Race-Track Betting Comes to State : Iowans Gallop to Campus for Course in Horse Sense

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Times Staff Writer

Thoroughbred horse racing is finally coming to Iowa. You can bet on it--if you know how.

In Iowa, a state that claims one of the highest literacy levels in the nation, a place that once debated putting “A State of Minds” on its license plates--learning to bet is, well, something academic.

Night school courses to prepare average Iowans for a day at the races began last week under the auspices of the Des Moines Area Community College, an institution of higher learning.

Farmers, bankers, the town barber, the local undertaker and Mayor Marlyn (Poker) Adams were all present for the first class here in Panora, 40 miles west of Des Moines.


The three-hour, one-time, noncredit “Betting at the Horse Races” class includes instruction in reading the Daily Racing Form, handicapping, race track etiquette and what to say at the $2 bet window.

The whole thing smacks of galloping culture shock. It is likely to give a new meaning to “you bet”--the Iowan’s substitute for “you’re welcome.”

“I don’t want to say it is a hick area, but it is a little more isolated,” said former Hollywood Park track announcer Milo (The Voice) Perrins, one of two “professors” who will call races at the $54-million Prairie Meadows horse track, the state’s race track, scheduled to open in March.

“By not having a track here you have a lot of people who have never been exposed to racing,” said Joe (Shed Row) Rhode (pronounced roadie), the other “professor” and Iowa Racing News publisher.

“When I was in the sixth grade I knew about win, place and show and the daily double. They’ve never had any reason to acquire this knowledge,” said Rhode, who has spent 34 of his 46 years around race tracks.

“They have this pre-1930s image in their heads of gangsters, bookies and child molesters and it is such an archaic . . . view of horse racing,” said Milo the Voice. “You just have to let them experience (racing) for a while and discover that the people are like me and you.”


Hundreds of Iowans apparently want to get off to a good start. The course is a winner, one of the most popular ever offered by the school. In Panora, 60 persons--triple the number expected--showed up for the inaugural class. Panora marked the event with a parade of sorts. Town officials rode to the high school from Kass Duis’ gas station in a two-car procession, a police car with lights flashing and the Beidelman Funeral Home limousine.

Bigger Rooms

There will be 18 more classes over the next month in 11 central Iowa counties. So many have registered for some that classes have been moved to school gymnasiums from smaller rooms.

“We expected a total of 1,000 students. Now the odds are 2 to 1 that enrollment will go higher,” said Chuck Baugous, the school’s director of community services who conceived and touted the course.

“I’ve gone to the races but I never picked a winner or knew how to read the Racing Form,” said Mayor Adams, who admits to appreciating games of chance.

“I know how to bet,” said Red Lowe, manager of a nearby recreational development. “I came here to learn how to win at the races.”

“If there are needs in the community, whether they be leisure needs or academic needs, we try to develop courses to meet them,” said Baugous. “I wouldn’t go to a bridge party and have them teach me on the first night. I’d have a little knowledge about it before I went in.”


A $5 registration fee covers course materials. The track is picking up the tab for Rhode and Perrins. No Iowa tax money is being used.

Iowa permitted dog racing a few years ago at tracks bordering neighboring states in an effort to draw wagering dollars into the state, but it took a long battle in the Legislature to prepare the groundwork for the new Prairie Meadows in Altoona, east of Des Moines.

Scholarly Approach

The class approach is scholarly. Professors Shed Row Joe and Milo the Voice race through 70 million years of horse history in the first 50 minutes, tracing the animal’s evolutionary growth from its prehistoric beginnings as a dog-sized, three-toed animal that every horse player knows as “eohippus.”

In the stretch, they discuss the domestication of the horse and, with lightning speed, round the turn to the history of breeding, the origins of horse competitions and the racing industry, and they break for the finish line with handicapping, betting strategies and proper betting jargon.

The final exam is a sample day at the races. Students get a Daily Racing Form, a track program and a chance to make fictitious bets with Milo the Voice operating a portable pari-mutuel ticket machine and Shed Row Joe doing double duty as a track announcer and a railbird tout.

And they’re off . . . using videotaped races with the same horses listed in the course materials.


“We want to teach them to bet with their heads and not over them,” said Milo the Voice. “We’re not helping anybody if we teach people to . . . get in over their head with the horses.”