Why You Should Spend a Day at the Track

Sports, Things to Do


Written by Brett Llenos Smith

Published on August 26, 2015

Fort Erie Race Track / Photo by Brett Smith

Now that pre-prohibition cocktails, wide-brimmed hats and waxed mustaches are here to stay, it might be time to give something else your great-grandparents enjoyed a fresh look: horse racing.

Ask any Western New Yorker over the age of 60, and they’ll tell you all the local racetracks used to be packed five nights a week. Before Netflix, before reality TV, before every sporting event ever was beamed directly into your living room in high-definition – people had to actually leave their house for entertainment. Unfortunately, with the dawn of modern convenience – going out to drop a few bucks on the ponies just kind of fell by the wayside.

It took a recent trip across the border to Fort Erie Raceway to confirm that spending an afternoon legally betting on a live sporting event can actually be kind of fun (duh).

All the local race tracks, including Batavia Downs and Buffalo Raceway, have the accoutrements of any bar: alcohol, food, cell phone reception, and places to sit and socialize. On my recent trip, Fort Erie even had live music playing between races. The added bonus of going to the track over your local pub is the slight prospect of walking out with more money than you had when you walked in.


Fort Erie Race Track / Photo by Brett Smith

Betting Basics

Let’s face it. A big reason most people don’t go to the races is they don’t know how to bet. There are a ton of websites where you can brush up on betting, but here are a few basics:

  • Odds – They tell you how much you can win. For example, odds of 7-1 means you can win $7 for every $1 you bet. Odds change as people place bets, so if everyone starts betting on that 7-1 horse, it can soon become a 5-1 or 4-1 horse.
  • Win, Place and Show – If you bet a horse to “Win”, it means you think it’ll come in first. “Place” means you get money if the horse comes in second or first, but it’s a safer bet and therefore you’ll win less in return. “Show” means your horse can come in first, second or third. It’s the safest bet you can make, and that means you don’t get much back.
  • Exacta and Trifecta – For an “Exacta” bet, you have to pick the horses that will come in first and second. It’s a hard bet, but that means you can win a lot more money. For a “Trifecta” bet, you have to pick the three horses that will come in first second and third. This is one of the hardest bets/biggest returns at the track.

Some people like betting on favorites with low odds because they want to win. Other people bet on long shots because they want to win big.


Watching your horse come in

The important thing is to bet on something, then get down to the rail. The best part of going to the track is watching your horse come out of the gate, listening to the track announcer say your it’s jockeying for position, watching the pack come down the stretch and triumphantly jumping in the air when your filly or mare crosses the finish line (or ripping your losing ticket into a thousand bits).

Races go off every half hour or less – so that’s just enough time to collect your winnings (or wonder where you went wrong), grab a fresh cocktail, adjust your hat, curl your ‘stache, look at the horses in the next race and place your bet.


Fort Erie Race Track

(through October 20)

230 Catherine Street

Fort Erie, Ontario Canada


Batavia Downs

(through December)

8315 Park Road

Batavia, NY


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Written by <a href="" target="_self">Brett Llenos Smith</a>

Written by Brett Llenos Smith

Brett Llenos Smith is a freelance writer based in Buffalo’s Allentown neighborhood who has been covering local food and culture for Step Out Buffalo over the past six years. As someone with a multi-ethnic background, he has a passion for exploring and understand the many diverse corners of Western New York.
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