New Jersey bettors have struck gold. Horse betting is back and bigger than ever.

Besides harness racing returning today at the Meadowlands, the thoroughbred industry offers them a once-in-a-lifetime mini Golden Era.

Extraordinary life developments, coupled with rare horse-racing dynamics, forge an unprecedented big-money wave at tracks across the country.

New Jersey bettors access all the action via 4NJBETS, powered by TVG.

The latest shock was a $2 superfecta that paid $233,626 in a minor stakes race at Churchill Downs on May 30. That’s higher than the last 10 Kentucky Derbys.

The combination of eye-opening payouts and the challenge to obtain them creates interesting — and significant — horse betting decisions.

The return of Belmont Park (June 3, 1:15 p.m.), a string of major stakes races at Santa Anita on Saturday, the 20-cent Rainbow Pick 6 that routinely exceeds $1 million at Gulfstream Park and the strong betting handle at Churchill Downs takes the action to a new level.

Gamblers also enter a new level. For the next month or so, before the full return of other major sports, they may see the most competitive racing of their entire lives.

They will see the horse-racing product delivered the way it should be.

But they will also need to be selective. The industry does ring like casino bells and whistles, even without spectators. And the mobile age, coupled with COVID-19 cabin fever, has created an unusual circumstance.

People are revolutionizing the horse-racing industry on their phones.

But nobody has an infinite bankroll.

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Big money in horse betting

The Churchill bombshell last Saturday was no accident. The $233,626 win wasn’t the only stunner on that card.

One superfecta collection exceeded $57,000, one just missed $30,000, another cleared $20,000 and one was higher than $18,000.

That’s five eye-openers on one card. The superfecta is not easy to hit, requiring one to pick the top four finishers of a race in exact order. But casino jackpots and lotteries aren’t easy either. And they are heavily played.

Santa Anita and Churchill Downs, after re-opening in mid-May, reported one-day handles of $14 million two weekends ago. On May 31, Churchill exceeded $11 million.

The tracks routinely clear $1 million for many races. In a couple of individual races at Churchill Downs, the handle has exceeded $4 million. That’s not for a couple of days or one card. That is one race.

These are big numbers.

Several tracks are returning from COVID-19-induced layoffs at the same time, with a similar dilemma: shorter meets.

Combine these establishments with Gulfstream Park, which was already enriched this spring by the pandemic that kept horsemen on the ground from its winter meet, elevating its spring program.

The track had back-to-back 50-1 winners on May 30.

The major tracks are back, if even for a shorter period. Throw Laurel Park into the mix, as it resumed racing May 30. Delaware Park comes back on June 17. Monmouth Park resumes live racing July 3.

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The secret sauce: the size of the fields

What do all the tracks have in common, benefitting bettors? The size of the fields.

They have been enormous. There are 15- and 16-horse collections, perhaps double what is normally seen. This creates extraordinary value. A horse that might go off 6-5 in a small field could carry odds of 3-1 in a big one.

That’s important for bettors on the win line.

The tracks developed a backlog of available horses when the lockdown shortened their meets.

They return to find a small revenue window, much like New Jersey Shore businesses scrambling with a reduced summer tourist season.

Horse owners, who pay entry fees to the track, have a similar problem. They have smaller time frames to recoup costs of stabling, feeding, and caring for their animals.

There is a massive rush to do business.

NJ sports betting fans managing the horse betting glut

Fans of sports betting in New Jersey slowly establish their own handbook. Principles emerge from personal experience, what others have told them, and what they’ve seen.

It’s neverending.

Here are some excerpts, derived from that route. It includes losing tickets, comments made by bettors, and general observations. They fit into broad categories.

1. Preparation

Get comfortable with what’s happening at one or more tracks and spend most of your money on them.

Many tracks have replays and preview shows on their websites. They will reveal whether horses are winning from the front end or rallying from off the pace because the early leaders get into a speed duel.

Big fields, a staple at this time because of previous track postponements, have a greater chance for speed duels and thus could favor the stalkers or closers.

The Daily Racing Form, which can be purchased online, is an invaluable tool. It provides a horse’s past performance and will tell you which running style he prefers, whether he’s coming off a layoff or whether the last race even mattered.

The Form will also tell you if a horse is going up or going down in class. A horse who finished far back in a claiming $25,000 level race may be entered at claiming $17,500 the next time.

The owner is putting the horse in easier competition, hoping for a better win chance.

If a horse that likes a mile ran in a sprint last time, he may have run a bad race. But in returning to the mile, he should do better.

The same principle applies for a horse that runs on a dry surface one race after being on a wet or “sloppy” track. A bad race on the slop, in this case, means nothing.

2. Patterns

Gulfstream Park is known for longshots doing well.

One reason the track classically encourages longshots is that it draws horses from throughout the country. The horses have few common opponents and their true ability is a mystery.

Santa Anita, meanwhile, has seen horses hitting the winners circle often from the 3-1 to 5-1 odds standpoint. If you get confident about a pattern, whatever it is, you have a betting angle.

3. Money management

Be selective. Superfectas are great but hard to hit.

Chasing the elusive superfecta compares to spending your NFL betting bankroll on 12-leg parlays. Money management is difficult, yet necessary in this sport.

Besides the standard win, place or show bet, horse racing is one gigantic prop.

There are cheap alternatives. A 10-cent superfecta box with four horses cost $2.40. So does a five-horse combo with the winner on top and four others placed in the second-through-fourth spot. It pays less but costs less. This is an effective approach to large fields that offer you no clue of a winner.

Watch the races you don’t bet, especially the first couple at a track you want to bet upon. Early races show how the track “plays,” meaning whether early speed horses prevail or whether they get caught in speed duels that allow stalkers and closers to overtake them in the stretch.

Because of the big fields, one longshot paired with two favorites pays far more in the $1 trifecta and superfecta than it has been.

If you like two favorites to finish in the top three spots, you might put them in a couple of $1 trifecta box tickets, each with a different longshot. The $1 trifecta box ticket costs $6.

Finally, pick your spots. Santa Anita has several high-level stakes races on Saturday. But few people have the money to play them all. Find your favorites.

And good luck.

Dave Bontempo

About

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.