Homeracing

Handicapping 101: How smart ticket building can increase profits

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

November 15th, 2019

How good handicappers use smart ticket building to make money

It happens all the time—a handicapper determines Horse #3 is a near-certain winner. They determine Horses #5 and #7 are the most likely to finish second, while rating a slim chance to beat Horse #3 across the finish liane.

So what does this handicapper do? All too often they elect to box #3, #5 and #7 in the exacta and spend $12 for every $2 ticket. The handicapper might subsequently rejoice when Horse #3 beats Horse #7 to the finish line for a $28 payoff, not realizing they could have substantially increased their return on investment with a smarter approach to wagering strategy.

What’s wrong with boxing wagers like exactas and trifectas? Doesn’t it increase your chance of winning? It does increase the likelihood of cashing a ticket, but it also increases the cost. What if, by boxing your wagers, you’re actually spending money on tickets that don’t reflect your opinion of the race?

Using the example above, let’s examine what is actually happening when you place a $2 exacta box using Horses #3, #5 and #7. You’re placing six separate $2 bets adding up to a cost of $12:

3 over 5, $2 3 over 7, $2 5 over 3, $2 7 over 3, $2 5 over 7, $2 7 over 5, $2

Do these tickets reflect your opinion of the outcome? Not really. If you believe Horse #3 is a near-certain winner—a horse practically guaranteed to finish in the exacta—why would you spend $4 on tickets that exclude Horse #3?

A smarter approach is to make Horse #3 the “key horse” in your wager. This means you’ll only place the wagers requiring Horse #3 to finish first or second, either on top of or underneath your secondary horses. This approach can also be applied to wagers like the trifecta (where your key horse must finish in the top three) or the superfecta (where your key horse must finish in the top four).

Using the original example, keying Horse #3 in a $2 exacta would cost just $8, a 33% savings. Now you have two choices—you can pocket your leftover $4 and save it for another wager, or you can use it to increase the base denomination of your exacta bet. You can now play a $3 exacta using the original $12 investment. When Horse #3 beats Horse #7 to the wire, the payoff would then increase from $28 to $42. Instead of barely doubling your money, you would more than triple your investment, all because you bet your opinions and played a smarter ticket.

But wait—there’s an even better approach. If you believe Horse #3 is almost certain to win, why not spend more on the combinations with Horse #3 on top? For the same $12 investment, you could play the following tickets:

3 over 5, $4 3 over 7, $4 5 over 3, $2 7 over 3, $2

Now when Horse #3 beats #7 to the finish line, your return is all the way up to $56—nearly five times your investment. And if you’re willing to forego the backup tickets and play only those with Horse #3 on top, you could increase the base denomination of your tickets to $6 and gain a return of $84, a sevenfold increase on your $12 investment. Or, you could play the original $2 denomination, spend just $4, and still gain a sevenfold profit of $28.

Smart wagering strategies that accurately reflect your opinions can be used to greatly increase profits and/or reduce ticket costs. Good luck with your wagers!

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