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Switching Gears: Revisiting the Early Daily Double at Emerald Downs

Mt. Rainier from Emerald Downs (Photo: Matt)
Mt. Rainier from Emerald Downs (Photo: Matt)

Now that the first two legs of the Triple Crown are behind us, and with the Belmont Stakes still three weeks away, it's time to switch my handicapping sights for the rest of the summer. Ever since the calendar hit January 1st, my focus is primarily on Gulfstream, Derby prep races, Keeneland, and the Triple Crown series.  But when we near the end of that period of time, I usually get back to basics, back to the bread-and-butter play of smaller tracks, including my local track of Emerald Downs.

While smaller claiming tracks don't offer the glamor of the graded stakes program of the big tracks, in many ways, racing at smaller tracks involving lower level claimer is more formful than what we see every spring with the three-year-olds and the Derby preps.  The class-levels, as convoluted as they may seem due to the endless parade of conditions (n2l, n$y, n$l, etc.) are actually pretty rigid - some horses absolutely fit and some are stuck in them for an seemingly infinite amount of time. With the exception of the maiden claimers, which can sometimes be the most brutal race on the card to interpret, many of the races involve horses that are easy to throw out.  And while formful races certainly lead to lower payouts, that doesn't necessarily eliminate the ability to find overlays.

In terms of the pools, because you usually aren't betting into Derby-day sized silos, you've definitely got to pick your spots, which in many ways is a good thing.  Sure, it's harder to hit that huge score since the form of the races usually produces fewer titanic results.  But on the other hand, I find my play is a lot more effective and profitable when I'm more selective in my wagers.

The Daily Doubles at Emerald are something that I've written about before (Emerald Downs Early Daily Double) and will continue to write about due to the value that one can find in those pools on a daily basis.  Emerald isn't unique in that manner, most smaller tracks have certain pools where you can find overlays, you just have to take the time to figure it out (just as it takes a bit more time to decipher the class ladder).

Below is a chart of the early Daily Double payouts as compared to the parlay, for the thoroughbred races at Emerald since the beginning of the 2011 meet on April 15th. (Some days this season they have started the card off with a quarter horse race.  These are the payouts for the first DD of the day with just thoroughbreds.)

Date Race 1 Race 2 $2 DD Parlay +/-
5/22 3.60 1.10 22.80 19.32 3.48
5/21 5.60 3.80 39.40 63.36 (23.96)
5/20 2.20 2.10 19.00 19.84 (0.84)
5/15 1.00 1.20 10.00 8.80 1.20
5/14 5.60 0.40 21.80 18.48 3.32
5/13 3.80 0.70 20.80 16.32 4.48
5/8 4.90 6.20 88.80 84.96 3.84
5/7 0.90 6.00 28.00 26.60 1.40
5/6 4.90 2.70 33.80 43.66 (9.86)
5/1 2.10 3.00 64.60 24.80 39.80
4/30 2.80 1.30 14.00 17.48 (3.48)
4/29* 0.30 22.60 67.80 61.36 6.44
4/29* 0.30 5.70 18.40 17.42 0.98
4/24 0.50 1.10 8.60 6.30 2.30
4/23 15.70 0.80 190.00 60.12 129.88
4/22 0.60 0.20 5.40 3.84 1.56
4/17 2.70 0.80 5.80 13.32 (7.52)
4/16 4.60 5.10 61.20 68.32 (7.12)
4/15 1.70 3.90 28.00 26.46 1.54

*The early Double on 4/29 involved a dead-heat for the win in the second leg, keying two payouts.

There are a few different things I take away from the above data:

  • The margin between finding value in the early Daily Double pool and the parlay can be very thin (like most things at the track), which tells me my Double tickets need to be skinny.  Playing 2x3 tickets is an excellent way to destroy any advantage.
  • There is a tendency to see low payouts and think "I don't want to hit a Daily Double for $5.40", and certainly, I don't know I'd get involved in a DD where I think the two winners are horses at odds of 1/2 or worse.  On the other hand, if we define "value" as wagers that pay more than they should, then the smaller payouts should be irrelevant, although we know that isn't always the case.

    Check out the weekend of May 13th, 14th and 15th, a weekend where the early Double paid $20.80, $21.80 and $10.00 for $2.  None of those are huge numbers, but they represent decent value over the parlay and each day's Double payout was a significant percentage better than the parlay - 21.54%, 15.23% and 12.23%, respectively.  All three of those Doubles involved at least one odds-on horse winning and nothing over 6/1 in the other leg. 
  • There have been only two horses win at odds of over 10/1 during the above stretch of races yet the Double has paid better than the parlay 13 of 19 days.
  • It appears that when an odds-on favorite (1.00 or less) wins one of the legs, the Double is more likely to pay better than the parlay than if a couple of 3/1 shots win, which is a bit strange. Apparently, the odds-on horses are not being overbet in the Double pool. 

    An odds-on horse has won one of the legs of the Early Double ten times during this stretch, and in that time the Double has paid better than the parlay in nine of those sequences.  Conversely, in the nine Doubles where an odds-on horse hasn't won either leg, the Double has paid better than the parlay just four times.

    The difference between the payouts with and without odds-on horses could be the result of a lot of difference factors (2nd leg prices, betting patterns of the public with respect to heavy favorites, etc.), but it's an interesting piece of the puzzle to keep and eye on going forward.
  • The numbers from May 1st really struck me as strange; how does a Daily Double with a 2/1 winner and a 3/1 winner pay $64.60, over twice as much as the parlay would pay?  The answer: each of those two legs saw a horse at odds of 1.50 and 1.30 lose.
  • There is also value to be found in the other Daily Double pools at Emerald (they are rolling from the first race); the pools tend to be smaller than the early pool, but the idea is still the same.

The hidden value in the Emerald Early DD pools isn't restricted to this particular tracks.  It seems that lots of smaller tracks have value like this to be found within their pools, but it is generally something you need to really look for and it's not a situation where you're going to cash in on by just tossing enough money at the bet.  We know that when we play the Super on Derby day, all we have to do it hit it and we'll be swimming in money. That's definitely not the case when playing smaller pools.