Increase Your Odds at Picking the Ponies

Five tips on winning at the track

The Kentucky Derby is right around the corner, and this weekend, the Illinois Derby should be a factor in how that race shapes up.

The $500,000 Illinois Derby is hosted by Hawthorne Race Course in nearby Stickney.

But what if you've never been to the track and have no idea how to bet on the horses?

Hawthorne pro Katie Mikolay can help. She's been going to the track with her family since the age of 5 and is making a mark in a sport dominated by men.

Her philosophy for newbies at the track? Take your time, have some fun and go with your gut.

Katie's Tips:

  1. Running Well? Is the horse winning? Check the last three races to see if he/she finished first, second, or third ("in the money"). These records are right in the program. If yes, he's probably a good bet.
  2. Trainer and Jockey: Are they winning? Never underestimate the trainer and jockey. Check out each of their winning percentages and their rank for the current meet.
  3. Distance: Does the horse like the distance of the race? The Illinois Derby is one-and-an-eighth mile and the Kentucky Derby is one-and-a-quarter mile. Some horse like to run shorter distances (under a mile) and some run longer distances. Of course, in the end there is definitely a bit of luck involved. The most important thing to remember is to have fun.
  4. Horse's Name: If you like the name of a horse, you can have a lot of fun shouting her name as she races around the track.
  5. Go with Your Gut: If all else fails and you have a hunch about a horse no matter what the odds are, then stick with it!

BONUS TIP: Play the odds. Long shots are a lot of fun when they win, but then again, they're called long shots for a reason. The favorite is most likely to make you some money, but not very much. So look for a horse paying something in the middle. You can make some money and will always feel like your horse has a shot, which is really what it's all about.

The Grade 2 Illinois Derby is one of several final prep races Saturday before the Kentucky Derby on May 2. Tampa Bay Derby winner Musket Man is favored in the race, but should get a challenge from Giant Oak.

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