Learning the Game with Richard Eng: Bet a Little to Win a Lot

Fans watch the horses in the Del Mar paddock before a race this summer. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The one certainty that we know about horse racing is there are no certainties. That sounds like a cliché but it was proven true once again with champion Arrogate.

Arrogate was the 1-5 morning line favorite in the TVG San Diego Handicap at Del Mar back on July 22. In the actual betting he went off at 1-20. Where horseplayers felt with 100 percent certainty that the champ would finish no worse than third was in the show pool.

The San Diego show pool was $2,671,938, of which $2,457,472 was bet on Arrogate. The explanation for this kind of lopsided betting is you can earn 5 percent on your money backing a sure thing.

Arrogate before San Diego Handicap. (Eclipse Sportswire)

If Arrogate either runs first, second or third the show payout would be $2.10. The fact that the San Diego was only a five-horse field only magnified this certainty in the eyes of these show bettors.

There is a name for betting huge amounts of money into the show pool on a heavy favorite: bridge jumping.

The reason it is called bridge jumping is because whenever the favored horse finishes out of the money, the losing bettors feel like jumping off a bridge.

Well, after the San Diego result went official, there was an alert sent out to monitor the Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington Bridge and every high bridge in between. Just kidding, of course.

Arrogate showed little interest in running, trailed the San Diego field and was eased in the stretch by jockey Mike Smith. His fourth-place finish made the win, place and show prices look like this: Accelerate paid $17.60, $32.60 and $22.00; Donworth paid $119.80 and $67.40; Cat Burglar paid $38.20 to show.

If bettors were wise enough to bet to show on any of the three horses that finished in the money, they could have made a nice score from a small investment.

One thing I harp upon in my book “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies” is you should always think in terms of betting a little money to win a lot. Do not do it the other way around like these losing show plungers did with Arrogate.

The answer why can be given using simple math, pari-mutuel odds and probabilities. If you have my Dummies book, I explain this in detail beginning on page 41.

Even if the show bettors win nine out of 10 times, they will lose money if they bet the same amount and are paid the same $2.10. Using this scenario, the ones who lost at Del Mar must now win 21 show bets in a row to break even. It is hard to do even the simplest of tasks 21 times in a row without making a mistake.

newsletter sign-up

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