Betting Strategies: 'It all depends on what you are trying to make from the race'

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

July 23rd, 2022

Race Return With Handicapper Sara Elbadwi

As a public Handicapper at Horse Racing Nation, Sara Elbadwi handicaps cards across the country, puts together videos with in-depth analysis, and mines the in-house data for insights to share. That’s a lot of work on behalf of the public, and you know she is appreciated if you follow her on Twitter where people are vocal about cashing tickets on her opinions.

Sara and I spoke over the phone on Friday about her betting strategies, and she offers up her Late Pick 5 at Saratoga for Saturday. If you don't already, join the thousands who do and follow her @OutrunTheOdds.

Kevin Kilroy: Being a public handicapper, is there something that gets lost in translation between listing your picks and the tickets you actually construct with those opinions?

Sara Elbadwi: If I am just putting out picks, that’s not necessarily how I am playing the sequence. I have opinions that I want to use differently when I am actually constructing a ticket versus if I am just giving out picks in a sequence. Because if I say that this race is wide open and I am giving out four or five horses, maybe I'm actually using more horses on my tickets.  Or there’s situations where I give out three horses but I think two are likely winners and one is one I want to use underneath. I put out three horses but I would only use the top two in my ticket. 

KK: Once you've handicapped the card, what do you do to narrow in on the sequences you are going to play?

SE: I am not a big software user or anything like that. Once I am done going through the card it really depends on my thoughts on the sequence and if I feel it is something I can actually navigate and have some sort of chance of hitting. Like yesterday at Saratoga I probably should have played the Late Pick 5 but I didn’t. I would have had four out of five, but it only paid $1,000 so it's OK. I didn't put in the ticket because my opinions were mostly favorites.

If I like at least a price or two and feel good about the rest of the races, I'll go for it in the Pick 5. I’m not much of a big Pick 6 player; I’ll play a ticket or two if there is a big carryover or a mandatory payout day, or if it is something that we are covering forHorse Racing Nation. But when I find a horse I really like at 10-1 or maybe there is a 5-1 and a very heavy favorite that I really like, that’s when I will play a win bet or play around with a couple exactas or tris. But the Pick 5 is something I save for the tracks I feel most comfortable with.

If I feel apprehensive about a ticket I am about to put in, it is usually a sign to myself that I absolutely should not put it in. Sometimes I override that and I regret it later, but I am trying to work on where I look at something and recognize that the one horse I am worried about is usually for good reason. But when I feel like I have a good hold of it, I will press my opinion. I’m not as good, this is something I am still working on, at pressing my stronger opinions outside of the sequence I am locked into.

There have been situations where I really liked a horse that was a huge price and included them on a ticket but didn't play them to win and I end up wanting to kick myself. There was a huge price that I liked that won the last race a couple weeks ago at Belmont that won at like 30-1 and if I just would have put all my money on the win instead of the Pick 5, I would have won a few thousand.

KK: Have you noticed anything novel in the ticket structures of your biggest scores?

SE: This is the worst advice I could possibly give but when I make decent scores it's because I’ve put in less time. If I put more time into something I usually end up overthinking, but I take a quick glance at something and it seems to make sense, like a Gulfstream Pick 5 I hit for about $4,000 on just a $16 ticket that I spent 15 minutes looking through the PPs and it all worked out really well. Obviously that is not good advice on how to win long term. There’s just been so much time and effort I have put into this over time that I am able to do things a little bit quicker and make snap decisions. I need to make those decisions and move on instead of going back and pouring over every little piece of information available.

KK: What information and products do you use?

SE: I use HRN’s Pro reports, they have valuable information on them and I think they look at a lot of angles that other reports aren't analyzing. I am a DRF Formulator user. I use Charting Horse Value and I am a big replay watcher. Find Brisnet data reports here.

KK: Any key situations you are on the prowl for in terms of pressing up your bets? Being more aggressive with your bets in terms of spreading a wider net or wagering more?

SE: Vulnerable favorites. It’s extremely important to see what is going to be overbet. For example right now Chad Brown and Irad Ortiz Jr. are going to be outrageously overbet, so if you can poke a hole in any of those horses with those connections then you are gonna get paid for it. For example Reinvestment Risk, a horse who was going to be singled on so many different tickets, if you can beat horses like that then you can make a decent score. I singled Baby Yoda in that race but unfortunately my opinions in most of the rest of the races in that sequence were inaccurate. But then that is another situation where if I had put everything I bet in the Pick 6 on Baby Yoda to win, I would have had a great day.

KK: How do you work with a live longshot you really like?

SE: I think that if you like a horse at a price, then it is definitely worthwhile to consider the place and show pools. That is if you think they will run well but not necessarily win, and you have no real opinions about the rest of the race. If you have a horse that is 10-1, 20-1, 30-1 that runs second or third, I want to get paid for that. It depends on how you are using your spots with that, but I think it’s a way that you can still make some profit. If you like a horse that is 5-1, leave the place and show pools alone. But if you like a bomb, and that is your main play in that race without being able to pair that opinion up in the exotics in some way that would get you paid, then I think that’s OK. It all just depends on what you are trying to make from the race.

KK: All right, you are building a Pick 5 on Saturday, will you walk us through it?

SE: I start at the beginning chronologically. In Race 7 you immediately have to make a decision about what you're going to do with #2 Tough Street (7-2) coming out from Chad Brown with Irad onboard. There are a lot of ways to go in here if I pretend that Tough Street isn't in here, but there are no avenues where I am making a ticket without that horse on it, so this is a spot where I am going to single to start off my Pick 5.

Race 8, that Chad/Irad thing continues, but I don’t trust this horse. This is a spot where I will try to beat a vulnerable favorite. The main idea here is to beat Highly Respected and I want to give myself a little coverage to do that. And that’s not trying to be contrarian to be contrarian--I just don't like this horse. I do like #3 Prisoner (8-1), #4 Favorite Outlaw (5-2), and #6 Under Oath (4-1).

I will single #7 Stage Raider (1-1) in the 9th.

KK: Are you interested in playing the Pick 3 since you have two singles in the sequence?

SE: I think in this situation, this particular ticket wouldn't be worth my while. When I like three horses to beat a favorite in the middle leg and I am using two favorites as bookends, I just don't think that pays well.

KK: Do you feel like since you're already using two favorites, you just don't want to play this ticket if another favorite is going to win.

SE: You could argue that, but since I am making such a small ticket at $30 that it's like I am not looking for all the big balloons in the world if this one hits. Let’s say another favorite wins, I’ll still make a profit, it’s not going to change my life. By getting rid of Highly Respected it is still enough to turn around a little something. If I was spending $200 - $300 on a ticket and I was including all of the favorites then that is just not giving myself a chance to come out ahead. 

Race 10, the Caress (G3), is a fun race. I am going deep in here. #1 Caravel (5-2), #3 Star Devine (9-2), #4 Bout Time (4-1), #5 Tobys Heart (8-1), and #8 Souper Sensational (8-1).

I am going to use four in the last leg - #3 Moped Denis (10-1), #6 Topic Changer (5-1), #7 Shinsun (6-1), #8 Catch That Party (8-5) . A little more coverage to end the sequence.

Sara’s ticket 50-cent Pick 5 beginning in Race 7:

  • 2 x 3,4,6 x 7 x 1,3,4,5,8 x 3,6,7,8 = $30