I’m not a gambling person, but I was assigned to cover harness racing at the Canfield Fair, including the parimutuel wagering aspect of it.
That’s how I ended up in the grandstand at 11:30 a.m., with a $2 racing program in hand.
As I flipped through the pages, I got the general sense of it. Each race was labeled at the top, the horses’ names and numbers were listed in bold down the left side, but it was the tiny print that I was unsure of.
The fair does offer a free seminar on parimutuel wagering and how to read a race program, but I found that chatting with any of the many fairgoers in the grandstands provided more than enough information.
Samm Lewis of Warren became my unofficial guide. She explained the difference between win (first place), place (first or second place) and show (first through third place) and where to find the horses’ previous finishers and where they had raced.
“I look to see if a horse has won. Some horses are winners, and some are followers,” she said.
But often, people wager based on the horse’s name, its colors or number, she added.
I figured I would give it a whirl. I went to the wagering station at the end of the grandstand and put $3 for horse No. 1 to place in the second race. Yes, I chose the horse because of its name, Bee Mischievous.
I took a seat in the stands and watched the first race, which had only one entrant and no one was permitted to wager on, complete two laps. Then the six horses for the second race entered the track to warm up.
I heard lots of commentary around me, “No. 5 looks skittish” or “No. 3 is fast; I want that one,” and many people choosing horses with their friends and family without placing official bets.
As the pace car went to the back curve, I realized I was excited. It was only $3, but I really wanted to Bee Mischievous to win.
It turned out, I chose well (and had some luck). Bee Mischievous won the race, and I pocketed $5.40. I would have received a little more if I had picked Bee to win outright, but I was cautious and picked “place” instead of “win.”
Including the cost of my program and the initial bet, I came out 40 cents ahead of where I started, and that was fine with me.
If you want to watch the races or try your hand at wagering, the horses will be back on the track at noon Monday.