Wagering properly on horse racing is two pronged. Not only do you have to pick the correct horse(s), but you need to bet the right way. How many times has a smart handicapper picked the top three finishers in a race, but failed to hold the winning trifecta ticket? (Many!) Last week, in our first “Betting 101” piece on the Sport of Kings, I discussed how to identify the top horses in a race. This week, let’s look at how to bet to get the most out of your new-found knowledge.
(If this article uses a word or phrase that you don’t understand, consult our handy horse racing glossary!)
Once upon a time, the betting menu for a given race was limited to “win,” “place” (finishing in the top-two), and “show” (finishing in the top-three). The margins on place and show are so small that they are rarely worth your time. It’s possible to grind out a living betting winners, but you’ll need incredible patience. Not only do you need to be able to find the best horse consistently, you also need to recognize what price it should be. If a 2/1 shot is the best horse in a race, but his actual chances to win are around 25-percent, then that is an awful bet to make. However, if the 2/1 shot has a 50-percent chance to win, he’s worthy of a heavy bet.
More often than not, the odds are going to be pretty close to correct; good handicappers pass on those races. On the rare occasion when the odds are off – say a a 5/1 horse has a 33-percent chance to win or a 10/1 sports a 20-percent shot – good handicappers will pounce. You won’t win every time, but you should come out ahead long-term if you’re disciplined.
The first exotic wager to be introduced in horse racing was a “horizontal bet” known as the daily-double, which is a two-race parlay. Horizontal wagers, like the daily-double, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, and Pick 6, require you to select the winner in multiple races. If you like more than one horse in a race, that is ok, you pay per combination. For example, in a daily-double, you can bet two horses in the first race and one horse in the second race; if you bet $1, the price of your wager is: 2 (horses in the first leg) x 1 (horse in the second leg) x 1 (amount of your wager) = $2.
If you choose two horses in the first race and two in the second, the cost is: 2 x 2 x 1 = $4.
However, it is unlikely that you feel identically about all four of the horses. Say your favorite of the group is #1 in the first race and your least favorite is #2 in the first race; you like #3 and #4 equally in the second race. In this case, you can put more money on #1 to win and less on #2. For example, you can play a $2 double with #1 (1 x 2 x 2 = $4) plus put fifty cents on #1 and #2 (2 x 2 x 0.50 = $2). What you have now is a $6 bet, where you have your top choice in Leg A for $2 and your second choice for $0.50. Betting four-times more on your top choice than your second choice makes a lot more sense than a caveman ticket that costs $4 and puts equal money on both.
Steve Crist of The Daily Racing Form has been a pioneer in tiering horizontal wagers and is a great source for understanding how value is maximized when you label each horse in a race an A (best chances of winning), B (solid chance of winning), C (outside chance of winning), and X (no shot at winning). This will enable you to create bets using ticketmaker, making sure you prioritize your best selections, but also have coverage in races you are less sure about.
While horizontal wagers require picking multiple winners in multiple races, vertical bets – like exactas, trifectas, and superfectas – are focused on picking the winning horses in order in one race.
In an exacta, you have to pick who will finish first and second. In a trifecta, you need the top-three. And in a superfecta, you need the top-four.
If you “box” an exacta, you don’t need to pick the horses in order; you just need to pick the top-two finishers. This is a common, but often flawed, way to bet.
If you think #1 is the best horse and #2 is the second-best horse and you “box” #1 and #2 in an exacta, your ticket will win as long as they finish first and second, regardless of which one wins. However, like we discussed in the daily-double example, it is unlikely you feel exactly the same about #1 and #2. A $2 exacta #1 with #2 costs $2 (one horse to finish first x one horse to finish second x amount of bet; 1 x 1 x $2 = $2). If you “box” it, #2 with #1 (1 x 1 x $2 = $2), it costs another $2. However, if you like #1 better, why not bet a $3 exacta #1 with #2 (1 x 1 x $ 3 = $3) and a $1 exacta the other way? This way you are betting the same amount of cash ($4), but you have 75-percent of your money on the best horse winning. The same goes for tris and supers: key the horses you like best.
If you want to play a superfecta, but only have a strong opinion on the two best horses (let’s call them #1 and #2 again), you can try something like the following: play #1 and #2 with #1 and #2 (meaning #1 and #2 need to finish in the top-two), with #3,#4,#5,#6, with #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8 (meaning you have four options for third and six options for fourth). That is a $40 wager for $1, but only a $4 bet at the superfecta-friendly price of $0.10.
Here, you have a number of potential winning combinations. If you do win, your payout will depend on which horses finished where and what their odds were. If a horse with long odds finishes third, your payday could be pretty darn big, even on a small wager.
Another great way to bet the horizontals is to identify a key horse. If you have a notion that #3 is going to be a factor in a race, try an exacta like #3 with #1, #2, #4, #5, #6 and go the other way too (#1, #2, #4, #5, #6 with #3). For a buck a combo, that is a $10 wager. If #3 finishes in the top-two, as you expect, you’ll come out on top as long as one of your many second choices wins or places, as well.
Whatever type of bet you make, if you handicap well and bet intelligently, you’ll put yourself in a nice position. However, you need to have the discipline to recognize when you don’t have the necessary information and when the odds aren’t offering value. Recognizing what scenario calls for what bet, and when to lay off is just as important as picking the right horses.
(Photo credit: Jeff Kubina (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)
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