TORONTO, October 5 – Horse racing is a sport where bloodlines factor prominently into the equation of success with athletic abilities and horsemanship skills passed along from one generation to the next. For horseplayer Jonathan Wong, his father Harry has also played an integral role to his own horse racing endeavours.
THE FIRST BET
It all started more than four decades ago when Harry and a friend thought they were sneaking into the racetrack at the old Greenwood Raceway, avoiding the entrance fee they didn’t know had been waived prior to the last race of the night.
“We thought we got in free and this man was yelling at us,” said Harry, but the man was actually shouting, ‘Did you bet the seven?’
“What seven? We didn’t know nothing about betting. The guy came over and said, ‘Go down and bet the seven. Bet $2 on seven.’”
So the boys doled out a buck each only to cash in big.
“Do you know how much we won? He was 99-1 and we didn’t know it. Our first ever bet… This is my game!”
LEARNING THE ROPES
The Armenian watch maker and limousine driver is a self-taught, harness-focused horseplayer, but his son Jonathan, 32, has had the advantage of a mentor.
“I couldn’t do it without him,” said the next generation horseplayer, who has been an HPIbet member for a decade now and enjoys weekly Woodbine visits with his father to hone his handicapping craft. “He’s brought me into this and I’ve developed it in a different way. He’s brought the joy of it to me, which is a great thing, and I wouldn’t have been as knowledgeable as I am without him.”
Jonathan recalls his visits to Greenwood and Woodbine as a young boy with his father, but initially he was more interested in playing games in the arcade. However, his interest soon turned to playing the ponies and picking out winners with his dad.
“I used to live in Scarborough so it was actually a bit of a treat to come here [to Woodbine] way back in the day. That’s before the E.P. Taylor Turf Course, that’s when they used to have picnic tables here before the grass and as a kid it was just… cool! You would go up to the paddock and touch the horses and this and that,” said Jonathan, who also enjoyed cheering on his favourite jockeys Mickey Walls and Emile Ramsammy. “I used to go down to the paddock and say ‘Go Emile!’ and ‘Go Mickey!’
“Good old teacher here, my dad, taught me. It’s not easy to learn and you need to kind of learn with someone hands on.”
Like many horseplayers, Jonathan started out learning the basic win, place and show bets before progressing to the exotic and multiple-race wagers.
He still admires the beauty of the horses that lured him to the sport as a kid and enjoys the entertainment experiences available at the track with friends and family, but playing the ponies is not just fun and games for the handicapper. Jonathan, who is an automotive mechanic and service manager for a large private automotive shop in North York, considers it to be a secondary job providing another source of income through strategic investments.
While harness has influenced his passion and is still the focus of his father’s attention, Jonathan has become more engaged with the Thoroughbreds and uses HPIbet to track his wagers and take advantage of weekly cash rebates.
“It’s a good system,” said Jonathan of the wagering platform that allows players to make bets anywhere any time. “You can never lose your ticket, you can easily cancel your ticket. They’ve created a VIP status out of that because they can tally your wagers and provide a lot of perks and comps.
“I usually like betting $100 to win, $200 to win. I like betting win bets and win-place bets because I find you have more pool to deal with. I would say 80 percent of my bets are win and the balance is all the others,” said Jonathan, noting his other preferences for Exactors, Pick 4s and Pick 5s.
“I do like the higher populated days, obviously the weekends and holidays, especially with the top U.S. tracks in action too like New York and California, and a bit of Florida as well. What keeps you moving is seeing the big pools and a good return for your wager at the end of the day.”
However, Friday night is harness night for the father-son duo. “When it comes to harness, we do like Friday nights the best,” noted Jonathan. “The quality is there, the money is there.”
Jonathan’s approach to handicapping has led to some big wins including a career-high $43,000 payout on the Late Pick 5 at Saratoga last year on September 3.
“It cost me 900 bucks, but it paid off,” said Jonathan of his top win ticket. “Sometimes you do have to wager quite a bit to give yourself more selections and more combinations because horse racing isn’t easy unless it’s just one of those days that all the favourites come in, but then you’re not making nothing unless you bet the horse to win.”
Earlier this year on March 7, Wong connected with a pool shot when he keyed Qb Killa ($9.70) and Verbal Assault ($25.10) and hit the all button to secure the final two longshot winners and sweep the entire pool for a ticket worth $18,757.35.
One of the most memorable races he’s seen turned out to be a race that he actually was not able to cash in on: Zenyatta winning the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
“I wasn’t there, but I watched it on a cruise boat. Think how mad I was that I couldn’t bet that race,” he laughed. But nonetheless, the incredible last-to-first performance was thrilling and “entertainment-wise, you’re heart stopped for a minute there,” he noted.
Kentucky Derby Day 1995 was another race day to remember. Harry’s winning wager on longshot Thunder Gulch resulted in a brand new bicycle for a 10-year-old Jonathan.
“I swear to God, that one race, it took four and a half hours handicapping,” said Harry, lamenting the fact that he did not keep his handicapped racing form as a memento. “I only bet one or two races on those days. I won $12-13,000 that day!”
A LITTLE MORE ADVICE
But not every bet is a winning one and Jonathan emphasizes the importance of keeping within your financial limits.
“Start small financially and if you want to call this a secondary source of income, learn from someone who knows how to read the form,” he said, with a nod to his father.
FIVE FURLONGS WITH JONATHAN WONG
1. What are the odds you will own a horse in your lifetime? There’s a good chance I would be a part-owner of a horse so I would give myself a 50-1 shot. Being a Woodbine Club member, I’ve had conversations with a lot of trainers. There is a chance, but you’ve got to be ready for that.
2. What is your favourite place to watch the races? From the announcer’s booth. I’ve had the privilege of visiting the announcer’s booth and it’s a great experience.
3. Do you have a bucket list of tracks to visit? As I travel, if they’re in the area for sure I’d go. I’d love to go to Hong Kong, I’d love to go to Dubai. Dubai is my dream to do… Meydan. I’d like to go to the other tracks in California like Del Mar and I’d like to go to Saratoga one day too.
4. What is your favourite gambling movie? Last Vegas and Hangover
5. What do you like most about the Las Vegas experience? I’m a big Vegas fan so I like to bet horses when I’m there. I’m a big black jack player and a baccarat player and I love the shows, the food, the dinners and the Super Bowl parties.
In celebration of HPIbet’s 20th anniversary, Woodbine is profiling HPIbet members to hear about their passion for horse racing, their biggest wins, and what they love most about HPIbet.
To honour the 20th anniversary of HPIbet, Woodbine will be hosting an HPIbet 20th anniversary party for 50 randomly selected HPIbet players on October 29. In addition, hat and polo giveaways will be offered through HPIbet’s Twitter account at @HPI. For more information on member exclusive Cash Back, Points promotions and contests, visit HPIbet.com/promotions.