Finding Value in an Unexpected Place

Profile Picture: Scott Shapiro

May 22nd, 2018

Being a profitable horseplayer not only takes proper preparation in the days leading up to a card, but also requires paying attention to detail in the minutes leading up to a race.

One thing that can get overlooked amid time spent on handicapping and ticket structure is checking pools before placing bets. You may like to plan your bets out beforehand, which overall is not a bad idea, but you will not be at your best as a horseplayer until you are maximizing your opinions. A careful look several times before a given race at the Win/Place/Show pools, as well as the exacta and Daily Double probable payouts can result in finding unexpected value and is a must if you want to be successful long term.

An example of this occurred on Saturday when 2018 Kentucky Derby winner battled throughout with Derby runner-up Good Magic before getting the best of last year’s champion two-year-old male late. Good Magic was almost certainly second best last weekend, but as often is the case he did not complete the exacta. Instead, Bravazo and Tenfold ran on late to hit the board while Good Magic finished fourth.

A look at the payouts after the 2018 may have surprised the majority of folks when they saw that the winner paid the same to Place as he did to Win. Furthermore, he paid only twenty cents less to Show. Much of this can be explained by the fact that clear second choice Good Magic failed to hit the board, but a careful look at the tote board throughout still would have shown that the public had much more confidence in the dual classic winner in the Win pool than in the other two pools. If you had the opinion that Justify was going to run big, but Good Magic had a significant chance of tiring late than you would have been better off putting your money on him to Place and Show.

This is not the first time this phenomenon has occurred in the Preakness with a heavily favored Kentucky Derby winner. In 2014, California Chrome won the “Run for the Roses” for trainer Art Sherman as the 5-to-2-favorite. Two weeks later the son of Lucky Pulpit met a rather modest group in Baltimore and was sent off at odds of 1-to-2. To no one’s surprise the California bred stalked early and shook away late winning by a length and a half in the end.

Much like in this year’s Preakness, California Chrome paid the same price to Win as he did to Place even with the second and third wagering choices (Ride On Curlin and Social Inclusion, respectively) completing the trifecta. This is a perfect example of why watching the board is imperative. Sure, Chrome won the Preakness, but imagine if he runs second and those who bet him to Place are rewarded with $3, the same amount win bettors would have received.

With the Belmont Stakes less than three weeks away, there is likely to be a ton of money bet on Justify in all pools, but especially the Win pool. Not only will folks love his chances to get to the wire first, but thousands of racing fans will likely place wagers on him to Win that they will keep as a souvenir instead of cashing. This could make betting him to Place a much better decision than betting him to Win even if you love his chances of finishing first.

A look back at the 2004 Belmont Stakes when Smarty Jones headed to New York with a chance to make history illustrates this point. The son of Elusive Quality was set off the 1-to-5 favorite and appeared to be on his way to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, but was run down late by Marylou Whitney’s Birdstone. People that bet Smarty Jones to Win were left with worthless tickets, but those that bet him to Place were rewarded with an incredible $3.30.

Checking the pools and probable payouts available to the horseplayer is not something that should be done just before the biggest events. Doing this each day should be part of your preparation for each race. However, watching the board before Justify looks to make it a perfect 6 for 6 could lead to unexpected value.