Picking a Rewarding Spot to Bet Against a Favorite

Fans at Gulfstream Park take in the racing action on Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes day Jan. 25. (Eclipse Sportswire)

As strange as it may seem, there are times when you can win at the racetrack without winning.

If you are confused, allow me to explain.

As much as it would seem that picking winners is the name of the game, there are times when you can take advantage of a horse’s propensity for runner-up finishes by keying that horse in your wagers – for second.

Magic Wand (Lauren King/Gulfstream Park)

It seems odd, but there’s seemingly something endearing about horses who keep finishing second. You can see that in the low win odds that always seem to follow these horses and make them such inviting bet-againsts.

Now, you could bet these horses to place – if you’re wiling to pocket a $2.40 return on your $2 wager in some cases.

Yet what can work out better for your bottom line would be to take a gamble and in the right circumstances bet those horses for second in the exacta.

A good example happened last weekend in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes Presented by Runhappy.

The favorite in the race was the European mare Magic Wand. She was a deserving 7-2 choice on the morning line off a runner-up finish in last year’s Pegasus Turf and a Group 1 win in Australia in November.

But there were a few red flags. One involved her post. She was breaking from post-position12 in a field of 12, which raised the possibility of a wide trip and ground loss that could haunt her late in the race.

Her jockey, Ryan Moore, is also a based in Europe and inexperienced at handling the turns at Gulfstream Park.

But what stuck out most is that in 22 career starts she had three wins but eight second-place finishes. That means she won 13.6% of her races and finished second 36.3% of the time.

Given all of that, it made sense that a handicapper could have reservations about betting her to win.

A place bet seemed more logical, but realistically that payoff could be relatively meager. A better option was using her in the second spot in the exacta, where, without the favorite in the top spot, there could be a generous payoff.

Structuring this type of bet might seem different than keying a horse on top, but it’s exactly the same. Much like picking a horse on top in the exacta and playing it with some horses underneath it, in this case you select some horses to win and add Magic Wand for second. You could even hit the all button and wheel everyone over Magic Wand, hoping for a longshot.

If you did wheel Magic Wand for second, then you had to feel quite good when the horses crossed the finish line and the percentages worked in your favor. Magic Wand was the runner-up once again.

Enhancing the reward for putting Magic Wand in the right spot in the order of finish, Zulu Alpha, an 11.80-1 shot, won the race and triggered a $176.60 exacta for a $2 bet.

All in all, it was a very nice reward for cashing a winning ticket, even when your horse does not win.

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