New Derby Club Is Place to Be; You Can Bet on It

Jeff Meyers is editor of Ventura County Life

To hard-core horse players, Ventura's new Derby Club has everything: the latest odds, the convenient parimutuel windows, the actual call of the race, the roar of the crowd, the ATM machine in the lobby.

Everything but the smell of the horses.

Without real live thoroughbreds, satellite racing facilities are as sterile as a Las Vegas sports book, but the Derby Club's hundreds of faithful patrons would still rather be there than at the racetrack.

"If the track were as homey as this place, I'd miss it," said jockey-sized actor Mickey Rooney, a regular at the club's swanky Island View Room. "But I don't miss being at the track--we have the Taj Mahal of off-track betting right here."

Built by the state at Seaside Park, the club opened in February, replacing a grungy facility at the County Fairgrounds. Although the club, which is the subject of this week's Centerpiece, doesn't have the high-brow appeal of the Civic Arts Plaza, it does provide a new upscale destination for county fun-seekers.

The chance of winning money is certainly part of the club's allure. But as a couple of beginners discovered recently, the club is a great place to eat Sunday brunch, sip cool beverages and admire the view of the Channel Islands. But if you're new to racing, forget about making a fortune, or even leaving there with small change in your pocket.

Like playing the stock market, handicapping is a science, unfathomable to most beginners. While anybody over 18 can bet on a horse and even win a race or two once in a while, only the skilled win consistently. Unless you believe in beginner's luck, don't bet the rent money. And be prepared to spend at least $100 a couple for admission, food and lost wagers.

Most newcomers should bet only $2 a race, limiting their exposure that day to just $18. While experts only bet horses to finish first, beginners can increase their chances of not losing and also juice their excitement level by betting horses to show.

You'll be amazed how quickly you can forget decorum when your horse is battling down the stretch to win you a meager 20 cents on the dollar.

From playing the ponies to playing Donkey Kong: Video Games Review, a new column by staff writer Aaron Curtiss and making its debut this week on Page 26, explains what's new, what's hot and what not to buy. Look for it every other week.

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