Questions to ask before betting for or against American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes

August 27th, 2015

For some the Travers will be an exhibition. The Triple Crown champion is running in the most prestigious race for three-year-olds outside of that Triple Crown championship, and his race against the historical records of the 11 who came before him is enough juice for some racing fans.

Not for me, though. For me, The Travers Stakes is a fascinating exercise in looking for value in a race where at least several in the field will absolutely be overbet. But how do we bet it? These questions might help:

  1. If you’re for American Pharoah:
    1. What are his fair odds to win?
      1. Is he a good bet in the win pool?
    2. If singling in the multis, how much can you “invest” to give yourself the best chance at a return better than his win price?
  2. If you’re against American Pharoah:
    1. What are the fair odds of the horses you think can win?
    2. What are the fair odds that American Pharoah loses (any position besides first) versus finishes off the board?
    3. Based on your answers to question 2 “A” & “B” above which pool offers the most value?
      1. E.g. Do you dutch to win? Play multiple horses to show (i.e. bet against the bridge jumpers)? Wheel the verticals? Backwheel American Pharoah in the exacta? Beat him in the multis?

The best way to start to answer these questions is to come up with a fair odds line for the race. This is a bit tricky at this stage without knowing the intentions of Upstart’s connections, as I give the horse about a 5% chance to win if he goes.

On the other hand, Upstart is unlikely to affect American Pharoah’s odds, as I expect him to be 1-to-5 regardless of Upstart’s participation, which means the money that would have been on Upstart will trickle mostly to Frosted, Keen Ice, and Texas Red leaving Frammento, King of New York, Mid Ocean, Smart Transition, and Tale of Verve as the longshots no matter what.

So we have American Pharoah at 1-to-5. Frammento, King of New York, and Mid Ocean should be 50-to-1 minimum but won’t be. Between the four of them that’s a 90% fair odds chance of winning, which leaves 10% for the likes of Texas Red, Frosted, Keen Ice, Tale of Verve, and Smart Transition.

If I offered you 8-to-1 (not 9-to-1 to account for my juice!) on those five-six horses to win the Travers Stakes, would you take it? If yes, then American Pharoah is overbet at 1-to-5. If no, then American Pharoah is probably the horse for you (I give the aforementioned 50-to-1 trio very little chance to win).

At first blush, I think American Pharoah has an 80% chance of winning. If I see Texas Red and Frosted as each having a 10% chance to upset the race then that means I give the rest of the field no chance to win, and to me Keen Ice and Upstart at least have some chance and 9-to-1 on the obvious pair might be a touch high as well.

So let’s knock American Pharoah down to 70% and make the other Grade 1 winners 7-to-1 each. That’s a 95% chance that one of those three horses wins. Would you bet on that at 1-to-19? At those prices you’re still left with Keen Ice and Upstart at 49-to-1 each and the rest of the field at 199-to-1 each.

I’m fine punting on the bottom five, but I have a hard time making fair odds on Keen Ice and Upstart 49-to-1. 24-to-1 each is a 4% chance of winning. We can bump Texas Red and Frosted to 8-to-1 and that gives us 2-to-5 on American Pharoah.

So my fair odds on American Pharoah are 2-to-5, which I don’t think we’ll get in the win pool but could get in the multis. Of course, you’d want to get paid more than 2-to-5 on your money in any exotic pool to make up for the risk of adding an opinion to the one that American Pharoah will win.

In a pick four, if you give yourself a 75% chance to advance in the non-American Pharoah legs then you’d want to get 5-to-2 on your money. If you go 5x5x5x1 for $62.50 can the Pick 4 pay $218.75? Maybe! Of the eight Pick 4s American Pharoah has been involved in this year, seven have paid more than the parlay. However, none were shocking payouts. He's getting bet in all pools.

If you want to try to beat American Pharoah the question becomes one of who you think can realistically win. Hitting the “ALL” button is just gambling, which is part of the reason why we’re here, and if being alive to everyone gives you a bigger thrill then trying to squeeze out a 5-to-2 Pick 4 score then be all means go for it. That move certainly worked for Dan Liebman to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars when Da Tara crashed the Big Brown party in the 2008 Belmont Stakes.

But between the competitiveness of the other races on the day and how overmatched some of the Travers field appears on paper, I’m willing to focus on the obvious alternatives. Going beyond American Pharoah in the multis seems to burn too much equity. Even if I have just 2-4 other horses to use in the other legs, making my ticket 2x, 3x, 4x, or 5x higher by using other horses just seems like an equity burner.

You could lean on a horse to beat American Pharoah (e.g. James Scully like Texas Red and doesn’t like Frosted at all), but is your opinion that Texas Red has a legit chance of winning or that American Pharoah is vulnerable and Texas Red is the most likely benefactor? If the latter, then do you really want to be right about American Pharoah being vulnerable but still ripping up tickets because you added the opinion that Texas Red would win?

I don’t, which is why I have a hard time not using both Texas Red and Frosted in any ticket that tries to beat American Pharoah.

I’m in the brainstorming phase of how to bet the Travers right now, and these are the questions going through my mind. The big score-minded guy in me would love to get live beyond him, but at that point you’re basically conceding any value on him in the multis.

For those who want to go for the home run, it’s worth asking yourself: Is it more likely that a horse like King of New York wins this race or that American Pharoah finishes off the board? I think an off-the-board finish is more likely, so I’d rather get live to American Pharoah in the multis then take my shot against him in the win spot with the logical pair on top, the other logicals in second, and “ALL” in third. This costs around $40 depending on Upstart and who you see as logical for second, and I think has a better chance of coming in than one of the seemingly hopeless longshots on top.

But it’s early. We’ll have detailed wagering strategy Saturday!