Betting Strategies: Scully's Superfecta Structure

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

September 10th, 2022

Halfway through the Kentucky Downs meet, it’s not too late to take a few swings at a big superfecta score. With that in mind, I spoke to a horseplayer who has had phenomenal success playing the superfecta, James Scully.

Specifically, he has hit the superfecta in six out of the last 10 Kentucky Derbys, including 2022’s $321,500.10 payout on a dollar base bet. Scully writes and handicaps for, and, and when they’re running at Churchill Downs, he works as a racing analyst. Follow him on Twitter at @James_Scully111

What’s the secret to hitting a big superfecta score?

JS: To me, there are three parts to this. One of them is your structure, two is picking the horses, and three is racing luck. And I have learned if you have the right structure, parts two and three fall in place. If you make smart bets and have the right idea about how to attack a pool, you are ahead of the game to begin with. So that's what I am trying to do: to make sure I have a structure and I stick to it.

What’s the secret sauce to the structure?

JS: Basically the whole concept of this is an ABC approach, which is basically how you are weighting your horses. In order to maximize your A plays, your strongest opinions, to me you need multiple tickets. You are not playing equal amounts on your As, Bs, and Cs. 

Many are familiar with using the ABC system for multi-race bets; how does it translate to the superfecta?

JS: The way I translated it was I made a fourth category, an X category. Which is essentially all or something close to all. The basic threshold to be included in that X spot is finding the horses who I give a chance to clunk in for fourth with an ideal trip. 

Here’s the thing with the superfecta and how most people look at it in the Derby; they’re just trying to gauge the top spot. Whether they like one horse or three horses, they’ve got one ticket, one caveman ticket where they’ve got that horse in first. I come at it from a different approach. I need those As to be first, second, third, or potentially fourth. Basically I am going to have multiple tickets and they are all going to have the exact same value. The first step is identifying the As, Bs, and Cs. The second step is what order they are going to go in when I build the second and third tickets.

What order do you use?

JS: I have equal tickets for equal weights. I never have just one ticket.

So what I am doing in the first ticket: A over A,B over A,B,C over X.

In the second ticket: X over A over A,B over A,B,C.

And in the third ticket A,B,C over X over A over A,B.

Ten years of playing this, I have really learned over the years that the best way of playing to leverage my position with the As is just to relegate them to the top three positions and to not get cute and move them around. I’m just rotating them all one spot straight down. That way I get all three tickets with A in first, second, and third.

Why do you not put more money on your stronger opinions? Such as the first ticket?

JS: You're going to have one or two winners in that ticket that don't make sense. For one reason or another they run well, they upset the race or they hit the board. In order to account for the unexpected in this superfecta play, I am weighting first, second, or third the same. My top picks may not win, but if they run in the second or third, I have just as good of a chance to hit it. I still feel like I am putting the weight on the As.

I’m leveraging one opinion in there and I’m taking that one opinion and transposing it to a superfecta play where I am giving equal weight to running first, second, or third.

With the Derby it's difficult to pick the winner. People forget, but you have a 19-year period from Pleasant Colony in 1981 to Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 where no betting favorite won the race. Even the years when the favorite wins, those superfectas pay tens of thousands of dollars.

Tell me about how this structure came out of playing the superfecta in the Kentucky Derby?

JS: The whole genesis occurred in 2012. I picked I’ll Have Another to win. I was keen on the Santa Anita Derby (G1) as a key race. I liked Bodemeister. Union Rags, Went the Day Well, Dullahan. So I had the trifecta, I had the exacta and I bet win and place on I’ll Have Another, who paid $32 to win. I won about $2,000 give or take. Then I saw on the results that the superfecta paid $96,000. I felt like I left that money on the table. I felt like I could have had it because I used all three horses that ran second, third, and fourth: Bodemeister, Dullahan, and Went the Day Well. I used them underneath I’ll Have Another in an exacta and tri but didn't bet the super.

So the following year, I decided I would incorporate this ABC approach and play the superfecta with multiple tickets. At first my idea was to have one A horse I would single in first, second, third, and fourth. I’ve been tinkering with this superfecta structure over the years. My failures allowed me to readdress the structure and realize the best way to play this structure was to rotate these horses. 

Then it was a matter of putting together the bankroll. So I came up with the idea of doing it like a table bet. A table bet is like a show parlay or when everyone throws in on an exacta or trifecta whether you are playing part-wheels or exactas or whatever. But when you do that everyone is putting in an equal share. I went around and got around 20 people, making one share worth $100.

So that was sort of the genesis of that whole idea of the ABC. I’ve always been in-tune to it after reading Steve Crist’s book Exotic Betting: How to Make the Multihorse, Multirace Bets that Win Racing's Biggest Payoffs. It seemed like with the Kentucky Derby superfecta that it really gave me a chance to work on the structure of it because what's appealing about this bet is the 20-horse field size. No other race generally offers more than 14. So there's more combinations, it's more challenging.

Do you approach the bet differently since it’s a table bet and not an individual bet out of your bankroll?

JS: There's a little bit of a difference between a table bet where you are minimizing your risk and a bet you are making yourself where you are taking on an enormous amount of risk. You are minimizing your risk by doing small shares and you are going after a big reward.

My opinion is every year I want to play these superfectas and have my top picks be first, second or third and give my group a chance to win it. In order to do that the best way I need to equally weight all those different spots. Once again it's a group bet not an individual play and I do think there is a difference. 

I’m far more selective when I am playing the superfecta myself. I might play two tickets where I single a horse first or second, but I am typically using a part-wheel where I take my top pick and work it like this: 1 over 2,3,4 over 2,3,4 over all.  And then I might play 2,3,4 over 1 over 2,3,4 over all. Or I might keep the key horse in first and flip the bottom using all in the third position.  What I am doing is minimizing the amount of money I am going to lose on those bets, too. You can't go chasing after high-risk, high-gimmick bets with too big of a percentage of your bank roll.