Aaron Halterman and Jared Welch are the co-founders of RacingDudes.com, a tips and fan education website. The pair launched the site in 2012 after Welch suggested to Halterman that his weekly Oaklawn wagering guides needed a broader audience. The site now covers nearly all the active tracks in the U.S. and features a weekly podcast called Blinkers Off. Find them on Twitter @racing_dudes.
What brought each of you to the sport of racing?
Aaron: My dad took me to the races, so he really deserves the credit as I didn't really have much interest in the sport other than the Triple Crown. The first race I attended was the Arkansas Derby in 2007 at Oaklawn Park. My life changed forever when a horse by the name of Curlin walked by me on his way to the paddock. I had never been around horses and really knew very little about them, but when he walked by me I knew he was something special. Then he went out on the track and dominated, and it was all over from there…I was hooked! I followed him throughout his career.
Jared: Like most Americans, I had always watched the Triple Crown but had never made a wager or followed a horse past the Belmont. But one race I watched with my grandfather stuck with me. The year was 2004 and the race was the Belmont Stakes. I didn't know much about what was going on other than this horse named Smarty Jones was trying to win the Triple Crown. After Smarty got (beaten a length) at the line, my grandfather went outside and just sat there, alone, looking out in disbelief and frustration.
Then came along Halterman and the real horse racing obsession. He asked if I wanted to go with him to the 2009 Rebel at Oaklawn. I had never been to a live horse track so I thought it would be fun. That year a horse by the name of Old Fashioned was the top prospect to win the Kentucky Derby before the Rebel. Then came along a horse by the name of Win Willy who upset him in the Rebel at odds of 56-1! It was brutally cold that day at the track, I lost nearly all the money I brought with me, and I left the track with a huge smile on my face. I was hooked.
Each of you kind of has your own approach to handicapping (straight form vs. jockey/trainer combinations). Obviously there are a lot of ways horseplayers can process all the information available to him–what do you think is the advantage to your preferred method?
Aaron: I'm a jockey/trainer guy. I've tried them all and this is by far the approach that works for me the best. I believe it simplifies things; sometimes there is too much information out there and things become too complex. Picking horses doesn't have to be rocket science. If the trainer and/or jockey is hitting at 30 percent and the horse looks decent…you pick that horse and move on. Simple.
Jared: I'm the straight form guy. I think the advantage of really analyzing the form is that I'm able to study trends, patterns, tendencies, etc. that are more in-depth than just finding the best trainer/jockey. I love looking at pace set-ups as well, which is something you have to use the form to do. Having said all that, I don't live and die by the form. For example, if I'm playing a Pick 3, Pick 4, etc. I never leave out a Pletcher horse, no matter how unlikely it seems that horse will win. (Thanks, Danza!)
What score are you most proud of to date?
Aaron: Last February I hit a 10-1 at Calder and an 8-1 at Tampa Bay in the same day. I had $50 to win on each of them. That was quite a thrill…I wish all days were that easy!
Jared: Last April in the Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct. I really liked a horse by the name of Oliver Zip (10-1 ML) and Halterman really liked Coup De Grace (4-1 ML). We don't often both really like horses who are mid- to high-priced horses, so I played them on top of a trifecta and boxed them in an exacta. They finished 1-2, just noses apart with Kobe's Back, the favorite, finishing third. The exacta paid $87.50 ($2) while the trifecta paid $215 ($1). It may not be the biggest score of my life, but a total of over $300 on a $16 wager works every time in my book.
Do you have a particular angle or pattern that you like to bet, or that you think gets overlooked?
Aaron: Since I'm a jockey/trainer guy, my favorite angle is when a trainer ships in to a track where he dominates. Bob Baffert at Oaklawn is a great example: when he brings horses in to Hot Springs, you better bet them, no matter what the form looks like. Also, you better bet him in the Haskell. It seems like everyone would get on board with this, but you can still get good prices on his horses in those spots every once in a while. Hoppertunity in the Rebel and Bayern in the Haskell are two examples that happened in 2014.
