Lessons from the 2011 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs

By Lenny Moon (reprinted with permission)

The handicapping process does not end when the bets are made; it ends by reviewing the results of the races that were bet and analyzing the handicapping process to determine if anything was missed. After taking a day to recover, I looked back at the 2011 Breeders’ Cup results and came up with the top four things to take away from the last Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs.

#4 Some Breeders’ Cup Results are Impossible to Explain

Every horseplayer has watched or bet a race that was won by a horse that appeared to have no chance of winning. The horse may have appeared to be too slow, was running at the wrong distance or had not run well in months or years. The horse triggers large payouts and causes great frustration. After reviewing the past performances nothing points to the horse as a winner. The result is still implausible but that is perfectly acceptable. Horse races are run by living breathing animals and ridden and trained by humans. The horses are not machines and the jockeys and trainers are imperfect so it is inevitable that from time to time a race will produce an un-explainable result. This scenario occurred not once but twice on Breeders’ Cup Saturday.

The first impossible to come up with horse was Afleet Again in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. Afleet Again was the least likely winner of the Breeders’ Cup Marathon after a subpar 2011 that saw him go winless in eight starts including two losses in allowance races. Afleet Again was also unproven at the distance and based on speed figures was the slowest horse in the race. Despite all of these negative factors Afleet Again won the Breeders’ Cup Marathon by a comfortable 2 ¼ lengths at odds of 41 /1.

The second improbable winner was Court Vision in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Court Vision was the least likely winner in the Breeders’ Cup Mile after a lackluster 2011 season.  Similar to Afleet Again Court Vision was winless in 2011 and based on speed figures was the slowest horse in the race. Court Vision was coming off a mediocre seventh place finish in the Woodbine Mile yet he managed to blow past three-time defending champion Goldikova and hold off Turallure (winner of the aforementioned Woodbine Mile) to post the biggest upset in the twenty seven year history of the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Even after the race was run it was impossible to make a case for Court Vision.

After reviewing the past performance of each horse and knowing they had won their respective races I still could not find a reason to bet either one of them but guess what? That was perfectly fine.

 

#3 – Look for the “Horse for the Course Angle” in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint

Some horses prefer one track over all others or in extreme cases only run well at one particular track. These horses are often referred to as a “horse for the course.” This angle plays out everyday at tracks across the country.

This year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint was won by Regally Ready, a Churchill Downs “horse for the course,” who was two for two in turf sprints at Churchill Downs prior to the race. The “Horse for Course Angle” has become a potent handicapping factor for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprints as it has produced all four winners of the race [through 2011]. Chamberlain Bridge won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint after compiling a record of three wins and a second from four turf sprints at Churchill Downs. California Flag won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Santa Anita’s downhill turf course and had previously won two of four starts over the course. Desert Code, who I mentioned in my post about multi-ticket betting strategy, won the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on the same downhill turf course and had won three of five turf sprints at Santa Anita.

The Breeders’ Cup returns to Santa Anita in 2012 and once again the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint will be run on the unique downhill turf course. The downhill turf course is notorious for producing “horse for the course” winners so it will pay to give special consideration to horses that have won or performed well over the course in the past.

 

#2 – Favor the “Turn-back Angle” in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile

Betting a horse “turning-back” in distance is one of the oldest angles in the book. To fit the angle a horse simply needs to be running in a race at a shorter distance than its previous race. The most common example is a horse going from a route to a sprint, such as from 1 1/16 miles to seven furlongs, but the angle also works for horses “turning-back” in distance from a route to a shorter route .

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Caleb’s Posse, Shackleford and Tres Borrachos completed the trifecta in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile this year. All three fit the “tum-back angle.” Caleb’s Posse and Shackleford were exiting the 1 1/16 miles Indiana Derby and Tres Borrachos prepped for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in the 1 1/8 miles Goodwood.

The “Turn-back Angle” has become quite possibly the most important handicapping factor for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile as it has produced the winner of all five runnings of the race [through 2011]. Dakota Phone won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile after running in the 1 1/8 miles Goodwood. Furthest Land won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile after prepping in the 1 1/8 miles Kentucky Cup Classic. Albertus Maximus won the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile after running in the 1 1/8 miles Goodwood. Corinthian won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile after competing in the 1 1/8 miles Woodward. One day a horse may win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile after running in a sprint race but until the trend is reversed it pays to give preference to horses “turning-back” in distance.

