How to Use Will-Pays to Help Make Smarter Bets

Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing

Every handicapper would love to look into the future. No shock there.

Yet before anyone begins a world-wide search for a magical crystal ball, there is a handicapping tool that can sometimes predict the future in a number of ways.

It’s called will-pays.

Let’s take the eighth race at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 7 as an example. The optional claimer featured a classy field with three main contenders who had big question marks.

The 7-2 morning line favorite was Shagaf, a graded stakes winner two years ago for trainer Chad Brown who had not raced since April 23, 2017.

Breaking Lucky winning at Woodbine. (Michael Burns/Woodbine)

The 4-1 second choice was Breaking Lucky, who was Grade 1-placed a year ago but had not raced since a 34 ½-length loss in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs on Sept. 29.

Yet when wagering opened on the race, the favorite was neither of them. That role belonged to Biblical, who was 10-1 on the morning line and had not raced since March 4 when he won an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. He was also trained by Todd Pletcher, who excels with horses returning from a lengthy layoff, especially at Gulfstream.

Reading into that, it seemed to mean that there were positive vibes about Biblical and that Breaking Lucky and/or Shagaf may have been in need of a race – or did it?

If a handicapper looked beyond the win prices on the tote board, they would have noticed a different perspective. In the doubles linking the seventh and eighth races, it was Breaking Lucky who was the favorite in the will-pays by a decisive margin.

He was also the favorite, along with the ninth-race horse taking the most money, in the double linking the eighth and ninth races.

And yet, with about two minutes left before post time (the real post time, not the one listed by Gulfstream that is usually about eight minutes off), Breaking Lucky was 4-1 and vying to be the second choice with Shagaf and Third Day.

What happened?

The will-pays did indeed predict the future. A ton of late money poured in on Breaking Lucky and he went off as the 9-5 favorite.

He also turned in a huge performance – one that underscored the late money in the win pool AND the money in the double pools – and won by 8 ¼ lengths.

Without exchange wagering there’s no way to lock in a highly attractive price and take advantage of seeing into the future, but knowing where the late money lands can often point the way to a runner poised for a big effort with time to spare before post time.

Or, in the case of Breaking Lucky, that a lot of people were willing to forgive his weak effort in his last race.

In either case, there was indeed a way for handicappers to take a neat glimpse into the future – and it happened without a crystal ball.

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