It had been more than 20 years since I stepped onto a harness racing track. But that changed Saturday night.
I decided to check out Northville Downs for their opening night of live horse racing in 2022.
As a complete novice to betting on horse racing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, what I found was a very enjoyable night at the only horse racing track in Michigan, located at 301 S. Center Street in Northville.
If you are looking for a change of pace for yourself, or your family, Northville Downs is a great option to consider.
While diving into horse racing can be overwhelming, here’s some tips from one novice to another, based on my experience Saturday.
Get your Northville Downs program
The first thing you want to do when you walk into Northville Downs is head to the second floor and find the program stand.
The program is basically your bible for the event.
Now, be careful, as simulcast racing takes place all day at Northville Downs, so be sure to purchase a program ($2) for Northville Downs and not one of the simulcast tracks.
The program will list all the races and pertinent info regarding the horses competing in each race.
It’s going to be overwhelming at first glance and look a bit like trying to read a foreign language. That’s ok. We will get through the key words and info together.
Learn the important lingo
Like any sport, betting on horse racing doesn’t have to be as simple as picking a winner. There are a lot of betting options, as Northville Downs helps spell out in their program.
Here’s the key wagering terms:
- Win: You will collect if the horse you wager on finishes first
- Place: You will collect if the horse you wager on finishes first or second
- Show: You will collect if the horse you wager on finishes first, second or third
- Perfecta: You must correctly select the first two finishers in the exact order
- Trifecta: You must correctly select the first three finishers in the exact order
- Superfecta: You must correctly select the first four finishers in the exact order
- Daily Double: You must correctly select the winner of two consecutive races
- Pick 3: You must correctly select the winner of three consecutive races
When you know what bet you’re ready to place, there’s some key vocabulary to know as well.
Northville Downs has dozens of self-service betting kiosks and person-to-person transaction options. When placing your bet, you need to do it in the following format:
- 1. Track Name
- 2. Number of the Race
- 3. Amount of the Wager
- 4. Type of Wager
- 5. Program Numbers of your section
Example: Northville Downs, Race 1, $5 to win No. 3
Keep betting expectations low
It’s hard enough to be a successful bettor when you have a lot of knowledge on what you are betting on.
Harness racing is an entirely different challenge.
It’s not something you should go in expecting a massive pay day. Can it happen? Sure. But, if that’s your goal, it’s probably going to be a frustrating experience.
In the early going, keep your bets simple as you get a feel for the races and your comfort level.
Payouts don’t tend to be massive by sticking to simple bets, but it can make for an enjoyable experience.
If you are dead set on more exotic bets, the program does provide “trackman selections” for the top-4 order. Those selections were largely close to accurate throughout my night, including one that was spot on.
You aren’t likely to know much about the horses competing other than what is in the program.
So, early on in the night it’s wise to take note of any commonalities in the races.
In my experience, starting position played a big role.
For instance, positions 1 and 3 were doing very well early on. They won five of the first six races. That definitely influenced my betting going forward and helped me pick up a few victories.
The first position produced four wins and six top-3 finishes on the night. The third position had three wins and seven top-3 finishes.
Similarly, throughout the whole night, any starting position beyond sixth wasn’t able to come through with the win. It’s a lot of extra ground to have to make up.
Find the hot driver
Just like the starting position, pay attention to which drivers seems to be having a good night.
A lot of the same drivers competed regularly throughout the night. If one is finding themselves successful early, it can be a good sign of what is to come.
Kody Massey picked up three wins on Saturday night, and also had three other top-3 finishes.
On the same note, looking at the horse’s history can give you an idea as to what kind of chemistry the driver will have with it.
Some of these drivers were on a horse for the first time, others had a lot of experience with their horse. That can make a difference down the stretch.
Enjoy your night out
Northville Downs provides a fun weekend experience. Even if the bets aren’t hitting, or you aren’t interested in gambling, it is an enjoyable experience.
It’s family-friendly with a restaurant (including a Saturday buffet option) and plenty of seating to enjoy the races, both indoors and out.
Aside from the restaurant, Northville Downs has plenty of concession food offerings and cocktail options.
Admission is free, so you can’t beat that.
With live racing every weekend outside of Labor Day, be sure to schedule a stop at Northville Downs this year.