How betting longshots exiting deep races can reap rewards

April 10th, 2024

It's not uncommon to analyze the entries for a horse race and see multiple runners coming out of a common previous race. If the previous race was a deep and classy contest, consider the possibility the horses exiting that race will sweep the top two or three finishing positions in the race you're currently handicapping.

A vivid example came on April 7, 2024 in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park. Only six horses faced the starter, and three were exiting the Sunland Park Derby (G3), a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier that featured a considerably deeper field than the Mine That Bird Derby. The Sunland Park Derby winner, Stronghold, had already returned to win the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 6, 2024.

It wasn't hard to find the most likely winner of the Mine That Bird Derby. Alotaluck had finished third in the Sunland Park Derby, only 2 1/2 lengths behind Stronghold. The three-year-old gelding started as the overwhelming 1-20 favorite in the Mine That Bird Derby and delivered on expectations, winning by 2 1/2 lengths.

Betting Alotaluck to win wouldn't have reaped great dividends; every $20 win bet returned a mere $21. But exacta bettors had a chance to catch a compelling payoff by considering the other Sunland Park Derby alumni: No Trouble and Da Ringo.

Neither No Trouble nor Da Ringo factored in the Sunland Park Derby; they raced toward the back of the pack throughout and finished seventh and sixth, separated by three-quarters of a length while coming home 22 lengths behind Stronghold. But the fact they were dropping in class out of a tough Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier suggested they would be contenders in the Mine That Bird Derby.

Da Ringo had finished slightly ahead of No Trouble in the Sunland Park Derby, but his only victory from eight starts had come in a $7,500 maiden claimer. In contrast, No Trouble had only started three times, so he had more upside for improvement. Prior to the Sunland Park Derby, he had finished second in a Zia Park maiden special weight (beaten only 2 1/2 lengths by none other than Alotaluck) and first in a Sunland Park maiden special weight. Those efforts yielded Brisnet Speed ratings of 74 and 76, higher than Da Ringo's career-best 69.

Despite the appealing credentials of No Trouble, he started at odds of 24-1 in the Mine That Bird Derby. After carving out the pace, he stayed on for second place behind Alotaluck, and every $20 exacta returned $108.

Yes, that's right—betting a $20 exacta instead of a $20 win bet increased the profit from $1 to $88. Catching this payoff required little more than acknowledging that, if Alotaluck was an unbeatable 1-20 lock to win, then a horse coming out of the same race as Alotaluck was a perfectly logical candidate to finish second.