Betting Strategies: Finding value when a race has two heavy favorites

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

July 30th, 2022

Analyzing Value With Two Heavy Favorites

This past Thursday’s $194,000 Birdstone S. at Saratoga presented a textbook scenario that vertical players should always be on the lookout for.

Race 5 was marathoners on the dirt, going 1 3/4 miles, and only attracted five entries. Unlikely to be value there, right?

Two of those are arguably the best current long-distance dirt runners in North America: #1 Fearless (4-5) and #2 Lone Rock (6-5). Two horses who have earned over $1 million facing three horses with combined earnings of approximately $650,000. Either Fearless or Lone Rock would be a single or a key for many bettors. 

It doesn’t take a big stand against one of these, or both, in order to find value in a race like this. Of course, if we can beat one or both, then that’s a big situation we want to pounce on. But more often we’ll see this race as bettors, and think we need to pass in the vertical pools. If we have a strong opinion on one of the other runners, then we should take another look.

Most importantly, we want to keep our eyes on the exacta pools with situations like this when two favorites will be heavily bet together, creating an underlay we can exploit.

Assuming we like both favorites equally, all we need is a positive opinion about another horse in the field that we want to put our money behind. Using this horse in the exacta pool in these situations will likely offer us better value than using the horse in the win and place pools. And as we will see, unless we think one of the favorites will run out of the money, the added risk of the trifecta pool won’t reward us.

#3 Original Intent was made 12-1 on the morning line. Going into this race, he was 2-for-2 at this distance. In his last race, he finished second in an $8,000 starter allowance race last out, not so impressive in terms of class, but looking closer, four from that race came back to win their next starts. This was a horse I liked, but could he win? I didn’t think he had what it takes to beat the formful Fearless or the long-distance specialist, Lone Rock, who had won nine of his last 13.

My main opinion was that Original Intent would run second and Fearless or Lone Rock would win. I preferred Fearless and would press that opinion. But even if I played these two equally, I wanted to find the pool that would offer me the right value. 

Birdstone payouts ($2 mutuel)

#1 Fearless
#3 Original Intent
$1 Exacta (1-3)
50-cent Trifecta (1-3-2)

Win pool: Floating around 7-1 as post time neared, Original Intent was assuredly an underlay. He ended up going off at 9.80-1. I was not the only one who thought he could run well, thus an underlay. I could get 9-1 playing him to run second in the exacta, playing both favorites on top of him. Big pass.

Place pool: With a field this small and two near odds-on favorites both getting hammered in the place pools, there was no chance that Original Intent would pay well to place if either Fearless or Lone Rock won. Original Intent paid 2.25-1. Bad bet.

Exacta: The probable payout for Fearless over Original Intent was staying around 20-1. For Lone Rock over Original Intent it was a little higher, but close at 22-1. Both were bet down at the end, but not by much. Portos had a lot of interested parties in the pools, which was making my opinion about Original Intent more valuable. 

If I simply used both Fearless and Lone Rock equally on top of Original Intent, probables were telling me I would be paid around 10-1. Any thought about playing Original Intent in the win pools was immediately out the window. I could get the same price using him underneath the favorites, which was my opinion on the race. This is the cut-off line we want to watch for: when the payout for our longshot horse running second to a favorite we like will pay as well as our longshot to win. If the longshot is an overlay in the win pool, then that changes how we attack the race.

This is the cut-off line we want to watch for: when the payout for our longshot horse running second to a favorite we like will pay as well as our longshot to win.

Trifecta: Chalk Splitter. Playing a horse you like in between two favorites can often pay nicely. As with the exacta, the majority of the money is on the two big favorites to run first and second. But also, most trifectas will have the two favorites, squeezing a lot of value out of the bet. 

We can see that the payouts on the trifecta are the same as on the exacta, assuming we would have played Fearless and Lone Rock equally in first and third, keying Original Intent in second -- a 50-cent wager that would have cost us a $1. No extra value in attacking that pool, but with the added risk of another horse scooping in for third, or either of the favorites not firing.

Playing a price in the exacta with two heavy favorites who we believe will run well is something we want to be ready to pounce on. But we can’t do it blindly -- we need to watch the probable payouts. When the exacta probable payout equals or surpasses the win odds of our price horse, it’s a good sign that the value will be in the exacta pool.