For many people, a horse race is just more fun if you have a bet riding on the outcome.
But Keeneland handicapper and racing analyst Katie Gensler said you don't have to be a bettor to enjoy the races.
"Humans love to look at beautiful animals," said Gensler, who also works with the America's Best Racing effort to generate new fan interest in the sport. But if you are betting, it undoubtedly is much more fun to win than to lose.
"For beginners, stick with win-place-show bets," Gensler said. "I see so many new bettors play trifectas and superfectas and get down $100 and get discouraged. ... We want people to keep coming back."
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And if they keep losing, they might not, she said. So even though the payouts are usually smaller with simple bets, so are the potential losses.
"And I see it all the time — a lady will bet a favorite all the time ... and win $1.80. And it's like she won the Derby," Gensler said. "You get a pretty good feeling even if you only win a little."
Win-place-show bets are the most straightforward kind of wager: a bettor picks a specific horse to win or come in second or third. An exacta, which involves picking the first- and second-place finishers, is a little more complex but can be fun if you pair a favorite with a longshot you like.
As an analyst, Gensler shares up-to-the minute observations on Twitter for Keeneland under the handle @katiemikolay.
"I'm not right all the time. I really encourage people to go with their gut. I'm going with the horse that I think has the best shot, but if I see something that stands out in the paddock, that's an important part of my job," she said.
Keeneland also has seen a lot of bettor interest in its on-track betting website, which debuted to the general public last spring and has been upgraded. Last fall, 750 to 1,000 people bet through Keeneland's "app," for which you can sign up at Wagering Central in the Grandstand.
"People really seem to enjoy it. It seems to be easy," said Brad Lovell, vice president and chief information officer. "We are working very hard to simplify it or provide a way to educate people on wagering."
Keeneland will have "betologists" at its Wagering Central, and handicappers like Gensler and Mike Battaglia to help pick horses.
"We're trying to make it less mysterious and easier to comprehend," Lovell said. "We want to evolve the casual fans to avid fans."
IF YOU GO
Keeneland Spring Meet
When: April 5-26. Gates open at 11 a.m. First post at 1:05 p.m.; races are run approximately every half hour. No racing on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Where: Keeneland Race Course, 4201 Versailles Rd.
General admission: $5, free for ages 12 and younger.
Parking: Free (shuttles available). $5 preferred parking, $10 clubhouse valet.
Tailgating: Saturdays at "The Hill" official tailgate lot, adjacent to Keene Barn and Entertainment Center. Enter Gate 1 across from Man o' War Boulevard or via the Van Meter Road entrance. Food trucks, jumbo TV, wireless wagering, wagering terminals, music.
Learn more: (859) 254-3412. Keeneland.com.IF YOU GO
HIGHLIGHTS of the SPRING MEET
April 5: College Scholarship Day: free admission to college students with ID, live music, giveaway of 10 $1,000 scholarships.
April 5, 12, 19: Friday Happy Hours, featuring live music in the grandstand Mezzanine Bar immediately after the races.
April 6: $500,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes.
April 6, 13, 20: Sunrise Trackside family activities: Breakfast With the Works, 7-8:30 a.m.; children's activities in Kids Club Corner, 7-9 a.m.; equine-related demonstration in paddock, 8:45 a.m.; walking tours of Keeneland, 8:30-10:30 a.m.; photos with bugler George "Bucky" Sallee in the paddock, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; trackside handicapping seminar, 11:30 a.m.; Q&A session with jockey in the paddock, 12:05 p.m.
April 10, 17, 24: Keeneland Handicapping Contest, $10 entry fee.
April 12: $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile Stakes (G1). Maker's Mark bottle signing.
April 13: $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1), $300,000 Madison Stakes (G1), $300,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1), $175,000 Commonwealth Stakes (G3) and $100,000 Shakertown Stakes (G3). ABRV at The Hill Racing 101 program from The Jockey Club.
April 14: Horses and Hope Pink Day, activities in North Terrace and Breast Cancer Survivor Luncheon in sales pavilion.
April 17-20: Budweiser Clydesdales appear.
April 20: $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (G3).
April 21: Military Appreciation Day:, free general admission with a military ID, free food, live music, giveaways and children's activities.
April 26: Concert on the Lawn to benefit the Markey Cancer Foundation on Clubhouse Lawn immediately after races, featuring Changes in Latitudes.