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Every Man Should Know: The Classy World Of Horse Racing

Horse racing is one of America’s oldest traditions dating back to 1665 when the first track was built in Long Island. Because of this, I truly believe that every man should know a bit about horse racing. For me, there’s just something about watching the horses circling the track that causes hundreds of years of excitement to course through my veins. Plus, whiskey is often involved, but I’ll get to that…

EVERY MAN SHOULD KNOW: THE CLASSY WORLD OF HORSE RACINGToday, according to, horse racing has become one of the most popular spectator sports in America. The Kentucky Derby alone garnered roughly 14.8 million viewers in 2012, the third most watched Derby Day in 23 years. People generally gather for miles to attend traditional events like Derby Day as well as the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. These three races together comprise the U.S. Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing for 3-year-old horses, and they’re always a good time. If a racehorse wins all three of these races, they’re awarded the Triple Crown Trophy. Only 11 horses have ever won.

In the United States, Thoroughbred horses tend to dominate this classy world of horse racing. Thoroughbreds are the breed most used in American horse racing because they’re what’s called a “hot-blooded” breed. These breeds are known for their speed and agility whereas “cold-blooded” breeds are known for their brute strength. The terms don’t actually have anything to do with the temperature of their blood, but more so their attitudes. Hot-blooded horses are more temperamental while cold-blooded horses are generally calmer. 


Whereas horse tracks don’t have to be the glorified gambling arena’s they’ve grown to be, betting on the horses definitely makes it more fun. But if you’re not into gambling, the admission is typically free, you can still spend the day out in the sun, you can usually bring your own food and drinks, and you’re sure to still be entertained, gambler or not. It also makes for a great date! I tend to go and gamble a bit while my ladyfriend swoons over how beautiful the horses are.

So, how do you place the bets? There are two types of wagers you can place while handicapping, or choosing horses to bet on at the track: straight wagers and exotic wagers.

Straight wagers are great for beginners. They limit you to only bet on a single horse to win first, second or third. It’s the easiest way to have a good time at the track without emptying your wallet.

Exotic wagers are a bit more complicated, though may earn you the most profit. With exotic wagers, you can bet on multiple horses.


Win – Bet that your horse will come in first place. You win.

Place – Bet that your horse will come in first or second place. If your horse places, collect. You’ll have a higher chance of winning, but the pay won’t be as high as a “win“ wager.

Show – Bet that your horse will come in first, second or third place.  You’ll have a higher chance of winning, but the pay won’t be as high as a “win” or a “place” wager.

Across The Board – Bet that your horse will “win”, “place” and “show”. If your horse comes in first, you win the “win”, “place” and “show” pay. If your horse comes in second, you win the “place” and “show” pay. If your horse comes in third, you only win the “show” money. This is generally called a “combo straight wager” because it’s technically three bets in one.

Win/Place – With a win/place bet, bet that your horse will “win” and “place”. If your horse wins, you win the “win” and “place” money. If your horse comes in second, you only win the “place” money.

Place/Show – With a place/show bet, be that your horse will “place” and “show”. If your horse finishes second, you collect the “place” and “show” payout. If your horse finishes third, you only win the “show” money.


Exacta – Bet on two separate horses to come in first and second in that exact order. If your two horses finish in the order you chose, you win.

Quinella – Bet on two horses to come in first and second in any order. If your two horses both finish in first and second, you win.

Trifecta – Bet on three horses that will finish in first, second and third in that exact order. If the three horses you chose finish in the exact order you bet on, you win.

Superfecta – Bet on four horses to finish in first, second, third and fourth in that exact order. If the four horses you chose finish in the exact order you bet on, you win.


If you chose to “box” your exacta bet, you’re paying extra for the two horses you chose to be able to finish in any order. It sounds a lot like quinella, but the difference is the payout. Box exacta bets typically pay more than a quinella.

You may also choose to box your trifecta or superfecta bets so that the three or four horses, respectively, can finish in whatever order they finish in. Again, the payout is higher, but remember, you’re paying more money to box your bets in the first place.

For more information on how to bet on a horse, handicapping horses and talking to the teller, check out Brett McKay’s article on Art of Manliness, and remember to bet responsibly.

