Why We Love This Game — Written by Sarah Crouse

Why We Love This Game — Written by Sarah Crouse

‘I Wound Up in First Place’

I was initially exposed to the race track by my dad when I was a young girl. He brought us to Santa Anita Park as a family on various occasions. He’s always loved it there so we frequented the track on big racing days and holidays. I didn’t ever handicap, nor did I even understand what the word meant, until I met my now-fiancé. He’s always loved the sport immensely, and his life has been centered around racing since I met him in 2010. In fact, our first date was at Santa Anita where we got to see Zenyatta run. I quickly learned how big a fan he was when I witnessed him get into a full-fledged debate with a complete stranger over who was better, Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra.

Zenyatta is better.

Cell phone photo of Zenyatta that Crouse took on her first date with her soon-to-be husband.
Cell phone photo of Zenyatta that Crouse took on her first date with her soon-to-be husband.

Since we’ve been together, I’ve learned bits and pieces of handicapping strategies from my fiancé and his business, Trip Handicapping. Through Trip Handicapping, I am forced to sit through replays of every single race and see why each horse ran the race they did, how they ended up where they did, analyze the efforts of the jockeys, and incorporate the natural talents of the horses.  Handicapping to me is incredibly complicated because I can’t seem to grasp the science behind it all. For my fiancé, it’s almost like a drug. We sit and watch the same replays of the same races and he is able to put all of the information together into a package of trip notes. We’re just starting the business up again after a tough recovery from a major surgery I had a few weeks before we initially launched. Even with all of this exposure to his business, I don’t consider myself a handicapper by any means.

As far as the contest goes, I figured it would be a good way to control the amount of money I’d be betting that day. We had family and friends come out to enjoy the day and I knew being in the contest would keep me occupied and entertained the entire time. The contest required a $400 entry fee: $200 went to the prize money and $200 was mine to bet. The only allowed wagers were Win, Place, Show and exacta. The first bet I made was a $10 win bet. I just wanted to slowly feel the day out and try and grow my money little bits at a time. Midway through the day I was down to just $52 and I absolutely thought ‘that’s it. I’m out of the contest’. Flustered, I decided to put all of my $52 on Princess Violet in the Madison at Keeneland. Fortunately, she won, and I was back up to around the $300 range. YES!

I won another race at Keeneland, and then won about $100 on March in the Bay Shore. I was sweating bullets (or vodka cranberries) throughout that entire inquiry! The leaderboard was updated and I saw that I was then in 5th, which was the last spot the contest was paying out to. I bet a few more races with no luck and was down to $282 going into the finale at Aqueduct. I knew throughout the day that I had an advantage over the rest of the contestants because I wasn’t scared to go all in, no matter how much money I had. I came in expecting to lose all of my money already, so why not? I would have to go all in to win or move up into one of the top 5 spots.

I couldn’t tell by just watching the leaderboard but it seemed like most of the contestants were playing conservatively, which I can understand in a live-money contest. At the time, whoever was in 5th had about $480. I was going back and forth trying to decide whether or not I should put all of my $282 on the 7:5 favorite to at least give myself a decent shot of taking the 5th spot. I ultimately decided against that because when I went over the race, I liked the 8, Hop Skip and Away, who was 11:1 at the time. With my family encouraging me, I went all in again, this time with $100 to win, $62 to show, and $120 in $10 exactas with him in 1st and 2nd.

My new favorite jockey, Manny Franco, gave him a ground saving ride and got up to win over one of the horses I played him in exactas with, so I ended up winning all 3 types of bets I placed in that race! I couldn’t believe it. The amount of money I won on the race didn’t even process for me right away. As I went to the teller to check how much money I had on my card, my family started screaming ‘first place!!!’.  I wound up in first place; ME…the completely green, soon-to-be wife of a horse racing enthusiast!

Crouse gleefully poses for a photo following her win, which netted her $10,300. Photo courtesy: New York Racing Association
Crouse gleefully poses for a photo following her win, which netted her $10,300.
Photo courtesy: New York Racing Association

The contest for me was an incredible experience. If I do contests in the future, I’m going to have to do a much better job retaining confidence when I’m facing elimination. It’s too easy to talk yourself out of the money and just walk away. What I also loved about the contest set up was that absolutely anyone had a shot at winning the top prize. I watched guys like the Rotundos and John Conte enter the same contest that I did. I had a shot at beating these veteran horseplayers I saw on TV simply because of the unpredictability of the sport. To be honest, I’m in just as much shock as those guys probably are that I won. My win also gives me some satisfaction to be able to show that the sport isn’t just for men. I was attracted to the racetrack because it’s a great way to get out and enjoy the park-like atmosphere of the backyard, have some tasty cocktails, watch some beautifully talented animals, and make great memories with family and friends.

My winning the contest is great proof that the sport’s unpredictability and the opportunities for making memories (and winning money) are well worth the trip to the race track. Anyone can learn the basics of horse racing and handicapping. It’s a lot of information and learning, but it’s simple enough. For me, the track is that much more enjoyable when you have a reason to cheer on a horse for something other than their number or their name. I am thrilled to have been a part of the contest experience and plan to just enjoy this win for a long, long time!

We thank Sarah for sharing her story on DanonymousRacing.com. 

You can read an extended interview with Crouse on America’s Best Racing.

If you have a great racing-related story, we want to hear it! Send it to info@danonymousracing.com and you could be featured in “Why We Love This Game” on DanonymousRacing.com.

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