May and June feature some of the most exciting and fastest events in sports – the Kentucky Derby (May 3), Preakness Stakes (May 17) and Belmont Stakes (June 7). Combined, they make up the Visa Triple Crown.
Most of us aren’t hardcore handicappers, but even if you’re a casual sports fan – or just ready to down a few cocktails and wear a fancy hat – you’ll still enjoy the races. Trust us. Especially with our handy layman’s guide here. Try your hand at a local off-track wagering site, take a trip to Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course or just sidle up to the kitchen counter, whip up some drinks, and watch the action from your couch. Here are a few expert tips for anyone to make the most of the Triple Crown.
Learn the Lingo
New to the track? Don’t worry – if you’re heading trackside to Harrisburg’s Penn National or Pimlico, here’s a list of betting terms that will help make even the squarest square look like a sharp.
General Terms – Before you bet, get acquainted with these.
Square: The average Joe making blind bets, usually on favorites.
Sharp: An informed bettor who can find value in horses that most have overlooked
Morning Line: The original odds; odds change the closer it gets to post time
Post Time: When the race begins. MTP refers to “Minutes to Post” – the amount of time you have to get a bet down.
Basic Bets – If you have no idea how to bet, keep it simple
Win: Pick a horse. If it wins, you win. Easy as that.
Place: Your horse must finish either first or second. Bigger payouts if the horse finishes second.
Show: Your horse must finish first, second or third. Usually low payouts.
Exotic Bets – These wagers are a little trickier but have larger payouts.
Exacta: Pick one horse to win and one to finish second; must finish in that exact order.
Trifecta: Same as the exacta, but add a third horse.
Box: You can “box” exactas and trifectas, which costs a little more but allows your horses to finish in any order. Payouts will be less than straight exactas or trifectas.
Playing the Ponies
Matt Bernier – one of the stars of Esquire Network’s reality show Horseplayers – has predicted the winner of the Kentucky Derby for the previous two years. (This year he’s going all in on a horse named Hoppertunity.) Here, Bernier offers some tips to help you make your trip to the track or OTW a fun and profitable one.
DO: Buy the Daily Racing Form for records of how horses have previously run. There’s a bold number called the Beyer Speed Figure – the higher the number, the faster the horse ran.
DON’T: Skip the post parade, which is when the horses walk from the paddock to the track. If the horse looks really sweaty, that might be a negative. Is it up on its toes? Does it look ready to go?
DO: Pay attention to the jockey. A great jockey can improve a lesser horse, and a less experienced jockey can be detrimental to a horse.
DON’T: Bet over your head. Only wager what you can afford to lose. You can have a great time at the track with only $20.
DO: Bet longshots. Why not? If a horse looks really good to you and it’s 30-1, give it a shot.
DON’T: Forget to hit the bar. You’re there to have a good time. I’ve always been a bourbon guy, whether it’s a Woodford straight or a Jack and Coke.
Drinks of Champions
Each leg of the Triple Crown has its own signature cocktail. The Preakness has the Black-Eyed Susan, and the Belmont has the Belmont Breeze. And, of course, the best-known – the mint julep – the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Chris Chamberlain – a Lancaster-based mixologist and national winner of the 2013 Iron Mixologist title – knows his way around the bar. Here, he offers recipes for concocting the perfect Triple Crown drinks.
The Mint Julep – the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.
First, add 10-15 mint leaves to the bottom of the cup and lightly press the leaves to release the oils (do not muddle to death and tear the mint). Next, add a half-ounce of simple syrup or maple syrup and two ounces of Woodford Reserve bourbon. Stir the ingredients together with a bar spoon. Add crushed ice to the cup, mounding the top like a snow cone. Bundle three to four sprigs of mint together and add for a garnish. A lemon twist to the top of the cocktail adds a fresh citrus aroma.
The Black Eyed Susan – the official drink of the Preakness Stakes
Combine one-ounce of Finlandia Pure Vodka, a quarter-ounce of Jack Daniels, a half-ounce of Cointreau, a half-ounce of simple syrup, one and a half-ounces of blood orange juice and one and a quarter-ounces of pineapple juice and a few ice cubes in a cocktail shaker and shake. Strain into an ice filled Collins glass and garnish with a full orange wheel and a black cherry. For some added depth try adding a splash of ginger beer.
The Belmont Breeze – the official drink of the Belmont Stakes
Combine one and a half-ounces of Woodford Reserve bourbon, a quarter-ounce of dry sack sherry, one-ounce of fresh lemon juice, one-ounce of simple syrup and a quarter-ounce of fresh pomegranate juice into a cocktail shaker. Strain into an ice filled rocks glass and garnish with an expressed lemon twist and sprig of mint.
A Road Trip to The Preakness
On May 17, plan a short drive south on Interstate 83, take the Northern Parkway exit outside of Baltimore and you’ll be in the heart of what has been labeled “The People’s Party” – the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes.
The second leg of the Visa Triple Crown has been a right of passage for generations of Baltimorians looking for the biggest afternoon party of the year on the sun-drenched infield of Pimlico Race Course. Although the free-for-all days of bring-your-own inflatable swimming pools, sofas, Slip ‘N Slides and booze into Pimlico’s infield ended in 2009, the Preakness nevertheless has continued its party atmosphere with room for 120,000 fans to enjoy food, drinks, music and traditions at InfieldFest 2014.
So even if you couldn’t care less which horse takes the Woodlawn Vase and the blanket of Black-Eyed Susans, InfieldFest offers plenty of reason to make the trip. Look for tickets here.
Things to look for…
Beer and bikinis: InfieldFest features more food, more drinks and more events than ever before. The bikini contest, graffiti wall, local concessions area and Mug Club all-you-can-drink area are all back. Added this year is the Mug & Vine Lounge at the Top of the Stretch – an area with a full cash bar, private restrooms, a jumbo TV screen and picnic lounge.
Listen to music: The music lineup at this year’s festival is headlined by Grammy-winning New Zealand pop star Lorde. The 17-year-old “Royals” singer is joined by Switchfoot, Eli Young Band, Sundy Best and Go Go Gadjet.
Keep your eyes on the skies: Aerial daredevilry is featured throughout the day as the Red Bull Air Force conducts skydiving and paragliding demonstrations. The pre-race activities are highlighted by a fly-over of a World War II B-25 Mitchell Bomber.