The problem with gambling is that the house always has an edge. Whether it’s casino games or sports betting, even if you think your dice are lucky or you have a particularly good read on a playoff game, the system is always rigged at least a little bit against you.
But at the Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky, two betting professionals — called BETologists — can help you make the best choice on which horse to throw your money on at America’s most famous track. Nick and Julie Tooth are BETologists. Yes, BETology is an actual profession, and it can help make you money the next time you hit the racetrack.
Raised on a sheep and cattle property two hours south of Sydney, Australia, Nick grew up going to horse races with his father and has been an avid handicapper since age 12. Wagering on races came later in life after he’d worked on a farm with stallions. Julie was born in Muncie, Indiana, and specialized in showing American Saddlebreds while growing up. She later had jobs handling horses at Keeneland and managing an equine rehabilitation facility.
They saw an ad in Thoroughbred Daily News for BETologist jobs at Keeneland, and Julie applied and got the job in 2014. Nick joined the following year after retiring.
We spoke with Nick and Julie to learn all about what BETology entails and to get their expert tips on how to actually make money at your next race.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Matador Network: Can you tell us about your early days getting into wagering on horse races?
Julie: I became interested in wagering and racing in 2013, and I started at Keeneland in 2014. My background is also in working with racehorses, though I was always much more interested in the horse’s pedigree. On weekends, I would join Nick at the Thoroughbred Club. Nick would always wager, and it felt like hard work for me. One day I thought to myself “If he enjoys it, maybe I should try harder to be more interested in it!” I gave myself a month to learn. At first, it was tedious to look at mouse print, but once you familiarize yourself with everything, you don’t forget it – and it gets easier!
Our interest in wagering has grown over the course of our marriage because it’s a fun hobby for us to do together. Nick has made more money, but I have scored with some big price horses (which we attribute to having totally different styles of betting).
What exactly do BETologists do?
Nick: Our work always starts the night before we arrive at the track. We need to be familiar with every horse in every race for the following day, and we want to handicap the races beforehand. I dedicate a couple of hours to prep work.
The night before, I pick out three horses I like, and will typically highlight those horses to fans and share the reasons why I like them. I’m usually picking favorites based on speed (the horse runs consistently), their turf-to-dirt racing history and the horses’ running lines (the horse’s position in the field at several points of call around the track). We always want to educate fans on why we favor or don’t favor a particular horse.
Julie: I dedicate about three hours. I’m always looking for those “long shot” winners.
Our day at the track begins at 10 AM. We have a team meeting with the other BETologists, and then gates open at Keeneland at 11 AM. Between 11 AM and the first race, we’re very busy answering fan questions. Many have never been to the track before, so we also provide education, including how to make a wager and what to communicate to the tellers when placing a bet.
What’s the most common mistake gamblers make at the racetrack?
Julie: People not following their gut. Sometimes, a horse just catches your eye in the paddock, and you get a feeling. Follow your gut, and don’t let anyone talk you off a horse that you like.
Nick: We see a lot of people who spend too much money on wagers they don’t understand. We suggest you start small. You won’t have a fun day at the track if you’ve lost a lot of money.
How does horse betting compare to betting on other sports? Are the odds generally better or worse?
Nick: There are many more variables in horse racing than other sports (14 thoroughbreds, the track or turf conditions could be sloppy, etc.). Horses are also less predictable than human athletes.
What are the key factors you take into consideration when evaluating a horse?
Nick: In addition to the pre-race research, we like to look at the horses in the paddock as they parade – do they look nervous in front of the crowd, or do they have their game face on?
Another example: If we know that two starts ago a horse behaved a certain way in the paddock before winning or losing a race, and they’re behaving the same way again, it could be an indicator of what to expect. We’ve changed our thoughts on a runner based on how they appeared in the paddock.
Julie: I also like to take the horse’s pedigree into consideration, and any trouble in a previous effort.
What are some BETologists tips for anyone new to betting on horse races?
Julie: We’re amateur hobbyists and we love what we do. Our biggest tips would be:
- Start small in terms of the amount you want to wager (at most other tracks, the lowest you can wager is $2.00; at Keeneland it’s $1.00. Though all payouts are based on a $2.00 wager).
- Do some online research leading up to your day at the track to learn more about wagering basics
- Don’t be afraid to do a hunch bet
- Realize there’s a learning curve
- Most importantly – have fun!
How can people bet with you two?
Nick: As BETologists, we only provide tips (we can’t take any bets). Fans looking for insight and tips can find us at Keeneland’s Wagering Central (located under the Grandstand on the first floor), stationed in the paddock, and making rounds throughout the day. We’re dressed in our signature BETology outfits, so you can’t miss us.
We’re also available for private events and parties being held at the track during the race meets.