Beginners Guide

Many experienced bettors view handicapping horse races as a science. Others consider it an art form. Either way, the first step toward spending countless enjoyable afternoons at Tampa Bay Downs is understanding that each race is a unique event, with a virtually infinite number of possible outcomes.

The result of any race can hinge on so many factors: speed, a horse's class, the surface (at Tampa Bay Downs, dirt or grass), track condition, pace, running style, jockey skill and another couple of dozen or so we lack space to mention.

Trainers attempt to 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 Ren Carothers over the closed-circuit TV feed. Carothers is devoted to her craft, familiarizing herself with a horse's style and ability, trainer patterns and jockeys most capable of guiding a long shot to victory.

Based on this wealth of information, 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 your best friend -- 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!