The Grand Slam

Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash

It’s the middle of July and today marks “opening day” for the 2020 MLB season – what a year.  Today’s post is about horse racing but there’s a definite baseball connection.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been honing my strategy for what I consider to be one of the most underrated wagers available to horseplayers.  The Grand Slam. 

Before going further, I will attempt to establish some credibility – that is, I’ve generated profit from this wager YTD.  

This is a Point of Honor nose from being significantly better

In order to make sure we’re all on the same page, I’ll cover a few basics.  The Grand Slam is only offered at major NYRA Tracks and Sunland Park (I think).  It’s a multi-race wager with a twist.  

The wager covers a four race sequence.  In the first three races, your horse only needs to hit the board.  In the payoff leg, you have to pick the winner.  The payoff leg is always the penultimate race (second to last) which means the wager generally starts in the same race as the late Pick 5.

It’s essentially a modified Pick 4 and yes, you can select multiple horses in any or all legs. The base wager is $1 and the takeout is 24% – the same as several other multirace wagers including the Pick 4.

The appeal to most horse players is rather obvious since you only need to pick the winner in the payoff leg.  Sounds easy but I assure you, it’s not, assuming you’re approaching the wager correctly.  You see, the Grand Slam is typically not a bet you want to have for the base $1 wager.  If that’s your approach, I hope you’ll reconsider after reading this.

Another reason I like the Grand Slam is the payoff leg is usually the feature race on the card and it allows me to avoid the night cap which is often an inscrutable low level claiming race.  My strongest opinions, right or wrong, are often in the feature race so this wager can be a great way to extract value, even on short priced favorites.

I have a few rules or guidelines when considering the Grand Slam.  Regardless of your bankroll, I’d suggest you come up with a similar guideline for this or any wager.

  1. There must be at least one vulnerable favorite in the first three legs of the sequence.  Importantly, vulnerable in this context means off the board.  Horses that are all or nothing types are perfect for this.  A speed horse facing company up front or a closer with no pace in the race are certainly things I look for when considering vulnerability.  Once a vulnerable favorite has been identified, I’m not at all opposed to using a favorite in other legs.
  2. I must have a strong opinion (read single) in the payoff leg.  Regardless of the likely post time odds.  
  3. In the rare instance I like more than one horse in the payoff leg, I will only play the second horse if one or both of them are likely to be 8-1 or higher.  This also assumes that rule number one has not only been met, but ideally there’s more than one vulnerable favorite in the sequence.
  4. Avoid sequences that include races primarily consisting of first time starters.  I have no edge here and find that the money is typically too smart in these situations.

Based on the rules above, I’m assuming that you’ve learned that value with this wager is created almost entirely in the first three legs – not the payoff leg.  As with most wagers, it’s worth noting that not all favorites are created equally.  For example, get a Chad Brown / Irad (coming into Saratoga, they’re in the money 65% when teaming up year to date) horse off the board at Saratoga and it creates tremendous value.

The next step is structuring the wager.  Again, the goal is not to hit for $1.  And although you can have multiple “winners” in each of the first three legs, a spready approach can greatly diminish the value.  My preferred approach is pretty straightforward – 1 x 1 x 1 x 1.  Field size and relative form can alter my approach slightly but I try to avoid anything beyond 2 x 2 x 1 x 1.  I will typically invest $25-75 in the wager.

To get a better feel for how you might want to approach the Grand Slam, I’d encourage you to look through some recent charts.  You’ll see a variety of payouts for the Grand Slam based on what happened in the sequence.  A 9/5 favorite winning the payoff leg can pay $6 (per $1) one day and $125 (per $1) the next.  Similarly, there are examples of longshots winning the payoff leg but paying little more than the win odds based on chalky results in the first three legs.

With that in mind, let’s take a swing (you like what I did there?) at today’s sequence from Saratoga.  The Grand Slam kicks off in race 6.

Race 6: Let me start by saying that nobody was hotter during opening week than Christophe Clement. As a result, his runner is intriguing. The ownership group has a history of overseas purchases that they’ve sent to Clement but streaking barn aside, those runners failed to hit the board in their North American debuts. This is a race where I won’t oppose a likely Chad Brown favorite. I’ll use only 1- Balon Rose as the she has tactical speed and although she doesn’t have to win, the two races with Javier in the irons seem to leap off the page.

