Betting Strategy: Chris Larmey, “Nobody wants to be a fish"

April 13th, 2023

More than just handicapping, to succeed long term a horseplayer needs to know how to bet in order to cash on their strong opinions. Chris Larmey has begun a new podcast “Bet With the Best” aimed at exactly that.

Three episodes in, Larmey’s guests so far have included Marshall Gramm, Matt Miller, and professional horseplayer Tommy Massis (all past Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge winners). Along with "Bet With the Best,” Larmey and co-host Scott Carson have recorded over 200 episodes of “The Sport of Kings,” a pod focused on finding value in key Pick 5 sequences across the country. 

Hailing from Kennewick, Wash., Larmey is a 12-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship. He serves as Chairman of the NHC Players’ Committee and is an active participant in the NHC Mentor Program. You can find “Bet With the Best” here: or through any podcast provider.

The beginning of your podcast alludes to betting strategy as being the final frontier for horseplayers. Most of us begin by learning how to handicap and love the puzzle of handicapping, so why must we move beyond that and learn how to bet?

I use the golf analogy. People love to pull out the driver and whack the ball far down the fairway, but they tend to not spend as much time on the putting green or practicing their short game. They hit a good drive, hit a good iron, get on the green but they miss the put--they don’t cash it in. They waste that good drive and iron.

To me that’s handicapping and betting - you come up with a good opinion on a race, that’s great because that gets you on the green, but you have to put the ball into the cup. That is the betting part, figuring out how to take advantage of that good opinion and cash it in because it is not worth anything unless you can put the ball in the cup.

What can we do while handicapping to improve our betting?

What you need to do when you're handicapping is set yourself up, be thinking about where you want to put that ball on the green while you are handicapping, not when you get on the green. As you are analyzing the race you've got to think differently.

It’s not just who is going to win but who is going to win and what price they are going to be. Just because the horse is the most likely winner doesn't mean the horse is a good bet. If you were to find similar types of horses and similar types of races over and over again and you bet on them, would you make money long term?

Keep it simple, focus on the win bet, learn how to identify value, to me, that's the key from a betting standpoint and you have to build that into your handicapping. At what price are they worth betting? If I say a horse at off-odds of 3-1 is fair value, then I am saying that I think 75% of the time the horse is going to lose. I’m only going to cash 1 out of 4 times. I am only going to be profitable long term if I am getting 5-1, 6-1, 8-1 on that horse. You have to develop that ability to identify and exploit value. 

In the show you did with Marshall Gramm, you discussed the “Inside-out” approach to betting, where you build your bets out from an initial strong opinion about one horse. Why is that important and what would be the opposite approach?

The inside-out is where you start by looking at the race and decide if you have a strong opinion in that race. When you find a race with a horse you really like, decide if you think he will go off at a price that's playable. You definitely want to bet this horse to win, but what else can you do to take advantage of this? Are there other pools that you can attack?

Start by looking within the race to see if you have any other opinions. It might be that you really don't like the favorite, so maybe you ought to look at playing the exactas and trifectas. If you don't have much of an opinion besides the one horse, then look at the adjacent races. Is there another horse you can hook it up with in the doubles? 

The other approach that I think a lot of players do is they say ‘I am going to play the Pick 5 today,’ or ‘I always play a $12 trifecta box.’ They’ve already decided what to bet before even looking at the races. Then they say ‘I have $100 or $200 to play, which horses am I going to use in the Pick 5? Which three horses am I going to box in my trifecta?’ It's probably best to evaluate the races, form your opinions, then figure out that's the best way to leverage the opinion in a bet. 

The win bet seems to be integral to how you discuss betting strategy. 

A lot of beginners try to start running before they can walk. It’s tougher in exotics pools because the complexity goes up, the average takeout usually goes up, and it's really hard to make money long term, if that’s your goal. Also those are where the big players are getting rebates and are attacking those pools. 

I think you have to start in the win pool and until you demonstrate that you are capable of beating the takeout, meaning long term losing maybe 15% over time. If you can get to that point you are probably doing better than 80% of the people out there then you can get to thinking ‘alright are there other pools besides the win pool that I want to attack?’ 

Move to picking winners in two consecutive races and play the daily double. As you get into exotic wagers, the more exotic they get the more and more important understanding the betting side becomes. The simpler you keep it, the more it emphasizes the handicapping. Although you still have to identify and exploit value. Depending on your level of skill in handicapping and betting, I say you want to keep it as simple as possible, but as you get better and you learn, you can start expanding your tool kit and your bets. 

I discourage players from playing the Pick 5 if you can't demonstrate you are pretty good in the win pool. It's like trying to take a PhD class when you haven't passed your freshman classes. You are probably going to flunk out badly and you are certainly not going to be able to compete against the other players. They are typically the people who have already had success, the sharks and the whales.

I think many of us forget that when we bet, we are trying to take money from some of the best horseplayers. 

That’s why I always say when you're first starting, keep it as simple as possible. When you are going to swim in those exotic pools, if you are not a shark or a whale you are probably a fish, and nobody wants to be a fish.