It’s a fairly safe guess that someone interested in cashing mutual tickets on a regular basis will most likely gravitate toward playing favorites.
It’s surely the easiest path to the cashier’s window, with the chalk winning about a third of each day’s races. Yet from a dollar-and-cents standpoint, it may not make much sense.
A $4 winner out of every three bets is not going to pay the rent in any town.
Some folks might try to stretch a bit more value out of a favorite by using it in an exotic bet like an exacta, but there are pitfalls.
Some newcomers might look at the frequency of winning favorites and believe betting an exacta with the favorite and second choice is the safest route to cashing a bet.
Guess again, folks.
Value should always be paramount in making any kind of wagering and it’s nearly impossible to find a drop of that when you’re betting the favorite on top of the second choice in an exacta. Contrary to that, the risk/reward ratio is so bad on a bet with the favorite on top of the second choice that you’re probably better off skipping the race than chasing a chalky 1-2 finish.
For proof, let’s look at the current Belmont Park meet. Looking at the results of races from Sept. 8 through Sept. 23, there were 12 racing days with 115 races.
In those races, 29 favorites were victorious. My calculator says that adds up to 25.2 percent.
Of those 29 races in which the favorite won, the second choice followed under the finish line 11 times.
So, betting the favorite over second choice was a winning idea only 10 percent of the time.
Dimming interest even more in that strategy were the payoffs. Those 11 winning tickets were worth $144.20.
You bet $230 and got back $144.20. Do that often enough and you’ll probably be spending your days in bankruptcy court rather than the clubhouse of your neighborhood racetrack.
Further illustrating the lack of value in obsessing over chalk, if you bet the second choice over the favorite in those same 115 races, you would have cashed 12 times and pocketed a much more substantial $215.40.
Of course, a two-week period at a single racetrack is hardly irrefutable evidence. And there might be some tracks that are heaven on earth for the chalk. But the lesson that should arise from this exercise is that whatever seems simple and easy at a racetrack usually isn’t. Exotic wagers are geared to reward those who go against conventional wisdom, so use them wisely and maximize your payoffs - especially in spots where you feel a favorite is vulnerable.
This might seem risky to the more prudent of fans, but the bottom line is that playing it close to the vest isn’t rewarded as often as you might believe. In the long run, because the most logical order of finish doesn’t materialize that often, the more chances you take, the more you increase your chances of turning a handsome profit.
There’s a reason why it’s called gambling.