Do you know your Derby?

Jan 31, 2015, 07:52 IST | Prakash Gosavi

If it is the first Sunday of February, it’s Derby Day. If you are going for it, do not be intimidated by racing jargon and betting terms. Ace the race with this...

Information is key. The first thing to get is the race book. You must have seen those small booklets in the hands of people who go to the races. There are many, but the leading ones are Cole, BOL and Money Spinner.

Horses thunder out of the starting gates at last year’s Derby
Horses thunder out of the starting gates at last year’s Derby

They give you all the information about the races, horses and their past performance, statistics, information about jockeys and trainers, and even recommendations of who they think would win.

The crowd swells. Come early to get your place in the sun!
The crowd swells. Come early to get your place in the sun!

Buy these books outside the racecourse gates, before you enter. Remember, though racing is not an easy game, even the best ‘strike rate is about only 35 per cent.’ The free source to get all that information is by logging on to, the race club’s official website.

Shades and binoculars are racing staples
Shades and binoculars are racing staples

Dressing up right
Opting to wear the bandhgala would be especially apt at this year’s Derby. The jacket, riding a wave of popularity thanks to PM Modi’s penchant for it, would look elegant, teamed with the right attire. If you want to stay safe, then while visiting the VIP enclosure (known as the members’ enclosure), follow the dress code.

The acceptable dress code for gentlemen at the races is a suit or safari. A full-sleeved shirt with a tie or a jacket or blazer will also do. Shoes are a must though. The dhoti, or churidar with appropriate footwear is also allowed. There is however, no specific dress code required if you are planning to visit the public enclosure.

Men and women though must wear comfortable footwear. Women especially do not wear heels that pinch or are difficult to walk in. The racecourse requires a lot of walking from the tote windows to the stands, and even to the food and drink counters. You will be uncomfortable if your footwear hurts and it will take away the joy from the day altogether. Sacrifice style for comfort, and that does not mean shoddy.

Those who are particular, may do well to carry a pair of sunglasses or shades with them. While early afternoon may not be a problem, the sun becomes harsh by 2 pm or thereabouts. These may come handy even though one prays for a slight nip in the air that day.

Action in the paddock
Viewing the horses in the paddock can be a great piece of education for beginners. You can see the horse owners and trainers giving instructions and planning their strategy with the jockeys who then mount the horses and take them to the starting gates. Races on a day’s card are conducted every 30 minutes.

About 20 minutes before race time, horses are brought into the paddock an oval area between the jockeys’ weighing room and the race track. This is impossible to miss. Lip-reading the instructions, judging the owner and trainer’s level of confidence by the way they are dressed is a favourite pastime for regulars.

Their thinking is simple: If they are well-dressed, they are expecting to be photographed leading in a winner! Not a bad piece of logic, eh? Horses do talk and it pays to listen. Even first-timers can attempt to assess a horse’s condition if they know what to look for.

The secret is to watch a horse’s coat (or skin-tone), ears, eyes, neck and tail. For first-timers, it is important to follow some paddock-tiquette. Which means do not shout and talk loudly in the paddock, disturbing others who are studying the horses. Do not stand in the middle of the chairs, obstructing the views of those watching.

Remember you are not transparent. Once the horses are moved off the paddock and moving towards the track, do not hurtle madly crashing into people on your way to the betting window. Derby is a crowded day, wend your way with caution and respect for others.

How to bet correctly
Make your betting decisions as soon as the horses leave the paddock to go to the starting gates. All the action after that shifts to the tote windows and the bookmakers’ ring. First-timers would be better off opting for the minimum bet of Rs 10. Keep your betting simple.

Choose to bet on a horse either to win come first or for a place finish anywhere in 1-2-3. If you like, say horse #2, go to any window that is marked ‘Sell’ or ‘Sell/Pay’ and say, “Number 2, WIN, 10.” Collect your ticket and if your horse wins, then go to any window marked ‘Pay’ or ‘Sell/Pay’, and encash your profit.

Managing money well
It is always great to win bets, but there is a hidden danger also that lurks behind quick money. Good fortune could make you unrealistic. When you choose to put your money at the races, it is always good to pay heed to the experts and what they say about bets at the derby. Here are a few guidelines to pay attention to:

>> Opt to make small bets.
>> Statistically speaking, only one in three races is won by the favourite.
>> The only certainty in racing is uncertainty. So, never be too sure about your bet.
>> Never chase losses while betting.
>> It is not wise to bet in every race. Also, it is not compulsory to bet if you do go to the Derby.

Horse talk

Coat: This means the tone of the skin. If it reflects light, it’s a good sign. If it does not, the horse may be rusty.

Eyes: Rolling eyes indicate too much excitement or fright. Sleepy eyes may signify a dull horse. A focused, steady and curious gaze in the direction of the sound indicates an alert and ready horse.

Ears: If the ears are pricked forward, it generally means the horse is ready and alert. Ears pinned back indicate fear, sometimes anger. A ready-to-win horse will always flick the ears towards the jockey when he is mounting. 

Neck: An arched neck signifies a well-tuned horse, but generally for a sprint (short-distance) race. It may not be a great sign for trips of more than a mile.

Tail: Ready-to-strike horses generally have a high (meaning ‘raised’) tail. They may lightly swish it while walking with springy steps. A kinked tail is a sign of genuine fear.

Did you know?
The racetrack is oval in shape and measures exactly 2,400 metres. The Derby runs over the strip of a mile-and-a-half (2,400 m) and starts from opposite the club members’ stand. The horses make one complete round of the oval to come back at the same place from where they start, to pass the winning post.

Only four-year-old horses are allowed to participate. Overall, the Derby is a good experience, it is not just a place to see and to be seen (however, if you really are in it for that, then get out those fashionable sunglasses) but a day of excitement, adrenalin and enjoyment, too. Keep a rein on your betting and you should have a day. Like that popular racing catchline reads: ‘If you never go, you will never know.’

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