he'll start from in the starting gates. 1 is the closest to the inside rail and is considered the best starting position; the higher the number the worse the draw. 

65 is the number of kilos the horse will be carrying in the race. The handicapper at the racing club sets these weights for each horse, to equalise their chances. Mares and apprentice jockeys may get an allowance to reduce the carrying weight in some races. Watch for this.

Jonathan Riddell is the name of No Hero's jockey for the race. 

There is usually a lot more information available in the race books including the colours worn by the jockey, the horses "rating" which the handicappers use, a description of how it ran in its last few races and who it ran against, how much money its won, its connections (owners), breeding, and trainers. There are normally guides in the racebook or at the Office at Trentham. If all else fails, ask someone. Everyone had to learn somehow.

Bet types to choose from

Win - Pick a runner to finish first. 
Place - Pick a runner to be first, second or third. 
Each Way - This popular bet gives you both a win and place on your pick – e.g. $1 each way costs $2 - $1 for the win bet and $1 for the place bet. If your pick wins you collect win and place dividends; if it comes second you collect the place dividend. 
Quinellas, trifectas, first four, doubles, trebles are all bets that may be on one race, or over more than one, normally with more than one horse and may require them to finish in a particular order. There is normally a section in the race book that explains this, or just ask at a tote. Normally the harder they are to pick? The greater the reward!

Special event bets 

Christmas Cracker – Placing a bet such as a Christmas Cracker bet at Trentham Christmas at the Races could win you extra prizes. These special offers are normally advertised on the day.  

Got your ticket? Check it!

Check your ticket and make sure there's no mistake or misunderstanding before you leave the window. The rules are, in the 30 minutes before the race starts, you have 2 minutes to cancel a win, place or quinella bet if a mistake has been made. 

Some canny punters advise, if the ticket issued is wrong, keep it, and also put on the bet you meant to – because you'd really kick yourself if the bet you cancelled, won! 

How do I collect my winnings?

When you've gone woo-hoo because you've picked a winner, wait for the announcement of the race results before going to the TAB operator to collect. It will be made a few minutes after the race; it could be longer if the race outcome was a photo finish, or if an on-track controversy had to be resolved in an “enquiry”.