Betting Strategy: 'Everyone's idea of value is so different'

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

June 11th, 2022

After my first season as a public handicapper, I looked at my betting account and realized one thing: I need help. Picking 349 races, I had 97 winners (28%) with an ROI of $2.08. But after subtracting my action bets--tell ya what I was a kid in a candy store the first month--I had lost 15% on my personal bets. Clearly, I need to spend more time structuring my wagers. I will use this column to learn from people I respect about how to better express my opinions. We’ll take a card and a pool, and discuss betting strategies.

Host of In the Money Media’s Redboard Rewind, Spencer Luginbuhl joins me this week to talk about how he will try to cash on his Belmont Day opinions. Before starting his podcast, Spencer worked for NYRA as a member of the Bets Squad offering Early Morning Handicapping Seminars at Saratoga Race Course. Co-founder of The Daily Gallop, he lives in Saugerties, NY. You can find him on Twitter @handi_capper

Kevin Kilroy: Tell me about your handicapping bookshelf.

Spencer Luginbuhl: One of my favorite books is My Secrets at the Racetrack by Barry Meadow. He has tables in there where once you make your own odds line, and say you want to know what a 7-2 and 6-1 exacta should pay and still be profitable over time. Bang, it’s in the book.  A lot of my gambling is done through making my own odds line and using those tables to make sure I am playing overlays.

Kilroy: Are value lines at the center of your betting strategy? 

Luginbuhl: 100%. I bet with 2 MTP, looking for horses to be 20% over the odds I want them at, which is the Mark Cramer method, another of the top old school guys, along with Barry Meadow, who focus on the basics of money management. 

Kilroy: What pools do you attack the most?

Luginbuhl: I like to keep it narrow, and play win bets, exactas, doubles, Picks 3s. One of my big things with Pick 3s is to play only one favorite in the sequence; otherwise, the payout will be too low.

Kilroy: What about Davidowitz’s Betting Thoroughbreds? Do you know the betting strategies that he offers in the appendix?

Luginbuhl: I do. Like the value tables, those structures he lays out give someone the basics so you don't have to build it all from scratch. Like key horse wheels instead of boxing. One of my favorite wheels to use is the seconditis wheel. If I see a horse who always hits the board but doesn't win, I know he can run well but maybe doesn't like to win, so I will key that horse in the second spot and put the contenders over it. If that horse is not the favorite, you will be surprised at how well they pay. Those horses are as just as good to find as locks.

Kilroy: So making value lines is at the heart of your wagers. What about multi-race wagers?

Luginbuhl: Make sure if you are going to play a Pick 4 or Pick 5 that you can at least pay for the ticket with a double or a win bet, then everything else can be gravy. Also, do not say to yourself “I am going to play $50 in the Pick 5.” Handicap first, make your contenders, and see how much that equals. If that is more than $50 you have budgeted then just pass the sequence. Don’t start chopping horses off because you’ll end up chopping off the 25-1 which is the horse you need for the payouts that make playing those wagers worth it. Just take the $50 and play a double you feel strongly about. Instead of trying to thread the needle on figuring out which 12-1 or 14-1 to toss.

Kilroy: Belmont Day is being billed as a chalkfest. What do you do with days like this, assuming you feel the same? Do you consider playing the market and singling where others spread, spreading where others see chalk?

Luginbuhl: For me it comes down to if I think all the favorites are going to win, I’m going to play a $20 ticket five times or a $10 ticket 10 times. I’d rather press my opinion that it is going to be chalky than play a ticket that doesn't express my opinion. At the end of the day I know I am not playing early. I’m playing the middle, and I might play the Belmont. The last two races when everybody is stuck trying to win back their losses, those races can offer some unexpected value too. Everyone’s idea of value is so different--that’s what makes this game beautiful.

Kilroy: What are your main opinions on the day?

Luginbuhl: In the first two allowance races I have four contenders, six contenders--total pass. My big thing in the early Pick 5 is to single Lone Rock. I have Lone Rock at even money to bet, if he goes below that I’ll pass, and just end up playing him in the horizontals. I have some false favorites around that race for Pick 3s, like I hate Jack Christopher.

Kilroy: So how do you get paid on that opinion?

Luginbuhl: I am going to try to beat Jack Christopher with Morello, and hell, give me Pappacap. So I am going to play a double with Lone Rock that hammers those two in the next leg. I don't think he should be 1-2 in that field--he’s never gone this distance and I don’t think he wins this race 50% of the time. I will use him in second in the exacta but fade him completely on top. I’ll use Pappacap and Morello on top, others depending on value. Then I will Dutch both of those horses to win, as long as they are at least 3-1. Dutching gives me the chance to miss but still see the ball going through the hoop. 

Kilroy: Tell me a little about the advice you would give new horseplayers at Saratoga with Bet Squads.

Luginbuhl: When you're new to the races and you don't want to risk a lot of money, if there are five of you, have everyone put $20 in a pool and play $25 show bets and just pick a horse together in each race. Another wager I tell people about is the ladder bet, which Joe Kristufek offers new players as well. You play $5 to win $10 to place and $20 to show. That way you get rewarded for picking horses who run well and hit the board. It’s not the best value but if you’re seeing the ball, you’re going to make money on the day. I get in arguments with people about playing these types of wagers or Dutching win bets. Personally, I think they are great because if I miss 20 races in a row, I would go mental.