Also on a smaller scale, when Chris Richard runs horses at Keeneland, it's usually a “must bet” for me. The guy just doesn't lose there often.
Jared: I like what I refer to as, “progression horses”: when a horse is making all the right, logical steps and is primed and ready to win a big price. A good example is Pletcher's horse Golden Lad. He came into Oaklawn to run in the Razorback Handicap last March. He had come in off of three straight wins, each of which was a tougher allowance than the race before. And any time you get the bonus of seeing a progression horse with a trainer like Pletcher shipping at a track where he has had success… big time angle. I got Golden Lad at 5-1 that day, and he ran like a 1-5 favorite.
We hear a fair amount of debate about which aspects of racing (if any) can and do draw young people to the track. What have you found drives them there?
Aaron: I think no matter the age, fans have to have an interest in gambling or a love for horses to by drawn to the sport. Things like $1 beer nights at Canterbury Park will draw the college kids in as well. Some of those people that just come for the beer may not catch the racing bug, but there are probably a fair amount that will. Unfortunately, some tracks aren't as good with doing these types of promotions.
Jared: Drawing young people to the track is key. I'm a perfect example of this. It wasn't until I attended the track in person that I was hooked. We have a fair amount of experience in this area, since we have been trying to get our friends to come to the track with us. Activities like drinking, cashing tickets, good food, and a great environment seem to be the most important. Young people have to be approached differently than other demographics when you're trying to get them to come to a track. We live in a time where young people have a million different things they can do. Tracks have to be creative and turn a visit to the track into a social experience.
What is racing doing right, and what is it doing wrong to encourage new interest in betting and in racing?
Aaron: They aren't doing anything right…in fact they aren't doing anything at all, in my opinion. I don't think tracks are in touch with the fans they have, and I don't think they care about the ones they don't have.
Let's start from the gambling side of things: betting is way too complicated. The wagering menu is ok for guys like me who understand it, but tracks need to simplify it for newcomers as well. Why not allow “match-up bets,” where a new fan can just pick horse A to beat horse B? It's simple and anybody can understand that kind of thing. Why can't we allow prop bets as well? If you can bet on 65 different things during an NFL game, why is horse racing still stuck with the same old wagers? Why can't we bet on a horse to finish last? Or why can't we bet on which horse will be leading at the quarter pole? Any of these types of things should be possible…
Also, fan education is lacking. Every fan that comes to the track should be handed a free piece of paper explaining the basics of the game. Plus, we've got to simplify the Racing Form. It takes years to understand it. More and more people don't have the time to learn this skill. We also need more free information out there. DRF or Equibase probably don't want to hear that, but most newbies are completely intimidated by the Form and aren't going to pay for something they don't understand in the first place.
From the racing side: the promotional part of it is lacking. What other sport can you watch Hall of Famers compete on a daily basis? What other sport can you go to where YOU are the player? What other sport can you go watch the greatest athletes in their sport compete for free or at the most for $5? This is the greatest sport in the world, and if you get people to the track, they'll see it. I know I did…and I had very little interest until I actually went to the track.
Jared: This is a very touchy subject for us. As a new person to the sport, it becomes extremely intimidating to attend a track with little knowledge of the sport. I was lucky enough to be introduced by Halterman who, at the time, had enough knowledge to answer most of my questions. I see young people at the track who look confused and frustrated. Losing money sucks and if they keep doing it, they aren't coming back.
As relatively new fans to the sport, as well as being young, it has become very frustrating to watch how out-of-touch the industry can be. We can wager on a horse to win the Kentucky Derby in November yet we can't add new, exciting, and simpler betting options to increase interest in the sport? Why can't we seem to get exchange wagering going in the United States? Perhaps the largest trend we've ever seen in sports wagering is in-game betting. Horse racing is absolutely ignoring this trend, though I can't put all the blame on the horse racing industry; the fact that online wagering is not legal across the entire United States is laughable.
And finally, how are new and old fans to the sport of horse racing supposed to have any confidence in what the sport officials are doing when they themselves can't seem to work in unison?
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