Betting Strategy: Capitalizing on opportunities without a straightforward handicapping opinion

June 9th, 2023

One of the maxims of betting strategy is you want your wagers to be direct reflections of your handicapping opinion, but some handicapping opinions are more clear-cut than others.

Sometimes we love a horse to win, sometimes we are heavily against a favorite to run out of the money, and these can be fairly straightforward betting situations. But what about a race where you don’t love any horse but you’ve spotted some potential bombs, and you don’t completely hate the favorites, but you feel they are vulnerable and likely underlays?

Take Race 2 on Saturday at Belmont Park, an n1x allowance for three-year-old-and-up statebred fillies and mares going seven furlongs. Eleven are entered. As I handicapped the race, three opinions began to form: (1) the morning lines are telling a different story than my handicapping, (2) I think the top three morning line choices are vulnerable enough to pique my interest, and (3) there are three double-digit odds horses who appear to be live. This is an opportunity.

Handicapping to pick the winner is one thing, but handicapping to recognize opportunities is another. In the latter, we want to think more in terms of building wagers with groups than around individual horses.

Think of your bet as purchasing real estate on the dart board, which the race horses are thrown at. In situations like these, we want to get away from creating a bet that necessitates a bull's-eye, and think more in terms of using our capital to buy more space on the dartboard. Our handicapping opinion is not that we strongly believe a specific horse will finish in a specific order, but that there is a strong enough probability that underlay horses will miss the middle and overlay horses will stick. So how do we build that bet? It’s fairly simple.

First, the most important question: How against the favorite(s) are you? This is a key betting strategy question that can help you decide which pool to wade into.

Here’s a way to approach it: Only go as deep into the vertical wager as you are against the favorite. Meaning, when you say you don't like a favorite, are you saying it won't win? Will it run off the board? If you think it will finish up the track, this is a great opportunity to go after a big score in the superfecta or Super Hi-5. If your opinion is the favorite(s) won’t win, but will still run well, consider building an exacta or trifecta.

So how will I bet Race 2 at Belmont on Saturday? I think the favorites have a good chance of producing decent efforts but will be bet below their likelihood of winning or finishing second. Exacta is my sweet spot.

Win odds and exacta probables will dictate how I bet this, but let’s assume the pools shape up similar to the morning line odds. The group of horses I like best who I think will offer value are #3 Sikum (10-1), #5 U Should B Dancing (8-1), #9 Lady of Thoroton (15-1), and #10 I’m Nervous Now (20-1).

What I want to do is focus in on the exacta, but I don’t have a strong separating opinion between my top four. I want to write a bet that ensures I cash if two of those four finish first and second. With a $5 base bet and working with a $100 budget on the race, my first wager will be a #3, #5, #9, #10 exacta box, which is $60.

When push comes to shove, I like the #3 Sikum and #9 Lady of Thoroton the best, so I will also box those two at the same base amount, which is $10 total.

Then I will press on this one more time, using the #3 and #9 on top of the #3,#5,#9,#10 ($30 total).

If my top two come in, I’ll have it for $15. If one of my top two comes in on top of one of the others, I’ll have it for $10. My expectation is it will pay between 100-1 and 300-1. If I had a stronger opinion about one of those 10-1+ contenders, then it might make more sense to simply play her to win at $100. But this would be writing that bull's-eye bet — I’d be alive to only one narrow outcome.

Instead of building a bet around a winner I’ve picked, I am looking to take a swing at the opportunity my handicapping recognized.