 

#1 – Favorites Need Not Be Avoided

Favorites in horse racing are normally associated with unexciting payoffs, however when combined with a few upsets they can produce massive payouts. The six Breeders’ Cup races on Friday (2011) made up the Pick 6. Three of those races were won by the post time favorite (Secret Circle in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Royal Delta in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff), the other three were won by 6/1 Stephanie’s Kitten (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf), 20/1 Musical Romance (Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint) and 27/1 Perfect Shirl (Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf) resulting in a Pick 6 payout of $444, 571. The last four Breeders’ Cup races made up the Pick 4. Two favorites (My Miss Aurelia and Royal Delta) combined with the aforementioned 20/1 Musical Romance and 27/1 Perfect Shirl produced a Pick 4 payout of $23,428 . In both sequences favorites won half of the races which proved that it is not necessary to beat the favorite in every race to win a substantial amount of money.

 

Final Thoughts about Breeders’ Cup 2011

Although these points relate directly to the Breeders’ Cup each can be applied to everyday handicapping. The most important lesson however is that just like horses are not machines handicappers should not bet like machines. Automatic bets should not be placed on horses that meet the criteria outlined above; they should be one factor to consider in the handicapping process. Sound handicapping involves evaluating all of the available information and using that information to bet the horse that figures to win the race at hand.

Exacta Strategies – Thinking Outside the Box

by Lenny Moon

     Reprinted with permission, this article discusses the best exacta strategies in horse racing.

The Exacta is many horseplayers first taste of exotic wagering.

In horse racing the Exacta requires the bettor to correctly select the first two finishers in a race.

There are many ways to play the Exacta but most horseplayers are taught to play the Exacta in the most inefficient way, thus foregoing the opportunity to maximize their returns.

I was guilty of falling into the trap because it was the way everyone played the Exacta, in fact it was the way the racing program suggested to play.

Lucky for you I am here to teach you how to maximize your returns when betting the Exacta but before we get to that let’s take a few minutes to discuss the wrong ways and why they should be avoided.

Exacta Box

The most common way to bet the Exacta is by boxing two or more horses.  This is the strategy referred to earlier.

Boxing your horses means they can come in any order so long as they finish first and second.

At first glance, and to a novice, this might look like a great strategy because it provides a little cushion in case you are not perfect in your handicapping.

exacta horse racing basicsWhat it also does is minimize returns because you are giving each combination an equal chance of winning.

While there may be a rare occasion when you think two horses have an equal chance of winning or running second that should be the exception not the rule.

Betting an Exacta Box is not only inefficient it can also be costly depending on the number of horses you use.

A two horse Exacta Box costs $2 (2 x 1 = 2) for each $1 bet, a three horse Exacta Box costs $6 (3 x 2 = 6) for each $1 bet, a four horse Exacta Box costs $12 (4 x 3 = 12) for each $1 bet and so on.

It may seem like a good way to bet but the cost and the likely return suggests otherwise.

For example suppose you bet a three horse Exacta Box for $1.  Your investment would be $6.

If two of your horses are favorites and run one-two you might make a few dollars or depending on how much was bet on the combination you could conceivably lose money.

The only benefit of boxing an Exacta is it will produce a higher win rate, meaning you will cash more tickets.  In return, however, you will be minimizing your profits.

The most efficient way to bet the Exacta is by weighting each combination.

Exacta Wheel

The second most common way to bet the Exacta is a wheel.

An Exacta Wheel involves picking one horse to win and “wheeling” it with the rest of the field.

If your horse wins you win the Exacta but again you are not maximizing your returns.

You are actually putting yourself in a position that adds more luck to the equation then necessary.

Basically you are hoping your horse wins the race and the longest shot runs second.

Unfortunately there is a much better chance one of the logical contenders will fill out the Exacta.  That result will produce a much lower payout than if the longest shot ran second.

Let’s say you find one horse you really like to win but you cannot figure out who will run second.  The best option would be to bet the horse to Win and forego the Exacta.

The more likely decision will be wheeling your horse in the Exacta and praying for a long shot to come in second.

If the race had ten horses the Exacta wheel would cost $9 (1 x 9 = 9) for each $1 bet.

