By Leland Schwartz For FauquierNow
"Race 4, $5 to win on the Number 2 horse, Alpha Centauri."
International Gold Cup officials hope thousands of potential new race day bettors will say something similar to that Saturday, the first time people all over the U.S. - and the world - can watch live and place wagers on the steeplechase and flat races at Great Meadow, near The Plains.
In a deal with XpressBet, the 81st International Gold Cup races will stream live. And bettors can place wagers from anywhere with internet access.
XpressBet provides the service to more than 300 race tracks, including Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Virginia Gold Cup Association President Will Allison said the arrangement with XpressBet will help on several fronts.
"One of the most important Gold Cup missions is to help the Virginia horse industry," Dr. Allison said. "A direct way to do this is to increase the size of our race purses."
Horse owners took home more than $200,000 from the Virginia Gold Cup meet in May.
"So this new wagering opportunity will get us in front of thousands of people nationally and internationally," he said. "This will help our efforts for sponsorship as well as increase our betting revenues."
Bettors placed close to $140,000 in wagers in May. About 80 percent of that went back to the race fans.
A not-for-profit organization, Gold Cup - after modest administrative expenses - devotes the rest of its revenue to race course costs and race purses, Dr. Allison said.
Saturday's purses will approach $400,000, with the largest being the $75,000 International Gold Cup Race over the timber fences, a race named for the late David L. "Zeke" Ferguson, a Fauquier businessman and horse owner.
About 35,000 people attend the fall races, with ticket discounts available to Fauquier residents.
The Virginia Racing Commission approved pari-mutuel betting at Gold Cup in 2013, after the closure of Colonial Downs in New Kent County - the state's first modern flat track. The commission sought new venues to distribute purses to owners of winning Virginia-bred horses.
Racing consultant Mike Pearson, a former Virginia Horsemen's Association president, recommends bettors study the race day program and consider:
Horses' records and the classes in which they have competed.
"If they haven't been doing well, then they most likely will not do well" Saturday, Mr. Pearson said.
Distance. "If different, does the change match their style, getting stronger or slowing up at the end of their previous races? In other words, does the change help their chances and, if so, it's worth a bet."
Rider changes, and watch for a better jockey. "In some cases, this will show an improvement possibility," Mr. Pearson said, because the "best riders move to ride the best horses."
Trainers. Ask if the trainer's horses are in good form and if they have been running well. If it's a local horse or owner trying to have a winner, Mr. Pearson called it "probably the most promising of the hunch bets."
The odds, but only because they "offer an example of what the other players in the pari-mutuel pool think of their chances." The odds have nothing to do with picking winning bets, as they only note the payoffs, he added.
Course conditions. Check the program to determine how the horses have done in wet or soft course conditions.
Or, Mr. Pearson said: "Bet on the cute brown horse with the nice red jacket!"
Contact Leland Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-236-0919.
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