Each week of the 2023 Saratoga meet I will be writing about one Pick 5 sequence which I feel could pay big. Less about handing out picks, I’ll be discussing why I think the sequence is ripe for a windfall and how I am structuring an efficient ticket around a contrarian approach. These spots are what makes horse racing the best wagering game out there.
There’s no better feeling than being on the other side of the coin, so let’s dive in with Week 7. The Late Pick 5 on Sunday, Aug 27.
Forks in the Road
In terms of building multi-race tickets, Yogi Berra said it the worst. When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
When you are trying to structure your multi-race tickets for a score that is worth the risk, many races force you to make a decision which ensures your structure is true to the task at hand. There are legs where, simply put, you just have to take a stand. That doesn’t mean single; it means not muddying up the picture by using horses which could lead you to a $600 kick in the nuts in the same leg as horses which can lead you to a pot of gold.
Maybe it’s a race where you want to spread, but will your blanket of runners include the logicals and longshots? If so, you might be trying to take two roads at the same time even though only one will lead you to a five or six-figure score.
So it’s easy then, right? If you don’t love the logicals, then toss ‘em all?
No. A ticket with sound structure does not need to toss all the logicals.
We want efficiency, meaning we aren’t wasting capital covering horses that don’t fit our handicapping opinion and/or won’t make the juice worth the squeeze.
We also want a self-aware ticket, conscious of where it is divergent from the public ticket, where it is shaking off the fish, and where it is leaning on logicals that few can argue with. Intentionally taking one road or the other.
But maybe I’ve got Yogi all wrong. Maybe his Zen wisdom is saying grab the fork and use it.
The Three-Pronged Fork
We all know the ABCs of multi-race ticket making. Let me introduce the LSDs. Logicals, Shakers, and Divergers. This is not just for trip handicappers.
Each leg offers three paths: horses on most everyone’s tickets, horses on some tickets, and horses on very few tickets. We want to know which we are using in each leg, and we want to understand how our ticket’s payout is affected by our combination of these in the sequence. If we only use logicals in each leg, then we are taking the path to a three-figure score. If we only use unlikely longshots, then we are taking the path to sweeping the pool (or more likely to tearing up our ticket). There is a big range in between.
Horses you like who will be liked by all = Logicals.
Horse on some tickets = Shakers. When they hit, they shake a fair amount of tickets from the tree but in no way does it come close to bare.
Horses who will be major overlays in multi-race pools that will truly separate your ticket from the pack = Divergers. It takes creative, divergent thinking to make a case for these.
Building Tickets with the Market in Mind
The idea behind this system is that we don’t try to take more than one path in a leg on a single ticket. Over multiple tickets we may take a different turn in the same leg, but the system ensures a variety of moves that keep our big score tickets honest.
With the LSDs you want to forget the idea of grading your opinion. Instead, grade how your opinion rates in the market.
Make a list of the contenders your handicapping leads you to. Look at their morning line odds, their connections, purchase price, speed figures, public handicappers top pics–in other words assess how obvious of a contender each is.
The most obvious ones who you know will be used, often singled, write those under Logicals for each race.
The ones you know most handicappers can get to and make a case for but still are less likely winners and will be used when tickets go several deep, write those under Shakers.
And the real funky ones, the gutter picks that no one can tell a winning story about, these are your Divergers.
Opinions in Sunday’s Sequence
Let’s keep the ABC method in mind. I even use DRF Ticketmaker to build my tickets. When we are shooting for the moon, I use my Divergers as As, my Shakers as Bs, and my Logicals as Cs.
Here are my LSDs for Sunday’s sequence.
Race 7 Dirt 6 Furlongs 2YO statebred fillies Seeking the Ante 200k
Logicals (Cs): #5 Concerti (7-2)
Shakers (Bs): #4 Tricky Temper (4-1)
Divergers (As): #3 Cara’s Time (15-1)
Race 8 Inner Turf 1 1/16 Miles 3YOs & up statebreds Alw 95000N1X
Logicals (Cs): #1 Whistler’s Honor (3-1), #9 One Headlight (4-1) I put it in as As
Race 9 Turf 5 1/2 Furlongs 3YOs and up statebred fillies and mares Alw 95000N1X
Shakers (Bs): #3 Saratoga Gaze (8-1) Single, so I put it in Ticketmaker as A
Race 10 Dirt 1 1/8 Miles Miles 3YO statebreds Albany 250k
Logicals (Cs): #2 Maker’s Candy (5-2)
Divergers (As): #5 Jackson Heights (12-1), #7 Miracle Mike (15-1)
Race 11 Inner Turf 1 Mile 3YO & Up statebred fillies and mares Md Sp Wt 88k
Logicals (Cs): #6 Autumn (7-2)
Shakers (Bs): #4 Boston Strong Mama (8-1), #7 North End Lady (12-1), #10 Shelly (8-1)
Divergers (As): #1 Shine My Tiara (20-1), #2 Shaman Princess (15-1), #9 Sail With the Wind (15-1)
The Structure is Baked In
Now how to bring these together.
Consider the ABC method, as in All As, 4 As 1 B, 4 As 1 C, etc. This points us in the right direction of weaving together our opinions, though I always tinker a bit once I see the results. The key is to consider how these three categories shuffle together in the sequence, never overusing the Logicals while still building tickets that survive if a Logical wins a race where you are not confident in your value horses. Using the Logicals as Cs helps ensure this.
Whereas the ABC method creates efficient tickets so you can press up on the logicals, instead our value is in our handicapping and contrarian opinions, and we don’t need to press up a ticket full of divergent picks. However, it just depends on your assessment of the sequence in terms of the vulnerability of the favorites and how clearly you can make a handicapping case for the longshots.
Yes, I could just use all the picks caveman style–it wouldn’t cost much. But if I do, I am basically saying that I am just trying to cash a ticket and am not ensuring that if my ticket hits, I get paid a sum equivalent to the risk. If I want to build tickets around the logicals that I didn’t single, I can do so more effectively in other pools.
Why not just toss all the logicals in legs where I can make a case for price horses? I use them as Cs in the same spirit as Crist did, “trying to catch the silly ones that inevitably come in,” but instead I am trying to catch a favorite that inevitably blindsides me. I think this reflects the need to use the market as signal, as intelligence, and to open up to that in the same way Crist conceived of opening up to a sleeper that no one knew anything about. Today, the market knows much more than it did back in the 80s.
I will play an All A’s ticket, a 4 A’s 1 B, a 3 A’s 2 B’s, and a 4 A’s 1 C ticket.
A’s with One B
A’s with Two B
A’s with One C
Total Wager: $35