Playing Exotics On Breeders' Cup Day
by Trevor Whenham - 10/26/2006
If you are going to be betting on the Breeders' Cup and you aren't seriously considering putting a significant chunk of your bankroll towards the exotics then you are, frankly, missing the boat and giving up a chance at serious profits. The exotics - the exacta and trifecta, the pick three and pick four and even the pick six - are probably worth more of a look than most people give them most days, but on Breeders' Cup day they are at their very best - and most profitable. The average exacta on Breeders' Cup day is a juicy $230 and trifectas balloon all the way up to $2,600 on the big day. Getting a piece of one or two of those, or on the other exotics which pay even better, will certainly make for a good day. You can dream big, too - the pick six in 2003 paid $2.7 million on a $2 ticket.
One thing that makes the exotics so attractive on this day is the guarantees. There are two pick fours. The early one has a minimum guaranteed pool of $1 million, while the later one will be at least $1.5 million. The pick six will have $3 million in the pool before a single bet is made. Those guarantees will act like a magnet for betting money, guaranteeing that the prices will be higher for those wagers than they would be on a normal day.
The biggest advantage you have in the exotics on Breeders' Cup day is stupidity. As long as it isn't yours, that is. The crowds are much bigger than normal, both at the host track and everywhere else that the signal is carried. Bigger crowds obviously mean more money in all the pools, but the advantage goes well beyond the extra size. The large majority of the attendees aren't regular race goers, and they certainly aren't going to have put a lot of work into handicapping the card, so they are going to be stupidly throwing away a huge amount of money on combinations that aren't thought out and aren't likely to come through. That's all money waiting to be scooped up with a little preparation and a bit of luck.
A casual race fan may be familiar with the two or three favorites in each race, and many people who are at the track on the day won't even be able to claim that. Favorites only win a third of all races, however, and that rate may even be lower in the Breeders' Cup because of all the unique factors involved in the races, so people who are buying tickets with the names they recognize on it likely aren't going to win. The average win payout at the Breeders' Cup is $25, so obviously a lot of horses are winning that aren't exactly odds-on.
To take advantage of the bloated exotic pools, then, you need to do some homework to find the horses below the surface that are legitimate contenders. There will be full fields of 14 horses in seven of the eight races. Anyone who has put the work into developing opinions about the entire field will have a huge advantage over the majority of bettors that definitely haven't, and they stand a decent shot of cashing in. Once you have your opinions, here are some things to keep in mind as you make your bets:
Don't get too cute - Sure, it would be nice to hit a pick four with longshots coming in for all four races, but it probably won't happen. If you can legitimately rule out a favorite, then do it. But don't toss out a favorite just because you don't want to have to settle for the lower price that you will get if it wins. For example, if you pick any exotic ticket that involves the Classic and you don't include Bernardini, then you are a likely going to lose your bet. He's going to be a ridiculously low-priced favorite, but any price is warranted, and it is much better to cash a lower ticket because he is on it than it is to not cash one because you decided to get smart and throw him out.
Less is better - If you have a limited bankroll, you are much better off concentrating on just a few exotics than you are trying to get a piece of all of them. With 14-horse fields, there are 2,744 possible combinations for the pick three. If you just throw a couple of bucks at the bet then you have just a few chances to be correct. If you are doing this over the course of several races, you might as well just buy lottery tickets, because the payoff will be higher and you're not that likely to win either one. Instead, by concentrating your money on one or two exotic bets you can cover more combinations, involve more horses and have a much better chance of being correct. This approach may not work well on every racing day, but the size of the pools on Breeders' Cup day mean that the extra investment will almost certainly be worthwhile if you win.
More is better - On a regular racing day I would almost never make a pick three bet with more than two horses per race on the ticket because the potential profits don't justify the extra cost of more horses. On Breeders' Cup day I will happily add another horse, and even two more in particularly murky races. Your taking a stab at bigger pots and you are choosing from larger fields, so you can justify making larger wagers. Don't use this as a license to be stupid, though. You still need to do your work and only be betting on horses that really make sense to you.
Bet early - On a normal racing day most experienced bettors probably like to wait until close to post time before making their bets in case something changes or an opportunity presents itself on the tote board. That approach won't work on Breeders' Cup day. The crowds are bigger, the lines are longer and more people will have no idea what they are doing, so it will be pretty easy to get locked out if you leave it too late. There would be no worse feeling than watching your picks come in when you didn't buy a ticket on it.