Analyzing a Profitable Breeders’ Cup for Bettors

Fans cheer on their horse at the Breeders' Cup. (Eclipse Sportswire)

While this week’s story will involve payoffs at last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup, we’re starting with the number 1,298. Which is what you get when you take 1,333 and subtract 35.

Aside from a quick math lesson, what those numbers reflect are the direct benefits of the recent changes in the tax withholding rules that allow greater latitude in applying tax consequences to large winning tickets.

In the past, payoffs of 300-1 or more were subject to withholding regardless of the amount of the bet on the winning ticket. But in late September, a legislative push led by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association resulted in the adoption of new rules that took the amount of the bet into consideration before the tax man entered the picture. In other words, a total bet of $10 on a Pick 3 means withholding does not start until the payoff reaches $3,000.

While those rules might not have much impact on a card filled with six-horse fields, at an event such as the Breeders’ Cup, with a parade of full fields and evenly matched races, they amounted to a huge bonus for handicappers who were fortunate enough to sort through the myriad of options and correctly build a ritzy winning ticket.

How many?

The numbers above tell the story.

A year ago, there were 1,333 winning tickets at Santa Anita that generated reporting or withholding via automatic W2-G fillings. But this year at Del Mar, there were only 35, which means there were, yes, 1,298 less fillings, which adds up to a 97 percent reduction and dramatically more money in handicappers’ pockets.

For example, take the final Pick 3 on Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup races, a combination that consisted of Good Magic, Talismanic, and Gun Runner which paid $707.80 for a $1 wager and doubled the 300-1 threshold. I was fortunate enough to hit that combination, and a year ago I would have been heading home with a tax slip in my luggage or less money in my wallet. Instead, by using a 2 x 5 x 2 ticket that cost $20, the teller handed me the entire $707.80 since it was well below the adjusted threshold of $6,000 on that ticket.

Judging by the numbers, about a thousand other people at Del Mar, like me, reaped the benefit of a full mutuel payoff – not to mention countless more who wagered online.

Having illustrated how this year’s payoffs were more profitable than at last year’s Breeders’ Cup, let’s take a look at those at those prices and see just how lucrative they were.

For starters, though there were more winning favorites this year as opposed to 2016 (two vs. one), there were some huge longshots, topped by the unfathomable Bar of Gold paying a whopping $135.40 in the Filly and Mare Sprint. Besides that shocker, more than half of the win prices (seven of 13) paid $24.40 or more to win.

Surprisingly, those payoffs did not lead to many huge exactas. The biggest one, of course, came in the Filly and Mare Sprint, with a $1,030.20 return for a $1 wager. After that, only two checked in at more than $87.

Trifectas had more punch with eight of 13 payouts surpassing 300-1 odds. The topper, of course, came in the Filly and Mare Sprint with a return of $6,926.75 for just a 50-cent wager.

In the Juvenile Fillies there was a $2,289.95 trifecta, and five of the Breeders’ Cup races had a trifecta paying $528 or more, again for 50 cents.

The superfectas met expectations with some gargantuan payoffs, starting with the $176,369.50 jackpot for a $1 winning ticket on the Filly and Mare Sprint. Not only did all 13 superfectas exceed 300-1 payoffs, but beyond a relatively paltry $370.70 return in the Distaff, the next lowest price was $1,095.40 for $1 and six paid more than $5,000.

With all those longshots, the horizontal or multi-race wagers paid rather handsomely. Of the 11 doubles, only three paid less than $100. The two doubles ending and beginning with Bar of Gold illustrated the value of wheeling with payoffs of $2,546.40 (with a $62.40 winner in the previous race) and $2,456.60 (with a $24.40 winner afterwards) for the minimum wager of $2.

Overall, five doubles paid $189.40 or more.

The Pick 3 seemed the best ticket of all with only two payoffs of $310 or less for $1. The rest paid at least $619.20 and the three involving Bar of Gold paid an astronomical $29,340.10, $27,082.10 and $9,903.40, all for a mere $1.

There were three Pick 4s and while they were utterly challenging, they were completely rewarding. The Pick 4 on Friday’s races paid $2,375.90 for 50 cents. On Saturday, the first one, which included Bar of Gold and Stormy Liberal ($62.40) paid a mind-boggling $289,005.40 and the one on the final four races, capped by Gun Runner ($6.80) paid $1,257.15.

Pick 6 players received a windfall of $388,423.60 on a $2 bet for navigating through those choppy waters on Saturday.

Looking back, of all the available options at the Breeders’ Cup, the Pick 3 seems to offer the most value with a $1 bet and payoffs that can easily stretch into the $600-700 range, even with a favorite or second choice in the mix.

Best of all, with the new tax regulations, there’s a good chance you’ll now be able to keep every penny of the payoff.

Yes, it was a very good Breeders’ Cup – in more ways than one.

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