Favorites: everybody has an opinion on them. Some people consistently bet the chalk to show, winning 20 or 40 cents at a time; wise guys, on the other hand, hate favorites and always want to beat them.
The fact of the matter is that the horse with the lowest odds gets to the finish line first about a third of the time. So, with every race you bet on, you need to decide how you’re going to handle the favorite, whether you like him or not.
Let’s look at a few options.
(New to horse racing? Learn the ropes with my beginner’s guides to handicapping and betting on the ponies. And if any of those articles use a word or phrase that you don’t understand, consult our handy horse racing glossary!)
Sometimes the favorite is undeniable. His or her past performances indicate they have a very good chance to win. Contrary to popular opinion, this does not mean it is a bad betting race. By identifying a clear cut top selection, you can single the horse in horizontal exotics like the Pick 3, 4, 5, or 6, and use alone on top of vertical bets like the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta.
Additionally, while the profit margin won’t be great, the more confidence you have in the horse, the more a win bet makes sense. Instead of playing a complicated $128 Pick 4 that may only pay 5/1 and doesn’t have a great shot of winning, put $100 on the 7/5 chalk, take your $140 profit, and move to the next race.
I love races where I think the wrong horse is the favorite. It indicates that cash is being thrown on a horse that may be a contender but should not be supported so strongly; often this situation snowballs and there are a few options when it happens.
Ideally, you hate the favorite and can throw him out entirely, whether you are betting horizontals, verticals, or traditionally. The odds tilt in your favor because you’ve eliminated an over-bet chalk which provides value elsewhere.
If the favorite is a legitimate contender but not your top choice, play him as a secondary or tertiary (B or C) selection in horizontal wagers. In verticals, use him as you normally would a second or third choice: lightly on top and more significantly underneath.
If you like to bet to win, simply pick your favorite alternative, and be happy you are getting a good price.
Some races will have more than one horse at roughly the same odds. As a handicapper, that doesn’t mean you think they have the same opportunity to win. If you have a strong feeling that one or two horses tower over the field, that’s great: you can key those horses in your bets with any others as secondary choices.
Some races are just wide open contests, of course. If you think a 10/1 is about on par with the co-favorites, certainly put a few bucks on him to win (but don’t bet multiple horses to win, that is just betting money against yourself).
Every horse race is different. There can be varying pace scenarios, drop downs, class climbers, and horses coming off layoffs or switching tracks. In each instance, somebody is going to be the favorite. Whether you have a strong opinion on the chalk or not, be aware of your options on how to deal with that horse. Sometimes reading the past performances seems complicated and intimidating, but forming a firm opinion on the favorite will go a long way towards wagering intelligently.
Photo credit: Futureshape [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.
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