For many bettors, handicapping horse races is a science. Others consider it an art form. For newcomers, the first step to spending countless enjoyable afternoons at Tampa Bay Downs is understanding that each race is a completely separate event with a myriad of possibilities.
The result of any race hinges on a variety of factors: speed, class, surface, track condition, pace, running style, jockey skill and another couple of dozen or so we lack space to mention. Trainers attempt to spot, or enter, their horses "where they belong" -- ideally, against horses of similar or lesser quality.
They also look for races on a surface and at a distance their horse has shown a liking for in the past, or a race with conditions they think will work in their favor based on their horse's breeding, running style and past performances. And every trainer at the track vies for the services of a top jockey.
Tampa Bay Downs fans are fortunate to receive educated insights before each race from "Paddock Preview" host Andrew "Shades" Demsky over the closed-circuit TV feed. Demsky has devoted the past three seasons to studying the nuances of both the Tampa Bay Downs dirt and turf surfaces, as well as following trainer patterns and determining which jockeys are most capable of guiding a long shot to victory.
Your mission, as a fellow handicapper and bettor, is to determine which horses will finish in the top flight. Unless, of course, one of the horses has the same name as a childhood chum, in which case a "hunch bet" is virtually mandatory.
The welcoming cornucopia of available wagers has increased fans' chances for a huge payday. But those don't come easy. So put on your thinking caps, sharpen your pencils and get ready to merge science and art into big bucks.