Friday, 19 August 2016 09:57

The Seductive Siren Call of Exotic Wagers

By Tom Amello | Sports

In our opening week column, “Pari-mutuel – It’s You Alone Against the World”, we examined the pari-mutuel concept that is the cornerstone of Thoroughbred racing: Bettors at the track play against each other. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, pari-mutuel players had few wagering pool options. Wagering was limited to “flat bet” wagers on Win, Place, Show and Daily Doubles. It was simple and, by today’s standards, boring. These days it’s not so simple and for good reason. The century of lottery and Mega Ball became a model for race tracks to develop opportunities for bettors to make a score, perhaps even a life-changing score, through exotic wagering. Like casino jackpots, the multi-day carryovers on Pick 6 or Rainbow Six are the lure, the bait. Unlike casinos or Lotto, which make big winners poster children for wannabe winners, Thoroughbred racing rarely publicizes the identity of its big winners. But the betting public pays attention. The current exotic wagering menu at NYRA includes pools for making intra-race wagers such as Exacta, Trifecta, and Superfecta, in addition to Win, Place, Show and Daily Double. Said another way, inter-race is horizontal wagering between races, and intra-race is vertical wagering within a race. Inter-race pools are extensions of the original Daily Double concept. These include Daily Doubles throughout the card, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, Pick 6 and Grand Slam options. With vertical intra-race wagering, a bettor attempts to pick the correct order of finish for two, three, four or five positions in that same race. For the uninitiated, picking the exact order for the one-two finishers is the Exacta, the exact one-two-three finishers the Trifecta (triple), and the exact one-two-three-four finishers the Superfecta. Money flows into these separate wagering pools. (Note that in modern wagering the Exacta pool claims more money than the Win pool.) With horizontal inter-race wagering, a bettor attempts to pick only the winner for a particular sequence of 2,3,4,5 or 6 races. For serious recreational handicappers and professionals, exotic wagering is about leveraging opinion. Leveraging is important because Thoroughbred racing has been plagued by a shortage of horses, diminishing foal crops, and short fields, even at this 2016 Saratoga meet. Short fields yield post-time favorites at shorter prices. Exotic wagers permit bettors to turn 6-5 favorites and short fields into payouts of 3-1 or more. When favorites fail, as they often do, payouts increase. As with investing in the stock market, philosophy and style of play dictate when and where a bettor decides to invest a portion of his/her bankroll. The intra-race exotic pools are for the mildly adventurous. Inter-race pools are for risk takers and serious players seeking that “Fucillo Huge” score or life-changing event. There is a seductive simplicity to both vertical and horizontal wagers. The big “carry over” pools, which draw money, further entice. The Lottery has it’s “dollar and a dream.” Thoroughbred racing once had Harvey Pack’s clarion call to the next day’s card, “NOOOBody picked six!” Both invite one to wager a little in hopes of gaining significantly more. At the track, playing favorites is like backing blue-chip, dividend producing companies; playing long shot horses is akin to investing in penny stock. Playing exotic wagers allows the investor to marry the two, and sometimes that penny stock is a hit. There is the fan dance of exotic wagering. In the horizontals, all you have to do is pick the winners. That’s all? A handicapper who regularly picks 30% winners playing a pick 3 has a 30% x 30% x 30% chance of hitting the sequence, which is a .027% probability of picking three in a row. To increase chances of winning, pick players must “spread” in races to include both probable and possible winners. Sometimes a player must “buy” a race and cover “all” the runners. It can be expensive, but the returns might be generous. A “short pocket” or unwillingness to risk an uncomfortable amount of money forces inexperienced pick players to reduce the cost of a ticket. They regularly eliminate possible but less probable horses. A friend once lost a pick by eliminating an older horse named Federal Funds. He left the horse off his tickets “hoping Federal Funds would not run well today.” Of course the horse ran well. Also, pick players too often have winners at good odds in their pick but fail to make win bets on these winners, a lose-lose double whammy. Solid opinions in each leg of your pick series are required, even if it’s “no opinion”. Backing opinions and spreading in races where there is little or no opinion is a requirement for cashing pick tickets. Most pick players suffer losing streaks, some quite long. Ironically, the “key” to generous pick payouts is usually the odd horse, included or excluded from the ticket, which either makes or breaks your play. Bottom line: If you are reluctant to invest the bankroll it takes to cover near all the probable/possible winners in a pick play you have two options: pool resources with friends or save your bankroll for flat bets and intra-race wagers. Vertical intra-race exotics have the same requirement: attempt to cover all reasonable probable and possible horses that might fill your finish spots. Visualizing a pyramid helps understand the fact that only a few horses can actually win, several might actually race well enough to finish second, and almost any horse entered is possible to finish third or fourth. The pyramid has a wide base, as should your vertical exotic ticket. A trifecta ticket, for example, might be constructed to have the numbers 1 and 2 over the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Take this same approach with superfectas. And, the horse named “All” (using the entire field) is sometimes an exotic player’s best horse. A common strategy for vertical exotics involves the concept of “boxing” tickets. To box means a multiple horse bet will pay if either horse in your ticket fills any slot. An Exacta box 1-2 will pay if either 1 or 2 runs first or second, but both must do so. A three-horse Exacta box of 1-2-3 pays if any of the three run first or second. Boxing is an easy strategy for new players to make this or any vertical exotic bet. Frankly, boxing is not the most efficient way to bet. Boxing actually sends an equal amount of money after unequal returns, not a positive investment strategy. But learning to wager efficiently comes with knowledge and experience. I believe the best chance to have a winning day is to leave the horizontal plays to others, unless you have a strong opinion in one or more races. My recommendation is to make win bets on mid-priced horses and exactas using your win horse as a “key” with logical favorites and other mid-priced horses. Such a play sounds and looks like this: “Win 4…Exacta 1, 2, 3 with 4…Exacta Box 1-2-4.” If number 4 wins, you win. If number 4 runs second to the 1, 2, or 3, you win. If either the 1-2-4 run first and second, you win. Some might argue I’m buying losing tickets. True, but the goal is winning while at the same time protecting the bankroll. The above play does just that and, if you are right, you get paid. Tom Amello began his Thoroughbred education over 50 years ago. In 1984, Tom created his own database of New York trainers and horses that became the foundation for the Saratoga selection sheet, Trackfacts. For over twenty years Tom produced and hosted original programming covering Thoroughbred racing for Capital District OTB Television. Tom conducts numerous handicapping seminars and workshops, including participation in “Count Down to…” programs at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and the “History, Horses and Handicapping” program at SUNY Empire State College’s Academy for Lifelong Learning. In 2013, Tom published Playing the Odds Board: Gateway to the Game ™, a guide that makes betting easier to understand and more fun for those new to Thoroughbred racing. Tom, with his daughter Kate, owns and operates the Brunswick at Saratoga Bed and Breakfast at 143 Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs. Contact Tom at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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