DEL MAR, Calif. — As entertaining as it is to bet the horses, the game is equally tough to beat. So in that aspect, horse racing is similar to football wagering.
Some days, a big ticket or two hit. Most days, breaking even is not bad. As it’s often said, if losing didn’t hurt, winning wouldn’t feel so good. And the racetrack can be a theater for heartbreak.
A 15-1 shot gets nosed out at the wire or a trifecta ticket narrowly misses cashing at long odds. It’s not much different from a three-team parlay that looks like a lock before the last leg crumbles in the fourth quarter.
But the bad beats don’t linger as long at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which sits across the street from the beach and is blanketed by blue skies on most summer afternoons. This is the coolest spot for horse racing in the country, not just the West Coast.
Like any Las Vegas race book, the floors here are spotless in the morning and littered with worthless betting slips by evening. But you can walk away a winner, and accepting the intellectual challenge is what makes a gambler.
One obvious disparity between horse racing and football wagering is time. Bet a race and the result is revealed in two minutes. Bet a game and ride an emotional roller coaster for three hours.
Or bet NFL regular-season win totals and wait five months to cash.
This is not instant gratification. These are my long-term investments for the football season, using the best available lines from the Cantor Gaming, LVH, MGM Resorts and Station Casinos sports books:
■ Buffalo Bills (Over 8, plus-110) – The sharps have siphoned the value out of this number, which was 7½ (over minus-140) not long ago. Instead of laying minus-190 and banking on the Bills to go 8-8, take plus-money and hope they finish 9-7. That’s the price for being late to the party.
The Bills were 5-2 last year before numerous injuries forced their wheels to fall off. Six of the last seven games on the schedule (Miami twice, at Indianapolis, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Seattle) look soft, and Buffalo’s defense should be a lot stronger.
■ Chicago Bears (Over 9, minus-130) – I like almost everything about the Bears; everything except Mike Tice as the new offensive coordinator. But he will be an improvement from Mike Martz. The addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall will help quarterback Jay Cutler, and Matt Forte and Michael Bush make a tough running back combo. Chicago should win at least six home games and 10 total.
■ Denver Broncos (Over 8½, minus-140) – Assuming Peyton Manning stays healthy, and that’s the risk, the Broncos can be a 9-7 or 10-6 team. The second half of their schedule is ripe with winnable games. Manning has talented receivers. New coordinator Jack Del Rio will field a better defense. Denver should be difficult to beat by November, if Manning stays healthy.
■ Detroit Lions (Under 9, minus-110) – Expect the NFC North to be dominated by Green Bay and Chicago, so the Lions, with their weak running attack, look headed for 8-8. A friend (radio host Bernie Fratto) who follows the Lions closer than the police says Detroit will win seven or eight games, and he made a convincing case.
■ Miami Dolphins (Under 7½, minus-160) – Joe Philbin is the Dolphins’ rookie coach. Mike Sherman, a huge failure at Texas A&M, is the offensive coordinator. David Garrard, Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill are the quarterbacks. The running back position is solid, but on paper Miami is one of the NFL’s least talented teams. I foresee the Dolphins finishing 5-11 and last in the AFC East.
■ New Orleans Saints (Under 9½, plus-110) – With all due respect to Drew Brees and the Saints’ awesome offense, this team must overcome too much turmoil. The season-long suspension of coach Sean Payton, a great leader and play caller, could mean a long season. The line between winning and losing in the NFL is fine. With no Payton, New Orleans probably wins nine.
■ New York Jets (Under 9, minus-145) – Maybe the Jets knew what they were doing by bringing in Tim Tebow to push starting quarterback Mark Sanchez. More likely, it will be a circus in New York. The Jets tumbled to 8-8 last year and don’t appear improved.
■ Oakland Raiders (Under 7, plus-105) – The Raiders will be more disciplined, quarterback Carson Palmer will be better and running back Darren McFadden might not disappear with an injury this year. But I’m only optimistic about Oakland when it plays at Kansas City, where the Raiders have won and covered five years in a row.
Always shop for the best numbers when betting win totals. Oakland also can be had at 7½ (under minus-150).
As for the racetrack, Thursday was a small winner at Del Mar. Horse racing, like the NFL, can be beat and always entertains.
The Pacific Ocean is within view, as are hot women with big hats.
Next month, we’ll start spending our days in dark sports books betting football games through the fall and winter.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts "The Las Vegas Sportsline" weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.