Betting Strategy: 'You Don't Have to Do It All in One Pool'

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April 16th, 2022

Talking Pick 3s, Exactas, Win bets and Keeneland’s April 16 All-Stakes Pick 3 with In The Money Media’s Peter Thomas Fornatale.

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.

Horse racing podcast pioneer, Eclipse-award winner, and best-selling author, Peter Thomas Fornatale covers every aspect of the sport through In The Money Media Network. The hallmark of Fornatale’s Player’s Podcast, the longest running horse racing podcast, is leveling up savvy players while attracting new fans to the sport, and he is an invaluable resource to bettors looking to sharpen their ticket structures, broaden their handicapping horizons, and learn to trust their opinions. Follow @loomsboldly, @inthemoneymedia, and subscribe to In The Money Media Plus

Kevin: Pete, one of the things that perks up my ears when listening to your pod are the discussions around expressing your handicapping opinion. What do you mean by that?

Pete: That's one thing whenever you are constructing a bet you’re really looking to do--to have that ticket you are punching in be a written manifestation of what your opinion is on a given sequence. And you’ve got to think about it holistically in terms of all the bets you are going to make. You don't have to do it all in one pool. You have the opportunity to mix-and-match both between verticals and horizontals, and let’s not forget the win pool.

K: Okay, so how do you go about mapping a card to know which races you want to dig into?

PTF: The smartest way I've seen is how Matt Vagvolgyi (@BlinkersOn22) grades every race according to how strong his opinion is. For example, you could use a letter grade. And feeling strongly can mean different things, right? It could mean “I absolutely hate this favorite so I know it's a good wagering opportunity,: or it could mean “I have only one horse that I like,” or it could mean “I can lock this up with two horses,” but wherever your opinion is strongest, grading it as an A-level opinion. Then taking a look back and letting the card tell you--hey, if you have got an A-level opinion in three races in a Pick 5 sequence, you’ll want to dive into that.

K: Love it. All right, so what did you find after handicapping Saturday’s Keeneland card? 

PTF: I think the all-stakes Pick 3 is an interesting sequence because I have a couple of strong opinions and a couple horses I really want to press up. By linking them with some smart back-up type tickets I think we can come up with a play that really reflects my opinion. Specifically I have A-level opinions in both the eighth and 10th races, so that automatically made me want to take a look at the Pick 3. So even though I don’t have the strongest opinion in what I feel to be a really volatile ninth race, I still think I can construct tickets that, even if I use four runners in that second leg, can still accurately reflect my opinion.

K: Can you give us a taste of your opinions to really see how you are translating them to your tickets?

PTF: I have a pretty strong opinion on #5 Change of Control (4-1), who was unprepared for the break last time but stayed on well and has a chance to take it right to the favorite #12 Elle Z (3-1) who will have to do some work to make the top from all the way out there in the 12 post. I thoroughly respect #3 Campanelle (5-2), and she still is going to be an A-level opinion for me. Change of Control, I believe, will have better value and if there is one horse I’ll want to bet in the win pool it's her. 

K: How about the Lexington (G3)? 

PTF: I think it is a very open race. I have the idea that with his dirtied-up form #7 Major General (4-1) may be higher than that morning-line price, so I will be comfortable making him a lone A with a bunch of back-ups. I’ll fade #9 Tawny Port (5-2), and back-up with the #2 In Due Time (3-1), #8 Strava (20-1), and #11 Call Me Midnight (6-1) as Bs.

K: When you said you weren’t as confident about the middle leg, I thought you would spread more than four horses.

PTF: Four runners in a Pick 3 is pretty spread. 

K: Note to self. All right. What about the final leg?

PTF: In the Jenny Wiley (G1), #3 Shantisara (6-5) is the one you want. A stone cold single. She has got the turn of foot of a Grade 1 miler. I think she is just faster than these. She is going to be able to turn away her stablemate #4 Regal Glory (7-5). Also, a lot of people will reflexively use the two Chad Browns equally, so I feel like if you’ve got a strong opinion on one and you're willing to press that opinion, you can pick up some equity along the way. 

K: All right, so what does all that look like in ticket form?

PTF: I’m going to have win bets assuming the value is right in the first and third legs, but I’ll build a Pick 3 looking to top up in hopes that both of them run well. And listen, there’s a world where Shantisara is 4-5. The Pick 3 will sometimes preserve some of that “morning-line value” so I am trying to do that here.

K: Love it.

PTF: In the first leg, I’ll use the 3 and the 5 equally as As in the Pick 3. I’ll use the 12 as a B. Change of Control will be the one I am betting to win. I’ll box the exacta with the 3 and the 5 vertically, more of a saver than anything else. What I really want is the 3 over the 5 to use the exacta as a place bet on Change of Control. And I will play a smaller back-up Pick 3 ticket using Elle Z just on the idea that if she does get out there and clear, she could take some pegging back. I don't really like her, but more of a defensive use. One could argue that in a Pick 3 you shouldn't play a horse like Elle Z defensively.

Here are Peter Thomas Fornatale’s plays for April 16 at Keeneland:

Race 8: Pick 3 (All As x 2 units; A’s with One B x 1 unit; A’s with Two B x 1 unit)

Win bet on 5

Exacta Box 3 with 5

Race 10: Win bet on 3

K: All right, I love Change of Control, Elle Z, and #11 Goin’ Good (8-1) in Race 8. I feel most confident that In Due Time will take another step up, but I am interested in the hidden form and value of Strava. Call Me Midnight shortening up could return us to a Lecomte (G3)-type effort. In Race 10, I think the pace scenario with this small field of horses who have run well on or near the lead recently could produce an unexpected performance from one of the non-Chads, so I want to fade both of them in my horizontal plays.

PTF: In game theory terms, in a pool where 75-80% will be tied up with one Chad or another,  I’m trying to get equity by fading one--you’re shooting for the moon going against both. I wouldn't say your whole day should come down to that play, but I like that as an aggressive play. It justifies you using plenty of other runners in those other legs which sounds like that is your opinion anyways.

K: So the more you're fading favorites the more it justifies throwing more horses in?

PTF: One thousand percent. You are sure to get paid well if neither Chad is going to win. That is very bold. 

K: Since there is value in fading the Chads, should I use the Race 8 favorite, Campanelle?

PTF: You should never use a horse you don't like. You could come back and play the exacta if you are wrong. You should honor your opinion. 

K: Thanks for your insights, Pete.

PTF: Listen, this is great--the discussion of wagering strategy in general is woefully underrepresented. Dave Gutfreund has made the point that if you are a poker player you can go on the Two Plus Two forum and dissect a hand ad nauseam and really learn something from your mistakes and your successes. Self-analysis is the best teacher. In horse racing how often, win or lose, do we never think about bet structure again? In all of life, one of the most underrated aspects of being successful is game selection. Trying to make sure you are in the right pools with the right opinions, and from there being able to structure tickets. The best ticket structure in the world isn't going to overcome a bad opinion. But at the same time there’s a lot of people out there with good opinions who are dead broke and what does that tell you about the importance of ticket structure?

Here are Kevin Kilroy’s Pick 3 selections: