Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Dec. 15, 2022

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December 15th, 2022

A good Thursday to you all! In this Thursday column we’ve been talking about some betting-related topics lately, and I wanted to keep that going today by talking about what makes for a good betting race?

I bring it up because we had a race at Tampa Bay Downs on Wednesday that I think a lot of people think of as a good betting race. I believe it was the seventh race on our card, a field of 10 on the grass with a lukewarm favorite and the classic "wide-open board." The odds were obviously a little different as they went into the gate, but the favorite was 7-2, and there was another 7-2 shot as well. There was also a 4-1, a 5-1, two 6-1s and a 9-1 shot. So you have six horses between 7-2 and 6-1 and a 9-1 shot, who’s not all that far removed from that range.

So is this a good betting race? Well, first of all, I certainly don’t think it’s a bad betting race. Wide-open big fields are awesome. I do think it’s potentially a bit of a trap betting race for a lot of players.

I remember professional horseplayer Inside the Pylons telling me in our first podcast together about this kind of “great betting race.” He basically said “isn’t a great betting race one where there’s a 3-5 favorite that you hate and want to toss? That’s a good betting race!” And he’s right, of course. Those are the races where we can make some big scores and eliminate tons of other players from sequences if we’re right. So those are great betting races. But again, is this race still not potentially a good betting race?

I think it can be. But I think you have to be opinionated for you to get it to be. Earlier when I mentioned this might be a trap kind of race, here’s what I mean. Let’s say you think all six of those horses between 7-2 and 6-1 are on pretty even footing in terms of their chances to win. Including the fact that there are four other horses in the race, one of whom is 9-1, aren’t they all kind of underlays or close to it in the win pool?

If you think they’re all an even shot to win, then 6-1 is kind of your break-even on any of them. So even the longest-priced ones of those six are simply breakeven prospects at best. Once you include the other four horses into the mix and factor in that they're going to win some of the time, they almost all become underlays in the win pool. Again this exercise is factoring that you think they’re all of equal chance. It could be that you really love one of them and think they have a 30% chance to win the race and it is an overlay to you.

Another reason an odds board and race like this can be a trap is because often it becomes a race people spread deep in for bets like Pick 4s and Pick 5s. And usually they’re spreading with all of those somewhat logical six horses we mentioned. So you’re multiplying your ticket cost by six times to at best get 6-1.

Of course, it depends a little on what you have in the other legs, but spreading six deep with all those horses between 7-2 and 6-1 means best-case scenario you’re gaining a tiny bit of equity in a leg you’ve used six horses! When you use six horses in one race, for most of us it means you have to be more narrow in other legs. So, (1) it’s going to be harder to hit those other legs, and (2) most people tend to go chalkier when they go narrow. So where’s your value on your ticket coming from?

My general thought is that this wasn’t a bad betting race. It’s maybe just not a great betting race unless you have a very strong opinion. As a whole, wide-open, 10-horse fields are a good thing in the modern game. I think people have just defaulted to talking about these races with tepid favorites as “good betting races,” and when they do, I always put an asterisk by the comment in my head for the reasons listed above.

Everyone have a great weekend!