I recently took a gamble (sorry) on having a crack at online race wagering. Truth is, the boredom during COVID-19 lockdown was making me squirrelly, I had already watched all seven seasons of Ray Donovan and most of Westworld and any sort of distraction was welcome.

I actually had a brief, exciting (and expensive) life as a racehorse owner back in the ’80’s. I went to Woodbine a lot back then, and Greenwood occasionally for the fall meet. I have never been much of a gambler; it makes me feel like such a sucker when I lose. I remember driving up the Don Valley on my way back from Greenwood one day after losing $100 ‒ a fortune back then ‒ and swore to myself the next time I had the urge to bet the ponies I would just drive around the block, throw a handful of twenties out the window, save the gas and call it a day.

Signing up at HPIBet.com was easy; loading up my account and betting is even easier. I contacted my cable company and subscribed to the HPI racing channel so I could watch on the big screen. Glass of wine in hand, I was all set.

Greys and Longshots

My first few giddy attempts involved betting on the pretty greys (a weakness of mine) or on #5 (my husband’s old hockey jersey number) or on interesting names that mean something to me personally like Highwaytwentyseven or Breaking News or Crystal Lake. If #5 happened to be grey with a funny name it was a no-brainer. And then there are the longshots ‒ oh, you wicked, wicked seducers. I watched a $937 exactor come in one day thanks to the two longest shots in the race ‒ neither of which I had bet on, of course.

The temptation to go bananas at the beginning when you realize that there is a race going off every few minutes somewhere in the world is very compelling. However, as my modest startup funds began to dwindle I went back to actually reading the racing form (there is a free one available for download), sticking to one track, listening to what the handicappers had to say, and watching the post parade.

I Love a Parade

You can tell a lot about a horse before they get to the gate; when I used to go to the track on a regular basis many decades ago, I became pretty good at picking the odd winner. If it is a long race on a hot day, I don’t like to see a horse fretting himself into a lather before he even gets to the gate ‒ too much energy expenditure. Sometimes the one plodding along quietly could be the one who still has gas left in the tank at the end of a mile-and-a-sixteenth haul. For a sprint you want them looking alert and on their toes. IMO, I think.

The one thing I am still loathe to do is bet the heavy favourite; I would rather pass on the race altogether than make a 20-cent profit on my wager. I prefer to bet on the 10- or 15-to-1 hopeful with a spring in his step who could prove to be the spoiler.

I’m not worried about losing the house or squandering the kids’ inheritance; just putting $2 to show on a horse is enough to get my heart racing. I do seem to have an uncanny ability to pick the piddly payout third-place finisher (you know who you are, Daddymademedoit) or the one that runs dead last (yes, I’m talking about you, Mud Pie). I really wish there was last-place betting ‒ I would be a millionaire!

A Change of Fortune

Then lo and behold Woodbine opened for the season and my luck (or what I prefer to think of as handicapping chops) improved. Based on an article I had read about a top jockey landing here from Europe, I bet Darryl Holland’s mount Majestic Fever and they won the first race on opening day at 14-to-1 odds. Nice little payout. Later that day he coaxed 45-to-1 longshot Candy’s Dream into second place. There was some screaming going on in my living room, I must admit.

The next day I won again right out of the gate, so to speak. Then Mr. Diffley caught my eye in the post parade for the 4th race. He looked magnificent and ready to run, even though the other bettors didn’t seem to think so. I cashed in again at 18-to-1. Then in race six I took a chance on an unraced gelding with the charming name of Ennis the Menace. He won handily. Why did I bet this horse? Sorry to say, but I was well into my second glass of wine at this point and he was a pretty grey.

So after four weeks I am still having a blast. It has been noted by industry insiders that the sport needs to attract new fans ‒ or in my case, re-attract old ones. This seems like a great way to do it.

Will my winning streak continue? Likely not; I may not make or lose a fortune, but what else would I be spending money on in terms of exciting entertainment these days anyway?

Now if they just had online wagering for show jumping once the competitions return, as they will be sans spectators. I’ll take Beth Underhill and Count Me In in the Open Welcome Stake….


For some actual betting tips from a pro, read Tips for Betting on Horse Racing During COVID-19 with seasoned handicapper Jennifer Morrison.