For some of us it’s the calm after the Breeder’s Cup storm, for other it’s the continuation of the grind, and for me it’s time to shake off the old habits that can sneak back in when fully participating for two big days.

It was a rare treat to fire away at all bet types for two full competitive cards during Breeder’s Cup weekend. However, for someone like myself who loves action, it has been hard to force myself back into the carryover-only method of wagering. Like many of you, I crave the action, I want to participate whenever possible. Even with that desire, and fun that comes along with it, a look back at the numbers over the past 3 months is the only reminder I need to stick with the process. Numbers never lie.

It’s been 3 months since I started focusing on carryover wagers; here is the wager type breakdown over those three months along with the corresponding ROI. Overall ROI is .23.

Nearly all of my handle has been thrown to the P5, P6 and High 5 carryovers. I was a little surprised to see that over half of my handle is into the High 5s, but it makes sense due to the volume of those opportunities compared to the more rare P5 and P6 carryovers. It’s also clear that the best bet for me has been the P5, it would be easy to abandon all other wager types and focus on that. Although numbers never lie, they can certainly be misleading. Here’s a little context to put those ROI numbers into perspective:

Over the past three months there have been two standout sequences, one a win and one a loss. The first being a P6 loss where I was alive to a 4/5 shot for $15K, a 2/1 shot for $9K and an 8/1 shot for $20K. One of two other horses in the race beat me out of it. There are your regular bad beats and then there are those where you feel there is no way to lose and you do. The P6 numbers could easily be much better, and I know that is still a great opportunity for me to pursue.

The second standout sequence was a Stronach 5 win, where I had the winning ticket 3 times for just over $30K, and just missed on two additional skinny tickets. In the first leg, I had a first time starter pressed quite hard who came through for the win. In the last leg I had a mid-price horse pressed, who also came through. If either one of them doesn’t get it done, I may have still connected but the payout would have been much less. I consider that score to be fortunate, and somewhat of an outlier.

When I look at my numbers with a critical eye, factoring in those two standout sequences, my chances to hit the P6 were actually quite a bit better than connecting on the Stronach 5. If those outcomes were reversed, I still would hold a postive ROI in the P5s, but I would also have a positive ROI in the P6s. Three months is a rather small sample size, so I will continue to press both opportunities hard.

Now, what to do with the High 5s. It may be time to reevaluate my position on those opportunities. There are certain instances where there are 7 or 8 runners, a significant gap in quality of the horses, where the value is too good to pass. Then there are the instances with 10-12 runners, with a tighter gap between quality of horses, where I should be passing. This can be counter-intuitive, as in tris and supers, we may approach it the opposite way, betting into larger competitive fields. However, the $1 minimum makes piecing together realistic tickets quite difficult, and payouts on chalky results often pay well due to the $ 1 minimum and carryover. Identifying when to pass, and sticking to it, has proven difficult to do. As I previously mentioned, I crave the action as many of you do, and when there are spells between carryovers, sometimes a High 5 carryover looks too good. It’s my goal to become more disciplined in determining when to participate in the High 5s.

To wrap this up, here are a few additional observations I have after looking back at the previous three months.

  1. I continue to disagree with the popular opinion that focusing on one track is important. I’ve found success at places I’ve never played and failure at places I know best.
  2. Pool selection and ticket construction on horizontal wagers are #1 and #1a in importance. Handicapping is a distant #2.
  3. There’s too much emphasis placed on only constructing multi-race tickets that will return more than the wagered amount, and not enough emphasis on ensuring you cover horses you think have a realistic chance to win, and doing so in an efficient manner to give yourself a realistic chance to score.

I want to expand on that third point above, as I think I take a different approach than most when it comes to ticket construction. With carryover wagers, there is less of a need to “take a stand” than there is when 15%+ of the wagering money isn’t being paid out. My first ticket punched is all horses I think have a realistic chance to win. I don’t force a single, I don’t take a stand between a 3/2 horse and 3/1 horse, I cave man the thing and move on. There is a good chance that ticket will hit…and there’s a good chance that ticket will pay less than I wagered if it does hit. It doesn’t matter though, as I will have many, many, many other tickets with my stronger opinions pressed. However, if the cave man ticket does happen to hit with all 2nd or 3rd choices, it will be a welcome saver. I look at all my tickets together as one large ticket. I’ve invested X, and expect to return Y – Z depending on the winning sequence. I know many follow the A,B,C approach, which ultimately ends up with a similar scheme, but I don’t find that to work well for me.

I posted a tweet recently stating the percent chance to hit a multi-race sequence based on how covered you are in each race. For example, if you feel you are 80% covered in each leg of a Pick 5, you have a 33% chance of cashing that ticket. Conversely, if you have a 90% chance in each sequence, you now have a 59% chance to score. These minor differences in coverage, that have a major impact on your chances to win, should be considered when putting together your tickets.

If you give yourself a 50% chance in each leg of a Pick 5, you have a 3% chance to cash. Three. Tiny. Little. Percents. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?! You know what your chance of scoring on the 26th ticket is, after missing on 25 of those 3%ers in a row? Yep, still 3%. There is no “you’re due!” or “your luck will change soon.” You could miss 100s of those 3% chances in a row, because they are all independent occurrences, missing previously doesn’t increase your chances the next time. Now factor in that your handicapping may not always be as good as you think, and you’re are only covered at 40% in those legs; your real chance of cashing is 1%. Small tickets are fun to hit, but there’s a reason for those long droughts between hits.

There is no magic bullet, obviously, but be careful of the advice you follow when it comes to ticket construction and the pools you participate in. Yeah, it might be +EV to single an 8/1 overlay in sequences over and over, but that 8/1, combined with your other selections, may not come in prior to funds drying up. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years playing more seriously, 95%+ of players severely under bet the P4, P5, P6 pools they participate in.

Hope all of your Breeder’s Cup hangovers are on the mend, and good luck out there!

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