Kentucky Derby PartyHORSE RACE PARTIES

Of course, you don’t always have to go to the track to enjoy this fine equestrian sport. As I mentioned above, 14.8 million people watched the Kentucky Derby last year. The Kentucky Derby, “known as the most exciting two minutes in sports”, is arguably the pinnacle of horse racing all year round as it kicks off the first leg of the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Hell, there’s even an entire two-week festival preceding the actual race called the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Often, people gather to celebrate the Kentucky Derby as well as other races around the country. I know that I have a neighbor from Saratoga who loves hosting parties whenever the races are televised. They’re always fun and, if nothing else, yet another excuse to drink more whiskey.

The Mint JulepThe Mint Julep and Variations

The Mint Julep has been a staple at Churchill Downs since 1938. Over 120,000 mint juleps are served in collectable glasses at Churchill Downs each year, some costing over $1,000 a glass for charity. These cocktails are served in gold-plated cups with silver straws and are made from Woodford Reserve bourbon, mint from Ireland, sugar from Australia, and spring water ice cubes from the Bavarian Alps. For $1,000, it’d better be a damn good drink, though I wouldn’t know.

Aside from that specific Mint Julep, for the past 18 years, the Early Times Mint Julep Cocktail has been the “official mint julep of the Kentucky Derby”, even though Early Times is not technically a bourbon, the main ingredient in my juleps.

4 fresh mint sprigs
2 ½ ounces of bourbon
1 teaspoon of powdered sugar
2 teaspoons of distilled water

1. Muddle mint leaves, powdered sugar and water in a Collins glass.
2. Fill the glass with shaved or crushed ice and add bourbon.
3. Top with more ice and garnish with a mint sprig.

There are even a few variations of the mint julep that you may want to try. Mixologists Rob Floyd and Bobby “G” Gleason recently came up with a few variations of their own, the Blueberry Julep and the Knob Creek Storyville Julep.

The Storyville JulepThe Knob Creek Storyville Julep

1 1/2 parts Knob Creek Bourbon
1/2 part Thin Honey Syrup (3 parts honey, 2 parts water)
1 1/2 parts Fresh Pressed Pineapple Juice
6 Fresh Mint Leaves
Club Soda

1. Muddle pineapple, honey syrup and mint in an Old Fashioned Glass
2. Fill with ice, add Knob Creek and stir top with club soda.
3. Garnish with a pineapple clip and mint top.

The Blueberry JulepThe Blueberry Julep

2 parts Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
8-10 Mint Leaves
7-8 Blueberries
1 part Fresh Lime Juice
3/4 parts Simple Syrup

1. Muddle mint leaves and blueberries in mixing glass.
2. Add Basil Hayden’s bourbon, lime juice and simple syrup and shake.
3. Fine strain into a rocks glass with crest ice.
4. Garnish with blueberries and mint sprig.

Seersucker SuitKentucky Derby Style

One great thing about Kentucky Derby parties is the gentlemen’s ability to dress to the nines in his seersucker (left) or khaki suit, mimicking that timeless southern style that seems to really only be acceptable at the Kentucky Derby.

Bright colors are always acceptable at the Kentucky Derby, so why not at your party too? In fact, it seems as though the more you stand out at a Kentucky Derby event, the more welcomed you are. So play the part, suit up like a classic Southern gent, sport your outfit with confidence and you’ll surely look like a winner.

Derby Games

If you are hosting your own Kentucky Derby party, you’re going to want to provide entertainment for your guests aside from the actual races. There’s a good chance that a few people you invite may not actually care for horse racing. You can easily entertain by offering a few different games to play. A rousing game of horseshoes may do the trick.

You can also gamble at home with a derby pool. Just place numbers 1-20 on individual pieces of paper representing all the different horses at the Derby. Fold the pieces and place them in a hat. Have each of your guests pull a different number from that hat. The number they pick will correspond with the horse they’ll have to root for during the race. Whoever’s horse wins gets a prize, whether it be money that people have thrown into a pool or a pre-bought gift. Either way, it’ll be the most exciting two-minute pool you’ll ever throw.

If you want to actually bet on the horses, you can sign up at for only $100 to bet. If you’re strapped for cash, you can go in on the bet with a few buddies and split the earnings if you win.

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If horse racing is something you’d like to get more involved with, make sure you do so with caution. Gambling can be addictive and harmful if not controlled. If you look at horse racing a mere entertainment rather than a way to make a quick buck, you’re bound to have a lot of fun. Especially if there are mint juleps involved. Mmm…


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