The previous weekend, it was Belmont Stakes day and a 13-race card with 10 stakes. Last weekend, it was Churchill Downs’ turn to celebrate a big day, or more precisely, a big evening of racing.
The Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap was the highlight of an 11-race card at the home of the Kentucky Derby with five graded stakes and a collection of stars topped by Dubai World Cup runner-up Gun Runner.
It was a great card with solid favorites that offered little reward for longshot players - just one winner paid more than $10.60 - but once again it offered an opportunity for gamblers with a limited budget to tackle horizontal wagers that might normally be out of their price range.
Consider the Pick 5 to close the card. Four of the five winners paid $4.60 or less, with Forever Unbridled ($4.20) in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap and Gun Runner ($3) in the Foster kicking off the sequence in a very chalky manner. The final two legs, a pair of maiden races, were also won by favorites paying $3 and $4.60.
That meant the Pick 5 featured four favorites and a second choice, the kind of combination that could be hit with a relatively small ticket.
The payoff was hardly huge, checking in at $55.70 for a 50-cent wager. Yet with a ticket loaded with chalk, the logical approach was to increase your base wager so you collected with at least a $1 or $2 ticket and pocketed $111.40 or $222.80, respectively.
Some of the Pick 3s also paid surprisingly well. For instance, one started with second choice Kasaqui ($8.40) prevailing in the Grade 2 Wise Dan Stakes. It continued with predictable wins by Forever Unbridled and then Gun Runner.
The return was $45.40 for $2, not bad considering a parlay on the three horses paid about $30.
A Pick 3 that started just before the stakes and included third choice Fifth Title ($10.40), McCraken and Kasaqui returned a healthy $102.40 for a combination that consisted of a third choice, favorite and second choice.
Whether they will produce as much chalk as the cards for the Belmont Stakes and Stephen Foster remains to be seen. Saratoga is well-known for its unpredictability. Yet if there are races with standouts, do not quickly turn the page in pursuit of a bigger prize at the betting windows. Sometimes what seems small can turn out to be rather large if you package it properly.