Betting Strategy: Identifying lucrative multi-race sequences

September 22nd, 2023

On Sunday, Sept. 17 at Churchill Downs, the Late Pick 5 paid $136,938.65. With a pool of $322,227, only two tickets correctly identified the winners of Races 6 through 10. Not one horse bet to favoritism in the win pools crossed the finish line first. 

When you are swinging for the fences in a multi-race wager, your first opinion should have nothing to do with any individual horse. Instead, you should size up the sequence and decide whether it is ripe for a windfall.  Whether the races are loaded with live longshots or vulnerable favorites, you want to get a sense of this before you invest your time into handicapping and structuring a ticket. 

How I Begin

Before diving into handicapping, here are some of the things I survey the card for: 

  • Field size (bigger the better),
  • Favorites (are they vulnerable?)
  • Morning lines (is there a clear top choice or does the race have many contenders?)
  • Connections (high-percentage trainers and jockeys who will be underlays in multi-race wagers)
  • Obvious choices (horses with stand-out speed figures, trip trouble noted in the comments line, coupled entries, and public handicappers’ consensus).

If I can make a case against any of these horses fairly easily or instinctually, then I will invest my time in handicapping the sequence. The gist of my first glance is I am looking for spots where I can see the same thing as everyone else but react to it differently, a.k.a. separation. Where some might see a Steve Asmussen first-time starter that cost $1 million with Tyler Gaffalione called to ride as a single, the trick is to know that and to build a ticket around fading this horse. 

Next, I look in the opposite direction: are there longshots that I like? I begin with horses I’ve got trip notes on who are given long odds in the morning line. I ask myself “how easy is it for other handicappers to see this trip trouble?” If in a horse’s previous race the jockey slammed on the breaks and lost five lengths in the stretch, then I know that even a novice would see that horse had an excuse.

Then I look for strong contenders who are either trained or piloted by low-win percentage connections. Bettors have a hard time putting their money behind these horses, which often creates overlays in the multi-race wagers. 

Finally, I look for improving horses. Some horses have not run their best race yet, and they are often overlooked by other bettors. These are the types of edges I can work with. 

The $136,938.65 Pick 5 at Churchill Downs 

Let’s return to Sunday’s Pick 5. Getting it right is one thing, but big scores are all about who you get it right with and who you beat. In order to get better at recognizing potentially lucrative multi-race sequences, let’s look at how the sequence connects to the criteria I listed above. 

  • Field size: after scratches 7x9x9x11x9
  • Favorites: All of them vulnerable, lightly-raced, or class droppers
  • Morning lines: Each race had a tepid favorite made no lower than 5-2 in the morning line.
  • Connections: Three entries from Asmussen and two from Brad Cox. Gaffalione is moving the market right now and he had four mounts, including one with Cox and one with Asmussen. 
  • Obvious choices: In three races the favorite had one stand-out speed figure which was earned in the last race. (None of these won). 
  • Public handicappers: The consensus was to beat Trident Hit (5-2 ML favorite) in the first leg.

The results went like this beginning with Race 6 and ending in Race 10, focusing on the morning line odds, win payouts, betting choice, as well as the winning trainer and jockey. 

Race 6: won by the 5-2 ML favorite sent off as 3.41-1 second choice. Trained by Ron Moquett and piloted by Gaffalione.

Race 7: won by the 12-1 ML, sent off as the 13.99-1 sixth choice. Trained by Dale Romans and piloted by Martin Chuan.

Race 8: won by the 8-1 ML, sent off as 4.71-1 co-second choice. Trained by Chris Hartman and piloted by Rafael Bejarano.

Race 9: won by the 15-1 ML off the also-eligibles list, sent off as 10.65-1 seventh choice. Trained by Richard Estvanko and piloted by Joseph Ramos.

Race 10: won by the 20-1 ML, sent off as 15.57-1 seventh choice. Trained by Tom Drury Jr. and piloted by Edgar Morales.

Learning From the Sequence

What stands out about the results which we could use as criteria for constructing a similar pool-sweeping ticket? 

  1. A string of deep fields with tepid morning line favorites offers a higher probability of uncertainty in the markets. We need to know the value is there when we find sequences to like.
  2. Neither Cox nor Asmussen won. Gaffalione only won once. Being against top connections in multi-race wagers offers serious value. Fading them in multi-race wagers separates your ticket from many.
  3. There was more value in using Trident Hit than met the eye. Although the morning line favorite, recent form caused many to look elsewhere. Trident Hit was the favorite everyone was trying to beat. There is value in leaning on a morning line favorite the market is fading. 
  4. Two of the market’s second choices, two seventh choices, and a sixth choice in the win pools won. We need to find races where we feel confident enough to fade the top half of the field preferred by the market. 

Once we learn to recognize sequences like Sunday's Late Pick 5 at Churchill, next we just need to be bold enough to back up the crucial first opinion with a bet.