Breeders' Cup Betting Strategies: RAIL Against the Machine

October 27th, 2015

One of the great things about the Breeders’ Cup World Championships is that it offers a legitimate chance to just gamble on horse racing.

And one of the great things about gambling on horse racing is you can take a seemingly random thing like betting #1 in every race and expect a positive outcome.

There were several groans throughout the post draws for the Breeders’ Cup races when horses drew the #1 (rail) post position. I’m not saying the rail is the best post position, but it doesn’t deserve the reputation it has—especially considering some horsemen have talked about actually preferring outside post positions.

Every horse is different, and maybe for some horses outside is better, but in general I’d rather be inside than outside. Again, it’s not a matter of the rail being best, it’s just better than others typically.

It’s not often a Thoroughbred handicapper takes cues from harness racing, but its uniform races (almost all are at a mile) on variable ovals (2-4 turns half-a-mile to a mile) gives us reliable post position data, and in two-turn races the rail isn’t the best—middle post positions are better—but the rail is way, way better than the outside (8-10) posts.

Some might say that’s a specious comparison, but harness racing is a style that it’s OK to race wide. Especially on seven-furlong or mile tracks (like Woodbine or The Meadowlands, respectively), racing two wide early and three wide late is often a winning move, and even given that, the rail is unquestionably better than the far outside posts.

But people continue to poo poo the rail, and I’m going to take advantage of that incorrect viewpoint by betting #1 across the board in every race and wheeling it up and down in all exactas (i.e. 1 over all and all over 1). The question is how to balance those bets. I’m thinking 5 units across the board and then one unit each on the exacta wheel.

Assuming #1 doesn’t scratch, these are the horses (see chart at left) we’ll be betting. Only Golden Horn in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf is favored, and 10 of the 21 horses are at least 10-to-1 on the morning line.

Again, it’s a fun way to gamble on an opinion. Handicapping these races, not many of these horses would be my top pick (or even among my top picks), but we’re going against the thought that the rail is bad—not that any single horse here is a great bet on his or her own.