Going to the Preakness? CHECK YOUR TICKETS!

May 13, 2008 | Gary Quill

If you plan on being among the 125,000+ attending the Preakness at Pimlico this year, I have some valuable information to share with you here. It’s not my hot tips. Those will be posted in my blog on Friday evening. If you intend on placing a bet for yourself, your friends or co-workers who found out you are going, I encourage you to read the information below. It just might save you from some unnecessary heartache and stress on Saturday around 6:30pm.
First things first! If you are not familiar with how to make a bet, continue reading. If you are a grizzled horse racing vet, you can skip down to TIP OF THE DAY.
When you get to the betting window, there are 5 bits of information you need to communicate to the person (Pari-Mutuel Clerk) who will punch your ticket(s). If you say them in the following order, it will drastically reduce the chance of the clerk punching your bet incorrectly…
            1. Track you want to bet (example: “At Pimlico…”)
            2. Race Number            (example: “…12th race or race 12…”)
            3. Amount                    (example: “…$2…”)
            4. Type of Bet              (example: “…to Win…”)
            5. Horse Number           (example: “…on # 7”)
TIP OF THE DAY: Saying the Race Number is the most important bit of information communicated to the clerk. Why? On Preakness Day, the majority of people place wagers on the Preakness race hours before the race goes off. The fact that there are ten (10) other races being run prior to the Preakness race opens up the possibility for the clerk to punch your Preakness race bet on the next available race to be run. If you do not tell the clerk the correct race number (FYI – Preakness is Race 12), he/she will punch your bet for the next available race.

LOCK OF THE CENTURY: This goes hand-in-hand with the above TIP OF THE DAY. When you make a wager, pay the clerk the amount due and grab your ticket, CHECK THE TICKET BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE WINDOW. Every window and every ticket contain these words or something to the effect “check your ticket for accuracy”. Whether you make the bet at 10am when the windows open as you are sipping on your first Bloody Mary or 5 hours later in a drunken stupor, for your own good CHECK YOUR TICKET. The race number will be indicated on the far left side. For example, a $2 WIN bet on # 7 in race 12 will print as R12 $2 WIN 7. In the past few years, track management has taken steps to be more “race track amateur patron friendly” by printing the horse name on any WIN, PLACE and/or SHOW wager ticket on the Preakness race.  

Believe me. Since 1988 I’ve worked on Preakness Day as either a Pari-Mutuel Clerk or Supervisor. It happens every year. After the Preakness race, thousands line up to cash their winning ticket. And every year, as a Supervisor I encounter at least one person who is holding a ticket NOT for the Preakness race, but for an earlier race. It has the correct number combination, but the wrong race number. When they go to cash the ticket, the machine displays, “NOT A WINNER”. The clerk informs them of their mistake, they get irate and then the clerk calls me over to handle it. Every one of those persons got even more irate with me after I explain the situation. They threaten to do bodily harm and/or kill me because I won’t give him/her their winnings. There is nothing I can say or do to make it right (aka give them money). It sucks. I feel for them. Preakness Day is the only time they see the inside of a race track. They have no clue how to make a bet. Sometimes it’s not even their bet. They made the bet for a friend who gave them the money to make the bet because they were going to the Preakness. So now they are really in deep do-do! All they had to do was take 5 seconds to check their ticket before leaving the window and this ugly mess could have been avoided. And that’s another problem. Many don’t even know how to read the ticket to know whether or not the ticket is correct.

If your intention is to bet the Preakness race, this year it is the 12th race on the card. Therefore, the first phrase out of your mouth must be, “At Pimlico in the 12th race…”. I’d suggest going one step further saying, “I want to bet the Preakness. It’s the 12th race, right?!” This way you have clearly indicated to the clerk that your bets are for the Preakness race. Still, this is no guarantee that you will get the correct ticket. Clerks are human. They can make mistakes. The first Preakness that I worked as a Pari-Mutuel Clerk, the windows opened at 9:30am at which time I could not see the end of my line… and never could until the last horse entered the starting gate of the Preakness race at 6:04pm. That day I punched over 13,000 tickets! Do you think I made any mistakes?! Considering that was probably the fifth or sixth day that I had ever worked at Pimlico, odds are I made at least a few. If my error rate was 0.10%, then I made 13 mistakes. The mistakes I may have made probably went unnoticed because the person holding the ticket thought it was a loser, when in fact it could have been a winner… in the wrong race. Or one of those mistakes resulted in an irate customer at another window?
I cannot stress this point enough. CHECK YOUR TICKETS BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE WINDOW. If it is incorrect, the clerk can cancel it and reissue the correct ticket. Once the starting gate has opened for the race number printed on that ticket (e.g. R4), it’s a valid wager that cannot be cancelled. Caveat emptor! That is, “Let the buyer beware” holds true at the race track as well.
If you have any specific questions about different types of wagers and/or how much a particular wager costs, please submit a Comment to this blog and I will append a “GQ replied:” to it for all to see.