Thursday Thoughts with Jason Beem May 30, 2024

May 30th, 2024

A good Thursday morning to you all! Hope everyone had a good holiday weekend. I always think of the holiday as part of last weekend, but it’s amazing how fast a week goes by after the Monday holiday. May is coming to the end and a very unique Belmont Stakes week looms around the corner. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the whole thing. It’ll be different. But I keep just going back to the fact that it’ll be four good days of racing at Saratoga. So weird? Maybe a little. But cool, most definitely. 

I wanted to write today a little bit about a betting situation that I think comes up for a lot of players. I don’t really have a good name for the situation, but I’m just going to call it the default two deep leg. That’s supposed to be the most literal description of what I’m talking about. It’s that leg in a Pick 4 or Pick 5 when it seems that there’s two very strong top horses in the race and going two deep seems like the easy and sure fire way to get through. I was looking at Churchill’s big Saturday card and the Early Pick 5 is a real doozy. To me race 4, which is leg 4 of the Early Pick 5, looks like a bit of a “default two deep leg.” It’s a big field of twelve and it’s a maiden race, but there’s both a Brad and a Chad (Cox and Brown) who both look like they could be favorites. After what appears to be a tough first three legs of this Early Pick 5, I could see a lot of people using those two horses and trying to get through to Leg 5. 

I believe that a majority of horseplayers make their Pick 4 and Pick 5 plays simply by looking through each race, deciding the most likely winners, and then carving out their play to fit their budget. I always look at any race or sequence of races and after handicapping the first thing I try and do is determine what everyone else is going to do. And then work away from that. It’s a parimutuel game and the real rewards come from being right when everyone else is wrong. If a sequence happens to flow logically and the masses hit, I think it’s ok to be happy you weren’t aboard the winning ship that day. Just move on and be on board when very few others are down the road. 

Back to the Early Pick 5 at Churchill on Saturday and the default two deep leg. Here’s what I don’t like about just taking the easy way out and using those two. First of all it’s a maiden race and there’s some lightly raced and experienced runners with some talent. These aren’t proven horses that look like real layups. But moreso, it’s what most everyone else is going to do for that leg. Granted it’s a tough sequence and just being correct might very well pay pretty well. If you’re liking some prices in other legs than the ‘default two deep leg’ isn’t nearly as bad of a play as it is if you’re just on the logicals in the previous leg. Because if you go 2 deep in that leg, you’re doubling your ticket cost from if you singled, and even if you’re right, you’re not gaining much equity in the leg. You 2x’d your ticket just to get through like most everyone else did. 

Often the two deep leg is where you can really separate from the pack if you go against the big two in that leg, especially in a sequence like this where there’s no obvious single. The ‘default two deep leg’ in a way becomes the obvious race where most take a stand, because it’s difficult to be narrow in the other legs. When there’s a logical single or a logical two deep, so often getting that third or fourth choice even can play so big. To me the ‘default two leg race’ can sometimes be a real opportunity if you think you can beat them. And honestly on Saturday’s fourth race, I think it’s not unrealistic to think you can beat those horses. 

But of course, sometimes they’re just gonna tower over the field. It’s not the worst thing to just suck it up and use the two obvious ones if you have some contrary thoughts in other legs. But if you’re just chalky throughout, maybe a Pick 5 isn’t the wager to play that day or sequence. Also maybe just single one of the two if your other opinions are logical and try and get through with half the ticket cost. Or singling there allows you to spread elsewhere. 

I believe that so often people label themselves as “Pick 4 or Pick 5 players” and they are so married to those sequences, that they play them even though they aren’t the optimal plays for their opinions that day. 

Just some Thursday Thoughts for you, hope everyone has a great weekend!