Ideally, a person's first visit to a racetrack shouldn't be intimidating. We know that's not always the case, but a little advance planning can help you make the most of your trip and increases the chances it will be both enjoyable and not the last.
Here are 10 things racetrack newcomers can do to do make their first visit a memorable one:
1. Arrive early. Arriving 60-90 minutes before the first race allows yourself time to explore the facility and locate important places (e.g. seating areas, concessions, rest rooms). If you're visiting one of our historic tracks, such as Churchill Downs, Saratoga, Keeneland or Santa Anita, don't forget to stop and admire the architecture, scenery, and statuary commemorating the sport's all-time greats.
2. Dress up, or not. Casual dress is generally the norm most places, but going the smart casual or business attire route is sometimes required if you'll be hanging out in the clubhouse or turf club. At major events like the Kentucky Derby or race meets like Keeneland, most patrons like to "dress to impress."
3. People watch. If the crowd is thick and bustling, racetracks are terrific people-watching venues. If it's a "dress up" event as noted in #2, there is sure to be a lot of "peacocking" by both the guys and gals.
4. Find your spot. While some or more than happy to find somewhere close to a television, a first-timer may get a more-rewarding experience finding a spot where the entire track can be viewed. That usually means a dining table, box, or reserved seats, but many racetracks have standing room in behind these areas that are just as good at providing a panoramic view.
5. Bring your binoculars. The television cameras are able to zoom in on all the action for your convenience, but there's also something to be said by using binoculars. Not only can you focus in on the horse of your choice, but watching races in this way allows you to pick up the small details and nuances of how a race develops that the cameras simply can't do.
6. Visit the paddock. Getting up close to the horses, horsemen and jockeys is a great way to feel as if you're near the center of the action. Kids, especially, will enjoy this part of the track, and jockeys are often amiable at signing autographs as they make their way to the saddling area.
7. Sample the local cuisine. Like any sports venue, food quality can be hit or miss. Take your time and browse the concession selections and, if unsure, lean toward local delicacies. For example, trips to Churchill Downs or Keeneland, in Kentucky, would not be complete without indulging in a bowl of burgoo or some home-style bread pudding.
8. Read up on betting. Learning the ins-and-outs of how to wager before you arrive will save an incredible amount of time. There are numerous online resources available, such as the TwinSpires.com app. It's incredibly easy to use and gives you access to all the program and racing information you'll need to make the smart selections, especially if you want to bet the Kentucky Derby.
9. Stick to a budget. A racetrack can be one of the most affordable entertainments around and there's never a need to go over-budget. A little advance research should help you find out how much to set aside for things like parking, admission, and seating. Budget how much you're willing to spend on refreshments and wagering, and then stick to it. Using the TwinSpires.com app is a great way to stick to your budget goals: simply deposit the amount you're comfortable playing with, and you're set.
10. Bring home a souvenir. The track gift shop is sure to have things you'll like, especially apparel, but nothing beats free stuff like pictures. Take a lot of them to show your family and friends what a good time you had.