Betting Strategies: Pool Selection with Geoff Riggs

October 1st, 2022

Born the day after his parents’ annual Kentucky Derby party, Louisville native Geoff Riggs’s love of horse racing was fated. His grandpa took it from there, sharing his passion for the sport with his grandson. Riggs involvement with the sport has grown; as well as a horseplayer, he is an owner in Brilliant Racing. A horse racing Twitter fixture, Riggs regularly tweets out his picks and thoughtful analysis. Take advantage of that and more by following him @BeardedHandicpr

All right, so you’ve handicapped Saturday’s card at Churchill Downs. Talk to me about how you attack pool selection?

I think that's a really good topic in terms of something that people often have issues with. You know the saying in sports, “take what the defense gives you”? That’s a huge lesson for horseplayers to learn. I think you need to let the races where you have strong opinions dictate where you play.

I handicap all the races individually and pick out the ones where I have high confidence levels. Either I am really excited about a horse, against the favorite, or I like multiple prices, that kind of thing. If I find races that are next to each other in a card that I have high confidence in, that's when I look to attack the horizontal wagers. If not, I do more vertical and win bets.

I’ll star the races I am most confident in. I’ll put a dash next to the ones that are potential plays. Then I’ll x-out the ones that I don't have any interest in because I don't have any opinion. That's one of the first things I do when looking at a card.

Let’s talk Churchill’s card for this Saturday.

The first thing I identified was there are two races on the card I am excited to key. #3 Comedy Act (5-2) in Race 2 and #4 O Besos (9-5) in Race 6. 

With Comedy Act I am basically looking at a win bet there because I am not confident horizontally or vertically around her. The reason why I really like that horse is because I think she has the best speed. That might be my favorite horse on the card.

I will bet Comedy Act to win at 3-2 or better. I’d like to get a click higher than that going into the gate to have that wiggle room in case late money comes in on her. 

When you love a horse to win like you do with Comedy Act, what are your thoughts about maximizing that opinion in the exacta and double pools? 

I used to do that, and it would bleed my potential profits versus if I would just use all that money and hammer a win bet. I've found long-term I don't have as good of a return on those doubles or exactas when I am not as confident about the other horses.

However, for this particular race, I may potentially play a double based on the probables. But I won’t know that until the money starts coming in leading up to the race. I think that will-pays and probables are criminally underused in the handicapping community. I know that people look at them, but there are so many things you can use those for, especially in maiden races with first-time-starters or lightly-raced horses. Looking at those probables and will-pays are golden in figuring out who is live in those races. 

How will you build a bet around your strong opinion in Race 6?

I really like this comeback spot for O Besos. He has been off since April and lands in a softer spot dropping out of graded stakes company. I really like (trainer Greg) Foley’s 19% win rate with a positive ROI with layoffs of 90 days or more. I also really like the cutback in distance for him. If we get 7-5 or better, I am in on a win bet. But I am looking more to single him in doubles and Pick 3s. 

The biggest pool I am going after with my O Besos opinion is the Race 5 to Race 6 double. I like Tyler’s (jockey Gaffalione) horse in Race 5, #7 Magnificent Mile (5-1). I really liked the debut at Ellis Park where he showed speed and fight. 

The other interesting horse in there is #4 Fortune (12-1). I think he can take another step up here with the surface switch, second time with blinkers, and stretching out. He’s a sneaky horse here we can use in this race, especially to get some value since I am singling the obvious horse (O Besos) in the second leg. 

I am impressed with your discipline not to play the Pick 5 even though you have a strong opinion in the middle of that low takeout sequence.

Recently I have shifted my thoughts on chasing takeout and carryovers. You should always be looking to see if you have opinions that line up with low takeout and carryovers, but I believe that hammering your strong opinions is more important than playing low-takeout pools. So it's tempting to play the Pick 4 in here, but I don't see the opportunity with this particular card.

Any other favorite ticket structures you use regularly? 

One of my favorite angles is finding formful horses that run to love second and keying them underneath in exactas and trifectas. If you can identify a pack animal, then find a few horses that have a chance to win and build a ticket using them on top of that horse you think will run well but not win. Those are very profitable wagers in my experience.