Winning is a relative term when it’s applied to handicapping a horse race.
You can pick the winner of a race and wind up losing money on it.
Conversely, you could pick a loser and walk home with a wallet overflowing with Benjamins.
As illogical as that may sound, it will make complete sense once a novice handicapper embraces the true challenge inherent in attacking the betting windows with gusto.
Wins are nice. But when all is said and done a successful day at the races is based on how much money you made, and sometimes the winning horse is not the key to unlocking a windfall of cash.
Look at it this way. One fellow bets $10 on the No. 3 horse, a 2-1 shot that wins and accounts for a $30 return. His wife, meanwhile, likes the No. 5 horse, a 20-1 shot in the same race. She bets $2 to win on the long shot and uses it underneath four horses in the exacta, the 1,2,3,4. She hits the 3-5 exacta and gets back $75 for her $10 investment.
So whose shoes would you rather be in?
The guy who picks the winner and makes 20 bucks?
Or the gal who backed the runner-up and turned a $65 profit?
I’d say the high heels are looking rather comfy right now, wouldn’t you?
And that’s the basic challenge in handicapping, which mirrors the basic mantra in any financial endeavor. Just turn a profit, baby.
Of course, finding those long shots that can finish in the top two or three isn’t a simple task, and some days the search for them is more difficult than locating the Holy Grail.
Yet what should always be foremost in anyone’s mind when they gamble is the risk/reward ratio. Some horses are not worth a penny at 1,000-1 odds or even 10-1 odds. Others are mortal locks at 1-10 and wagering against them is futile.
Time and experience will ultimately guide a handicapper through those murky waters that can mask value on the toteboard, and a positive first step in that direction is widening your horizons beyond the win pool, and looking for opportunity – let’s call it value – in pools like the exacta (selecting the top two finishers in order) or triple (the top three finishers in correct order). That’s what can turn a good day into a great one, and loving the winner of a race is not a necessary element in that equation.
A good example would be the 2001 Kentucky Derby. If you liked Monarchos, a $23 return for a $2 win bet was a pretty nice return and sufficient reason to brag for the next 12 months. Meanwhile, the person who backed Invisible Ink, the runner-up at 55-1, in the win pool, angrily ripped up his tickets, while those who properly used Invisible Ink in the exacta (a $1,229 payoff) or triple ($12,238.40) were the ones who should have bought dinner – at an elegant steak house.
Even place ($46.60) and show ($21.20) bets on Invisible Ink returned handsome profits.
On a personal note, this lesson was hammered home in 1992 when I was actually misguided enough to believe Arazi could win the Kentucky Derby. Yet betting him at 4-5 odds didn’t excite me much. So I limited my bets to some exactas of Arazi over three long shots and then, figuring the Arazi could finish off the board as easily as he could win the race, I placed win bets on the three long shots and used the trio – Lil E. Tee, Casual Lies and Del His Due – in an exacta box.
As dumb as I felt when Arazi staggered home eighth, I was smiling like the Cheshire Cat when Lil E. Tee and Casual Lies ran 1-2, giving me a $35.60 win ticket and an $854.40 exacta.
If only I could have been rewarded like that for being a dunce in Mr. Hawthorne’s high school math class!
Clearly these examples are rare occasions, but the basic lesson is that even if you believe a 6-1 shot can finish no better than second there are ways to turn a profit on a loser.
Yes, folks, sometimes it does pays to be wrong, and that’s just one of the joys of handicapping.