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How The Breeder's Cup Can Turn On A Nose - A Horseplayer's Lament

Matt: I'm bumping this up to the front as it's a great piece from JP on structuring wagers.  

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via www.horseracingnation.com

The horse pictured above is Bridgetown, a 3-year old son of Speightstown, owned by Melnyk Racing Stables, trained by Kenny McPeek, and ridden by Elvis Trujillo in yesterday's Breeders's Cup Turf Sprint.

Each and every year, I look forward to the Breeder's Cup races, and by the time they arrive I have that feeling of excitement that children get on Christmas Eve.  I save through the year to wager as aggressively as I can on these two days, because it is worth it.  Every horse in every field would most likely be one of the top betting choices in any other race, but because they are all gathered together, and the tote board is always in statistical balance, one can get 50-1 odds or longer on a horse that should be nowhere near that price.

On Breeder's Cup days, I only play vertical exotic wagers - exactas, trifectas, superfectas - because keying the right long shot and being right just once in any of those 14 races, can, at a minimum make your whole year handicapping, and, at a maximum, alter the financial circumstances of your life.

My method for choosing a horse to key in a Breeder's Cup race begins with an assessment of the pace of the race.  The races I most look forward to are those that involve at least three speedball horses, that is, front-running horses who go straight to the lead and try to hold on.  I get really excited when one of those three speedsters is also the favorite in the race.  After pace, I consider what kind of form the horse is in, how fast he is by speed figure average, how classy other fields he has faced have been, how much money he has earned, and whether or not he has an affinity for the track, distance, and/or surface.  Finally, I consider any pertinent trainer angles.

After I have found my key, I try to find three or four other price horses that have a good shot to hit the board.  Then it is time to structure the wager, which is as important a part as any of the handicapping.  Here are the trifecta and superfecta wagers my wife and I built for yestersay's BC Turf Sprint.

.10 Super

.10 Super

.10 Super

.10 Super

7

All

2,3,12,13

2,3,12,13

All

7
2,3,12,13

2,3,12,13

All

2,3,12,13

7

2,3,12,13

All

2,3,12,13

2,3,12,13

7

.50 Tri

.50 Tri

.50 Tri

------------

7

1,2,3,12,13

1,2,3,12,13

1,2,3,12,13

7

1,2,3,12,13

1,2,3,12,13

1,2,3,12,13

7

-------------

As you can see, Bridgetown (#7) was one of my key horses yesterday.  He was 4th best in Middle Pace, 5th best in Late, 1st in Prime Power, 2nd in Earnings Per Start, 1st in Speed Figure Average, 1st in Class + Speed, and the kicker...he had finished first or second in four races at the distance, and in six of eight races on turf.  He offered outstanding value at 14-1.  My four-horse line for the supers included two speedballers (2-Central City and 3-Stradavinsky) I thought might hold on to a top four spot, and the two best closers not named Chamberlain Bridge (12-California Flag and 13-Tropic Storm).  Chamberlain Bridge, the #1, would go on to win the race with a thrilling sixth-to-first move.  Because I so feared Chamberlain Bridge, who went off at 7-1, I added him to my four-horse line for the trifecta wagers.  You can also see from the wagers above, that I always include an "All" in each dime super because this is the Breeder's Cup, and no matter how good you are, you cannot handicap your way to some of the winners.

So if you watch this video of the race, at the 1:00 mark Bridgetown is in the center of the track, winding up, and it looks as if he will win.  It is clear, nine seconds later, that Bridgetown will not win, but will hit the board.  And then, at the wire, the 4-Unzip Me and the post-time favorite, the 5-Silver Timber, arrive simultaneously with Bridgetown. 

Photo.

I know Chamberlain Bridge has won.  Fine.  This is why I have All in the one-hole.  I know I was right to include the speed horse Central City, a clear second.  Now, I look at my sheet of wagers and see that all I need is for the 7 to pop up in the three-hole, and I hit the trifecta. Tick, tick, tick and up pops: 4. The 7 is fourth, which would have been great, since he was my key, if only I had included Unzip Me, who, of course, was the last horse I eliminated when choosing my four-horse line.  My thinking was that he had never run in a race that was going to have the kind of pace that he would see in the Turf Sprint.  But my own notes in the program point toward my error:  9-of-10 in-the-money on turf, trainer Martin Jones 31% wins in graded stakes, Bejerano/Jones combination: 71% wins and 86% in-the-money.

The trifecta, with a 7-1 over a 9-1 over a 10-1, pays $348.40 on the $0.50 wager.  I can reasonably guess that if my 14-1 horse had gotten up for 3rd, it would have been substantially more than that, perhaps even double, which would have turned my sour day into a sweet one.

I tell the the story of this one race because it not only typifies how the 2010 Breeder's Cup went for my wife and I, but also shows what a fine line exists between profit and loss in this game.  In 14 races this year, my wife and I had three-of-four horses in the dime super nine times.  We had two-of-three in trifectas eight times.  We scored on just two exacta wagers.  And so we are left mourning not just the loss of money, but regretting also that our next real shot at a big payday won't arrive until the first Saturday in May.  Despite the fact that I feel we handicapped pretty well, and played the right way with regard to money-management, the whole weekend wound up turning...on Bridgetown's nose.

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