In a ten horse field the Exacta will usually pay more than $9 for a $1 bet so if your horse wins you will most likely make a profit but at what cost?

Let’s say your horse is 3/1 and wins.  You bet a $1 Exacta Wheel which costs $9.

A logical horse runs second and the Exacta returns $20 for a $1 bet.

You excitedly make your way to the betting window to collect your $11 profit.

What you fail to realize is you left money on the table.

Had you bet that same $9 on your horse to Win you would have won $36 (9 x 3 + 9 = 36) for a profit of $27 (36 – 9 = 27).

The Win bet would have made you a profit of $27 while the Exacta only netted you $11.

There will be instances when a long shot finishes second and the Exacta returns more than the Win bet but more often than not one of the favorites will run second thus reducing the return.

Exacta Part Wheel

The Exacta Part Wheel is a step in the right direction.

This bet involves wheeling your horse over a few other horses.

This is a much better strategy than wheeling the entire field second because it costs less.

In the same example from the previous section let’s say you decide three horses can run second behind your top pick.  A $1 Exacta Part Wheel would cost $3 (1 x 3 = 3) for each $1 bet.

Now you have shifted the odds in your favor.

The $3 Win bet would only return $12 (3 x 3 + 3 = 12).

The Exacta would return $20 for each $1 bet resulting in a profit of $17 (20 – 3 = 17).

In this scenario the Exacta returned $5 more than the Win bet for each $1 bet.

A more effective way to play the Exacta Part Wheel is to bet more than a dollar on the combinations.

I used this strategy on Belmont day in the Easy Goer Stakes.

I thought the favorite, Teeth of the Dog, was the most likely winner.  He went to post at odds of 2/1, not very appealing for a Win bet.

I decided there were two horses that were most likely to finish second, Skyring (6/1) and Fast Falcon (27/1).

I gave both horses the same chance of running second so I bet a $5 Exacta Part Wheel with Teeth of the Dog over Skyring and Fast Falcon.

As expected Teeth of the Dog outclassed the field and won 3 3/4 lengths.

Skyring faded to last in the stretch but long shot Fast Falcon closed stoutly and just got up for second. The $5 Exacta returned $418.75.

The $10 Win bet on 2/1 Teeth of the Dog would have returned a measly $30.50.

In this situation the Exacta Part Wheel provided the maximum return.  It also showed that you can make money betting favorites, if you do it the right way.

Weighted Exacta

The most efficient way to bet the Exacta is by weighting each combination.

In the previous example had I thought Fast Falcon was more likely to run second I could have spent the same $10 by betting a $7 Exacta of Teeth of the Dog over Fast Falcon and a $3 Exacta of Teeth of the Dog over Skyring.

Weighting your Exacta combinations is the best way to maximize your returns long term.

Instead of being lazy and boxing your horses or wheeling them you should take a few minutes to think about what chance each horse has of winning and/or running second and then bet accordingly.

An alternate example of the Weighted Exacta would be if you like two horses that you think will run first and second.

Let’s say the first horse is twice as likely to win as the second.  For the same $10 you could bet a $7 Exacta with first horse over the second horse and a $3 combination reversing it.

If your horses run one-two you win and if you are correct that the first horse is more likely to win then you will be rewarded accordingly with a better return.

Final Thoughts

The Exacta is a great way to make money betting on horses.

Unfortunately most horseplayers are taught to bet the Exacta inefficiently by either Boxing it or Wheeling their horse.

Smart horseplayers, which includes you since you just read this, will instead bet Exacta Part Wheels or Weighted Exacta’s.

The former group may cash more tickets but the latter group will make larger profits.  To recap here are the important points to remember:

  • Boxing an Exacta is both lazy and inefficient
  • Betting an Exacta Wheel is injecting more luck into the equation
  • Betting an Exacta Part Wheel is a step in the right direction
  • Weighting an Exacta is the most efficient way to bet the Exacta and will produce the greatest returns long term
  • The Exacta is sometimes a better alternative than a Win bet, especially if you like the favorite
  • A Win Bet is sometimes the better choice, particularly in cases when you have no opinion on who will finish second

I hope this helps you make more money betting the Exacta, it has done so for me.

If you have others ways of betting the Exacta please share them in the comments below.

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