Tip of the Week: The Wisdom of Harvey


Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Television viewers who can remember watching Harvey Pack, the popular New York-based racing analyst, can probably recall one of his most popular adages.

The wise and heavily experienced handicapper warned against betting on a favorite being asked to try something for the first time – like those times when a sprinter tackles a two-turn race. If he’s the chalk, Pack’s advice was to steer clear of him and await the next 6-5 shot.

With all due respect to Pack, let’s consider a new variation on that axiom. It goes something like this: If a 58-1 shot is trying something for the first time, why not consider it for a saver wager?

Turn now to the ninth race at Gulfstream Park on Sunday, March 9. A field of 11 3-year-old fillies turned out for a maiden special weight test at a mile.

It was a snap to pick out the favorite. My Miss Sophia was coming off a solid second-place finish in her career debut for trainer Todd Pletcher and towered over the field. So much so that she was sent off as a huge 1-2 favorite.

There was a catch, though. In her debut, My Miss Sophia only raced 5 ½ furlongs. Now she was being asked to cover a flat mile. It wasn’t a two-turn race, but it was indeed something new for her.

If you took Pack’s words to heart, you might have looked for some insurance, just in case the distance was a tad too long for the heavy chalk.

There were plenty of other options in the race, but one was intriguing because of the mystery attached to her.

Senior Prom was listed at a morning line quote of 12-1 off a record of a third and two sixth-place finishes in three career starts. In her last race, she finished 22 ½ lengths behind the winner.

As little as Senior Prom showed in those races, she was facing the prospect of something new in the March 9 race. Previously, Senior Prom had raced twice on a sloppy track and once on turf.

She had never been tested on a dry, fast track, the conditions she was about to face.


As a favorite, it would have been ludicrous to back her. But as her odds soared, she was 58-1 at post time. At that price, the risk in backing her seemed fair given the potential reward. For a small bet, there could be a hefty reward.

So, now you ask, how it did all play out? Was this a case of red-boarding as good as the ones Pack would provide on television?

Not exactly.

My Miss Sophia won, by 11 lengths, mind you, and paid all of $3 to win.

Nobody’s perfect, folks.

But finishing a distant second was every teenager’s hunch bet, Senior Prom, who showed a liking for a fast track – or, at the very least, liked a fast track better than the other nine overmatched fillies.

Though a $117 win payoff went by the boards, Senior Prom did pay $25.40 to place and $15.20 to show. And if you used her in a boxed exacta with the favorite, you received $99.40.

Yeah, it wasn’t the optimum payout. But for a $10 investment of $2 across the board and a $2 exacta box with the obvious favorite, the return was $140.

Meanwhile, a $10 win bet on My Miss Sophia returned $15.

So that’s $15 vs. $140. Which you prefer to collect?

Wise man, that Harvey Pack.

THE LESSON: When a longshot tries something for the first time, there’s suddenly a chance that horse could transform from an also-ran into a candidate for the winner’s circle.

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