Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Feb. 23, 2023

February 23rd, 2023

A good Thursday morning to you all! Welcome to Part 2 of this series, “Six Secrets of Unsuccessful Bettors!” You can find Part 1 from last week HERE.

Thanks so much to everyone who read and participated in discussions about the first week’s column. It’s more my goal to facilitate conversations and learn than it is to teach anything, because Lord knows I’m no expert. Although, since this topic is about unsuccessful bettors, maybe I’m just the man for the job!

I wasn’t sure how to properly title this particular conversation, so hopefully the discussion will make sense. But if I was going to title it, I’d say unsuccessful bettors are often very poor at "fund allocation," essentially betting in correlation with their opinions and best opportunities. Confused by that statement?  Good, me too. I really couldn’t think of how to word it properly.  But here are some examples that I hope will shed some light, because I do think it’s a mistake many make.

So many players fall into the trap of playing too many races. I get it, we want action. One interesting thing I think that a lot of unsuccessful players do is bet the same amount on every race they decide to bet, regardless of whether or not it’s a strong opinion or a good sequence.

They will always play $2 exacta boxes or $5 to win/place, or $0.50 Pick 4s with a total ticket cost of between $18 and $24.

I get that we all have budgets, and I think it’s extremely important not to risk more than you should or are comfortable betting. But from a strictly gambling point of view, doesn’t it seem odd to allocate $18 for a Pick 4 sequence that maybe looks kind of chalky or that you don’t have a good opinion in, but then you turn around and bet another sequence where you maybe do have some strong opinions, or it’s just a tough sequence that could pay really well.

Every dollar we bet goes into the pools and has a certain amount of earning potential that we put on it. We literally assign that dollars earning potential when we make our bets.

I can give three people $2 each and say, “Go make me some money.” One person might bet the $2 to win on a 4-1 shot. The other might play a $0.50 trifecta with 1 over 2,3 over 2,3,4. The last person might play a straight $2 superfecta 4-3-2-1.

Each person has put $2 into the pool. Player 1 has given his or her $2 the opportunity to win $10. No more or no less, if that horse wins, they get back $10. If it loses, they get none. They’ve assigned a specific earning potential to that $2 with their bet choice.

Potential is the key word there. Player two obviously has four trifecta combinations to hit, and they likely would produce somewhat different payouts if they do hit. For example, let’s say the payouts range from $80 on the low end to $200 on the high end. Player 2 has given his or her $2 an earning potential of $80 to $200. Same starting amount, and obviously much less likely to hit than Player 1, but they also have a chance to earn far greater than the $10 Player 1 has as a best-case scenario.  Player 3 might be looking at $2,000 if they hit their $2 straight super.

A lot of these concepts are quite simple, but they aren’t thought about or done by many. Every dollar we put into play has an earning potential, and we decide what that earning potential is by how we bet. You can’t get mad that you never make a five-figure score if you never construct tickets that have potential five-figure payouts.

I’ve always been very vocal against hedging unless it’s a truly life-changing situation for someone. Often when people hedge, they bet money on a horse they didn’t like enough to put on their ticket to assure themselves of getting some money back when they have a live ticket.

I’ll write about hedging more in another post. But as it relates to this topic, let’s say I play a $50 Pick 5 and I’m alive to two horses for around $3,000. Nice potential score, huh? Let’s say I decide to hedge and bet $25 on the two favorites I played against on my ticket who are both 3-1. So now I’ve spent $50 twice. Once on a ticket that features my actual opinions and could earn me $3,000 if I’m right. The other gets me back at best $100. Same amount of money, yet one $50 bet I’m giving an earning potential of $3,000, the other $50 I’m giving an earning potential of $100.

I could save that second $50 and use it to play a win bet I like later in the day, or another Pick 5 somewhere else, or an exacta box, or whatever I want to. There has to be a ton of other spots where I can use that $50 in a better way and allow it to potentially make me more money.

Another part of fund allocation is choosing what opinions and sequences to play and for how much. Earlier I mentioned a lot of players play the same amount of money or bet types regardless of the situation.

Let’s say I’m someone who most races plays $2 exacta boxes with three horses for a $12 total ticket cost. How much sense does it make to play that bet in a six-horse field with three logical horses?

Sure, if I hit I might make a tiny profit, take home $20 for my $12 invested. That’s like a 4-5 shot win bet, and I needed to be right for first and second with horse’s whose win odds were probably higher than 4-5!

Yet, later on in the card there might be a 10-horse field where I hate the favorite and am tossing it. My $2 exacta box in this spot is obviously going to be tougher to hit, but my earning potential is so much more than the six-horse field example. I’m risking the same amount of money, but my earning potential is way higher.

Also, not liking a favorite is a potentially valuable opinion. Wouldn’t I be better off passing on that earlier race or playing a much smaller ticket and using that extra money to try to capitalize on this strong opinion of hating the favorite in the big field?

Let me tell a short story of mine to wrap up here in terms of fund allocation. Back in 2004, I was working at Emerald Downs as a publicity assistant. It was my first job in racing, and I had so much fun. Well, Longacres Mile Day came, and I had spent the whole night studying every inch of that card. Having worked there all summer, I felt like I had some really strong opinions. 

So 9 a.m., I get to work and we’re still five hours from first post. I brought $300 with me for the big day.

I look up and see Calder’s about ready to kick off their card. May as well put in some bets, have some fun. So I did that.

Next thing I knew, it was noon and I’d blown through the $300 at Calder and Ellis, and realized I forgot my ATM card at home. I had allocated all my funds to tracks I didn’t know and bet on races I had no opinions on. Sure enough my best opinion in the Distaff won and paid 5-2, and I had a grand total of $0 on it.

Moral of this fun little memory is that if I was even the least bit smart, I would have brought my ATM card to work. But really, no matter what, I wasn’t betting my opinions. I was firing to fire. My one real strong opinion that day should have been where I directed my attention and my dollars. We all get to decide how we want to allocate our dollars and their earning potential.

Everyone have a great weekend!