We’ve been happy to be partnered with Keeneland for their Spring meet, but just because the meet is over doesn’t mean you can’t keep betting with Keeneland Select. Here are some ideas of potential wagers, no matter what level of player you are.
“So what should I bet?”
It’s a question every regular racetrack denizen has heard many times from a newcomer accompanying them to the track. And there isn’t an easy answer. How and what you should bet depends on a number of factors, mostly your goals for the day and your risk tolerance, the combination of which we often refer to on our podcasts as your “betting personality.”
But today I’m here with three suggestions of potential ways to bet, depending on how far along your horseplaying journey you are. Think of this as advice geared to the 101, 201, and 301 levels – just like college courses – but a lot more fun.
Strategy 101: The Show Parlay: Let It Ride!
Show wagering is a common bet for newcomers to make – a lower risk, lower reward wager where your chosen horse must finish in the top three in order for you to cash. A parlay is a type of bet where you take your winnings from one wager and roll the whole amount onto the next bet.
New wagering rules in Kentucky mean that there’s never been a better time to bet in the straight pools (win, place, and show) as more money is being returned to horseplayers because of something called penny breakage.
But even in other states, the show parlay is a really fun way for a group of friends to approach a day at the races. It’s easy: everyone kicks in a certain amount, $2, $20, $100 etc. That money gets bet on one horse to show. If you bust, you can start over. If your horse runs in the money, you bet that entire amount on a horse to show in the next race. Wash, rinse, repeat.
It’s amazingly fun to run the parlay through a whole card – I’ve had wonderful Happy Hours and even steak dinners paid for by an initial $5 investment. Your show parlay team can have a captain, where one more experienced player picks the horses, or you can just rotate the person who makes the picks throughout your group. When it’s your turn, the pressure will be on – but that’s part of the fun.
Strategy 201: Rolling Doubles: Double Your Pleasure!
The double is the oldest and simplest of the so-called “Exotic Bets.” In most instances, a double connects the winners of two consecutive races (there are also special doubles like the Oaks-Derby Double that connect huge races over the course of two days). Most tracks offer rolling doubles, meaning there is a new double that starts again with every race until the last.
Obviously, it’s more difficult to hit two winners than it is to hit one, so your level of difficulty increases here, but so do your potential awards. While you may find two races in a row where you love one horse in each and want to play a straight double, typically in a double I’ll look to use more than one horse in at least one of the legs. This will increase your cash outlay but increase your chance to cash.
For example, let’s say you love a horse in race 2. Maybe you studied the Form and watched all the replays, or maybe the name reminded you of your mom or you loved the silks. Doesn’t matter, you love this horse and want to bet. In race 3 your opinion isn’t as strong but you know you don’t particularly like the favorite. You can play double from your key horse in race 2 to three contenders excluding the favorite in race 3. For a $1 bet, this would cost $3.
And the permutations don’t have to end there, you can play two horses in the first leg and four in the second for $8 ($1 x 2 x 4) and so on. Except in rare instances, you don’t want to be too “spready,” and include too many runners because you can run into a situation where you hit the bet and lose money overall. Fortunately, you can find double probable screens on track or online that give you some idea of what each combination will pay. Combinations with favorites are going to pay less than combinations that include longer-priced runners.
Strategy 301: The $3 All-Turf Pick Three – Three Times the Pay Day
The double is just the tip of the iceberg as far as so-called “Horizontal Wagers” go. There are bets that ask you to combine three, four, five, and six winners as well.
But my favorite of the bunch – and a bet that’s unique to Keeneland – is the All-Turf Pick Three, a bet that asks players to find the winners of the last three turf (grass) races of the day. Turf racing is fun and exciting and typically allows more for chaos than dirt racing – this means you can often find a lot of higher-priced winners. If you can find three of them, you can really be looking at a score, even with fairly logical results.
This bet has a higher minimum ($3) than most wagers. And while that may seem intimidating, as you continue on as a horseplayer, you’ll actually see that the higher minimum is beneficial for two main reasons. For one, the payouts on the wager will be both numerically higher and less efficient (a concept we’ll explore another time). But also, the higher minimum forces you as a player to make decisions and construct tighter tickets more keyed to your actual opinions, instead of wondering “what if?” and spreading too much, disturbing your balance of risk and reward.
There are many potential approaches to the bet itself but one of my favored ones is to find two races where I can get skinny, using one or two runners, and then have a race where I can spread a bit – using three to five runners. Ideally, in your spread race, you’ll be beating the horse that’s the favorite. This ticket would cost $30 ($3 x 1 x 2 x 5).
Honestly, I could write volumes on this subject and there is no end to the variety of potential approaches when it comes to leveling up your betting. But hopefully these three techniques give you something to get you started. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me on twitter or via the In the Money Media website.