Horse racing is a pari-mutual game, which means the public dictates the odds and payouts. What this really means is that the art of handicapping is really where to find inconsistencies in public opinion.
Steven Crist’s book Exotic Betting focuses on how handicappers can maximize their profits by refining their approach at the betting windows. What he also succeeded in doing was articulating that the way to beat the game is to concentrate less on picking winners and more on beating the other bettors.
In other words it is as important to develop a plan that counters what the betting public is inclined to do as it is to be a good handicapper. For example when playing multi-race tickets like the pick 4 the betting public is more inclined to structure tickets as: favorite/ favorite/ favorite/ All. This is a psychological flaw by the betting public’s desire to know they have it ‘locked’. By the last race of this sequence there are more live tickets in the betting poll than what true value would dictate. This inconsistency results in diminished payouts.
This is where you, as the more astute bettor will look at this from a contrarian point of view.
Lets start with the contrarian point of view of this example – simply reverse this scenario: All/ favorite/ favorite/ favorite. If more people are inclined to use the favorites early on, what happens when a 4th or 5th choice in the betting wins the first leg? Obviously, a large percentage of the pool has been knocked out, leaving more money in the pool.
For seasoned handicappers this is a light that goes on somewhere in their betting lives. For most horse players the urge to cash tickets may be their ultimate downfall. There is a psychological toll that is taken when a horse player has not cashed a ticket in a while, there is also a toll that is taken when a handicapper feels that they have been handicapping well but have not gotten paid off.
The truth is in the long run a player may be diluting their profits by trying to simply get to the window to cash a ticket.
Instead it takes a Zen like mind-set to honestly feel that you are looking for the best value plays in each race, putting money on that opinion and moving on to the next one regardless of the outcome.
Serious horse players love the popular summer meets like Saratoga and Del Mar when there are all kinds of tourist money pouring into the pool. Take the average Saturday at Saratoga when on any race there are live betting angles that are offering fair value on multiple horses. Now take the average Saturday at Aqueduct in the winter, when a wise betting choice at 4-1 in the morning line is co-favorite at 8-5 because everyone betting that day knows what to look for.
When the poker boom occurred in the mid 2000’s the professional players benefited not by beating the other good players but because they were feasting off of the added fat to the game, pots became bigger, tournaments offered more money but most importantly there were more fish to feed off of.
Just to get an idea of how big the difference in payouts are between logical horses and the overlooked long shots lets look at a pick four payouts at a track like Saratoga. In the first leg of the pick four on 8/10 a 3/5 shot was beat. By nature of the way the public plays a pick 4, a 3/5 shot getting knocked out in the first leg will almost guarantee a big payout. Add to this that in the 3rd leg the 6 choice of 7 scored. This goes to show the importance of getting past public opinion. Despite an 11-1 winning the third leg the remaining three payouts were no better than 5-1 and yet the pick 4 paid $6,187.
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Now if playing the pick four seams likes too many races and combinations to think about, lets look at individual races.
When playing individual races sometimes it’s not about finding that diamond in the rough ‘wise guy’ value play. Sometimes the best bet may be to simply try and beat the favorite. That is, trying to beat that one horse that takes money based more on their reputation than their actual chance of winning that day.
A perfect case is the horse Stephanie’s Kitten. Stephanie’s Kitten is certainly an accomplished mare and a capable runner (2nd in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup filly and mare Turf).
The added notoriety of getting second in the Breeders’ Cup has given Stephanie’s Kitten added weight at the betting windows this year. However in her last couple of races she has shown that she is out of form and that means she is also a great ‘bet against’.
G2 New York Stakes – ran 4th as the stronger part of a 1-5 entry. In my opinion the 4 horse, Waltzing Matilda was the X factor, and unknown first-time European who went off at 22-1 and was part of a pick 4 that paid $3,600. Note that pick 4 also contained 2 favorites.
G1 Diana Stakes – 5th at 2-1 and the favorite – In the Diana Stakes the winner was Hard Not to Like. She had just won a Grade 1 race out in Santa Anita and yet she was dismissed at 6-1. Backers were rewarded with a daily double that paid $87, and a Pick 3 of $737. Hard Not to Like was also the middle leg of a pick 3 that paid $1,118 and the fist half of a double that paid $180
G1 Beverly D – 2nd at 7-2 (2nd choice in the betting) actually ran 3rd then placed 2nd as a result of a DQ.
To her credit Stephanie’s Kitten ran a strong race in the Beverly D, but after her last 2 performances it was certainly hard to justify her as second choice in the betting of a very difficult race. She most likely is beginning to run into her form as trainer Chad Brown has her timed to peak at this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
The important thing to consider here is that you will give yourself more wiggle room when your opinion of a race is to beat one of the favorites rather than trying to find one specific horse to bet. All you have to do is put yourself in a favorable position if that horse doesn’t win.
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Finally the last angle to consider here is the lucrative prospect of a heavy favorite running out of the money. The benefit to this is that it requires very little risk for a nice return. First of all it should be known that favorites run in the money at a consistent 70% rate, however the return when they don’t hit the board is much greater. This is especially true when considering horses bet at odds on or shorter.
There are two ways to approach this bet, and both are low risk high reward. The first approach is to bet every other horse in the race to show. The reason for this is to try and beat a high risk, low reward type of gambler known as a ‘bridge jumper’. Bridge jumpers are aptly named because when they feel they have a sure thing they push a ton of money on a horse to hit the board for only a very short ROI.
when things do not pan out the results are disastrous and thus the name ‘bridge jumper’. Don’t be this guy.
However, you will not fall for this bet, instead you risk the least while being handsomely rewarded.
The second approach is to find any one horse you like (other than the favorite, obviously), and bet them across the board.
Lets consider the case of this year’s Delaware Oaks. Lovely Maria was running in her first race back since winning the Kentucky Oaks.
Trainer Larry Jones,a crafty veteran trainer who is particularly skilled at handling three-year-old fillies. His attention to form cycles is why he had her ready to run in the Kentucky Oaks. The Delaware Oaks is essentially the first race of her new form cycle; therefor she would not be cranked at 100%. Lovely Maria finished 5th in the Delaware Oaks at odds of 3-10. The winner was Calamity Kate who paid $110.80 to win, $20.80 to place, and $79.40 to show. Second place went to Peace and War who paid $29.40 to show, and third place was Hip Hop and Jazz at $59.40 to show.