Updated on 09/17/2011 8:49PM

Take a few tips from Nascar


Ever since the National Thoroughbred Racing Association was formed in 1998, one of its primary goals has been to increase horse racing's profile as a spectator sport.

A lot of strides have been made in terms of TV coverage and acceptance in mainstream media from TV shows to movies. In that same time, however, the growth in popularity of Nascar has left the equine set eating rubber. Nascar receives a lot more media coverage, with the only exceptions being during the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup. I don't have exact figures, but when it comes to network TV coverage and also cable, it's clear that auto racing, and specifically Nascar, has it all over horse racing.

There are similarities between the two sports. They both are conducted around ovals. They both have horsepower. Corporate sponsorships are important to both, with horse racing using sponsors for the names of races and other signage at the tracks and some advertising on jockeys' pants. But again, the exposure and money brought in by Nascar for series and race naming rights and ads plastered all over cars and drivers' suits dwarfs horse racing. Does horse racing have to sell its soul to keep up with the Gordons? I will leave that debate to someone else.

The differences are harder to overcome. Nascar's stars race week after week and it's very rare that one of them retires or dies unexpectedly. There's also one major circuit and it's easy to keep track of where they're racing next. In horse racing, there are several circuits racing at once and horses ship from coast to coast.

I certainly don't have the knowledge to fix all of horse racing's ills, but I have some ideas for making it an even better betting sport than it already is. And for that, I just look at the betting options available at the Station Casinos properties in Las Vegas on this Sunday's Daytona 500.

There are the standard bets. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the 3-1 favorite with Jeff Gordon at 5-1 and the quartet of Michael Waltrip, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick all at 8-1. Defending Nextel Cup champ Kurt Busch is 12-1.

Then there are head-to-head driver matchups that have become more popular in horse racing, too, especially here in Vegas. Instead of picking the winner of the race, you just have to pick your driver to finish ahead of another driver. Stations has 14 matchups with the highest-profile one being Earnhardt -145 (bet $1.45 for every $1 you want to profit) vs. Gordon +115 (bet $1 to win $1.15).

Now, I've seen horse racing matchups done on a full field before. And horse racing does have something that auto racing doesn't, that being exotic wagering such as exactas, trifectas, and superfectas. In the late 1990's, Leroy's Sports in Las Vegas did offer parimutuel exactas and trifectas on auto racing, but it didn't take - so it is possible and could return. Check out some of these betting options, however, and think how they could equate to horse racing.

At Stations, you can bet if the winning car number in the Daytona 500 will be even (-240) or odd (+190), whether it will be numbered 0-23 (-190) or 24-99 (+160), whether the winning driver's last name will begin with "A through L" (-230) or "M through Z" (+185), or whether the winning manufacturer will be Chevrolet (-250) or Ford/Dodge (+200).

Some of these bets are attractive for recreational players - pretty much the equivalent of goofy props that we see every year on the Super Bowl - but if you look closely at them you can see they take a whole new level of handicapping skill. The bettor is forced to handicap a group of cars (or horses) vs. another group and assess their chances. A sharp handicapper definitely has an edge.

This isn't feasible for every horse race, but imagine a Kentucky Derby where you could bet that the winning number would be odd or even, or 1-7 vs. 8-20, or that the winner is bay, chestnut, or gray.

It's a stretch, but this could be the future of horse racing betting. Maybe not for us, or for our children, but maybe our children's children. I can picture it now. Maybe I can get a future book bet on the 2066 Derby. I will take the Clones vs. the Natural-breds.

Just the beginning for Nascar

Even though the Daytona 500 is considered the Super Bowl of Nascar, it's the start of a long season that lasts until November.

The change last year to have the top 10 point-scorers through the first 26 races of the year compete among themselves for the championship over the last 10 races - called the chase for the championship - added more excitement to the end of the season. Johnson, who was the hottest driver at the end of last year, is the 7-2 favorite to win this year's title. He showed he's still on top of his game with a win in the exhibition Bud Shootout last Saturday at Daytona. Gordon is the second choice at 9-2, followed by Earnhardt at 5-1, and Busch and Tony Stewart at 7-1.

Other season-long bets (again, another concept that could be adopted by those taking horse racing bets) include over/under on season win totals for Johnson, Gordon, and Earnhardt (all are set at 4 1/2 with the prices adjusted on the over and the under). There are also matchups for the most Nextel Cup points earned (Johnson is -130 over Gordon, Earnhardt is -140 over Busch) and even odds on whether some borderline stars make it to the chase for the championship (Jamie McMurray is -145 to make it, +115 that he doesn't, Harvick is +150 that he makes it, -180 that he doesn't).

If that's too long to wait to cash a bet - or to know if you've lost - Stations also has a bet on which driver will compile the most Nextel Cup points during the first three races of the year: Daytona, California, and Las Vegas. Earnhardt is the 3-1 favorite, followed by Johnson at 4-1, Gordon at 9-2, and Stewart and Busch at 7-1.

It's all about offering options - and increasing handle.