Race 7: As the saying goes, this seems like a great betting race. The downside is that there may not be a heavy favorite. Still, this is where I hope to create some value. My gut says that 1 – Big Q and 3 – Fierce Lady will vie for favoritism. Big Q is coming off a runner-up finish to ITM Partner, Ten Strike Racing’s, Critical Value. There’s nothing wrong with that race but the quality of those behind her is suspect. There are fewer chinks in the armor of Fierce Lady. The layoff is more of a question than the barn change, especially given Rudy’s good start at the meet. The horses I want to include in this spot are 10 – Bertanda and 11 – Quality Stones. It’s not ideal that they both have a similar running style, but it’s far from impossible to see them following each other around the oval for the duration of the race. Bertranda hasn’t finished off the board in her last six starts and any of those races would seemingly fit with this bunch. While she stretches out another half furlong, she does have a win going 7F and Irad taking the call for an under the radar barn instills confidence. Quality Stones has won in both of her career starts. There is some concern that she’s a one way speed horse but I’d expect her to make the lead in here as she appears to be ideally drawn. If you’re paying attention you remember my comment about Point of Honor’s costly second place finish in the Ogden Phipps. Only true degenerates would notice that Quality Stones was a big part of that potential payout – the two favorites from her last race, which was in the sequence, finished off the board and I was live to a $30 Grand Slam (will pays ~$130-1 for Point of Honor).

Race 8: 4 – French Reef (IRE) is a 4 year old taking on a field of 3 year olds. Any progression, which is expected, from her lone start and she will be formidable. She set a moderate/fast pace back in November when she was sent off as a tepid favorite. That race was quite productive and she was two lengths from victory despite her sixth place effort. For the purposes of The Grand Slam, I’ll expect some improvement and use her alone. As a complete aside, I think 2 – Call Home and 7 – Souper Energizer are interesting underneath horses. Ray Handal is dangerous with second time starters and Call Home was chasing a very fast pace before giving way in her debut. Trainer Mike Trombetta was a perfect 2-2 in the opening week and Souper Energizer has an experience edge on most of the field – the cutback might help too.

Race 9: The payoff leg will likely feature a heavy favorite in, 4 – Honest Mischief. And while 5 – Mihos and 1 – Wendell Fong will also recieve plenty of backing none of the aforementioned are my selection. I prefer the horse drawn outside, 6 – Captain Scotty. To be fair, this race looks like it should have a fast pace but coming off a snappy 3F bullet work on Sunday and with a favorable post, I think Captain Scotty could be the speed of the speed. Peter Miller hasn’t shipped many horses to Saratoga but his stable has success across the country and more importantly, the horse has shown the ability to ship and win. In a relatively small field, I’m hoping he can shake free and hold off Mihos and Honest Mischief in the lane.

So my ticket would look like this: $10-25 GSL 1 / 10,11 / 4 / 6

Best of luck – Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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  • Top notch advice re: ticket structuring. Really helpful and instructional to those of us who haven’t played this type of bet with any regularity. Thanks.

    • Thanks Matt! As stated in the post, I’d really suggest reviewing old charts and getting a feel for what drives the resulting payout. And realize it’s not something you’re likely going to play every card, there’s not always value in the sequence.

  • One of my favorite wagers! My strategy is I usually play two or three tickets. One exactly as you , singling one horse in the last leg . I also like to play a spread ticket in the last if the race is kind of wide open and I have a beatable favorite! And depending on the sequence maybe I like two horses to hit the board in one leg I’ll play a third ticket like 1-2-2-1! If I’m right I have it multiple times and if not can still get paid with a decent payoff if I beat a favorite early and get a price in the last ! Different strategies depending on the sequence! It’s a fun wager! Good stuff! And good luck 🍀

  • Thanks for the info! I always forget about this wager and since my income has been cut because of the virus, it may be one I can play with a decreased budget.

  • What a difference a day makes… Went from never understanding and playing this wager, to reading last night and hitting today on debut 110 times!
    Many thanks Tyler!

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