Evaluating Risk Versus Reward When Considering Playing a Double

Fans handicap a race at the 2017 Del Mar summer meet. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

I’ve written before about how wheeling your top choice in a race in an exacta can sometimes offer better value than wagering the same amount of money on the horse to win. This is a good situation when the low end of the payoffs for your exactas is close to what your potential win bet payoff would be for the same amount of money, but the higher end of the payoffs is much larger.

This isn’t always the case in every field and with every horse you may favor. If the horse you like is too short of a price, the low end of those payoffs can sometimes be much less than a win bet, making this bet a bad underlay. Or the field can be too small or the exacta pools hammered too hard. In these situations, all is not lost. You can still shop around for better value than the standard win bet.

The double pool is sometimes a better option than the exacta pool. The double, a bet on the winner of two consecutive races, is the original “gimmick” bet.

First introduced to horse racing in 1931, the “Daily Double” was initially only offered on the first two races of the day. It was the first “exotic” wager — a betting proposition other than win, place or show — offered at North American racetracks. The bet offered patrons of racetracks an incentive to get to the track early to bet the first race on the card. As a kid, I remember hustling off to the track early with my folks on race days, hearing people as they shuffled into the track exclaim, “I have to get my double in!”

Today, doubles often are offered on a rolling basis, just like the Pick 3. You can bet a double on any two consecutive races, not just the first two. And with many marquee races, special doubles are often on offer, even between races that happen on different days, such as a double between the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.

Unlike Pick 3s and Pick 4s, with doubles you often can see the probable payoffs displayed before the race alongside of the exacta probable payoffs. This allows you to compare how your selection matches up in each pool. If you were considering making a $20 win bet on a horse that is 4-1, for example, then your payoff would be roughly $100. If the next race has 10 entries, and the spread of the double payoffs is, for example, from $60 to $350, then the decision you have to make is whether you’re willing to accept potentially winning 2-1 on your 4-1 horse for the chance to also potentially get as much as 16.5-1.

One important consideration is the number of entries on the other end of your double are going to offer you less than the odds you’re getting on your win bet. Too many of them and it may be a bad bet for you. But if there’s an overbet favorite you think is vulnerable, chances are the payoffs on the other horses in a double would be pretty decent. And you can always back up your double with the favorite with some extra cash to give yourself a better payoff if the chalk prevails.

The real expected value on this bet is complicated, and professional horseplayers would often prefer to make the win bet and pay 15% takeout versus around 20% takeout on a double bet. But for a recreational player looking to get as much bang for your buck as you can on a horse you happen to like a lot, this is one place to look to hopefully cash a bigger ticket.

And, depending on the horse you like, what race it’s entered in, and what races it is sandwiched between, you may have two different pools to take a shot at — the pool with the race before yours and the pool with the race immediately after it. You may find that a smaller field on one side of your race offers you a better value for your money than spreading it across a larger field in the next. Or, the presence of a vulnerable and overbet favorite in one pool might give you more value on your bets against that favorite.

One downside to this strategy is that doubles are often easier to handicap and win than exactas, since it’s easier to pick winners than to pick a horse to finish exactly second. This means that you may be more likely to end up on the lower end of your spread of possible payoffs when wheeling the double with the entire field than when you wheel the exacta with the entire field. But this also offers you an opportunity — you can actually handicap the other leg of the double instead of blindly wheeling! You can make a larger bet on the horses you like better to win that other leg, which can raise the payoffs on the lower end of your spread. In the example I posed above, you could bet $4 on the double that pays $60, bumping it up to $120, and only adding $2 to your bet. Or if the field is less than 10 horses, you can spread the extra money around this way to give yourself some more weight on the doubles that pay less. After all, handicapping and putting your money behind your opinion is more fun than smashing the ALL button, anyway.

I don’t suggest you wheel an exacta or a double with the field in every situation. I’m suggesting that when you like a horse a lot in a race and are considering making a big win bet, don’t bet until you’ve looked at the exacta and double pools. Depending on the shape of the next race, you may find more value for your money there than in the win pool, without having to take on any more risk.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!