Win, Place, Show: Finding Value in the Basics
By Chris Rossi, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
You’ve just handicapped the next race, but how do you transition from the handicapping strategy to the wagering strategy? It’s important to remember that these are two separate endeavors that don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand.
First things first: You’re not going to get life-changing scores playing horses to win, place or show because of the simplicity of the wager itself — one horse doing one thing in one race. Because of this simplicity, you’re generally not going to play multiple horses to win, place or show in a single race, as you might do in multi-race and single race exotic wagers. It must be noted, though, that there are abnormal circumstances when it might be wise to do so, such as playing against a prohibitive, odds-on favorite with a smattering of longshots.
With this in mind, price is paramount in determining when to jump into the mutuel pool. So how does one determine when the price is right? Ask ten people and you might get ten different answers, but the general idea behind those answers is what I’ll call finding value.
Everyone’s definition of value is different. Some say any winning ticket is value, regardless of price. Others will not wager unless the odds meet their minimum requirement. Here’s this handicapper’s strategy when looking to see if the time is right to play in the mutuel pool.
Initially I’ll make my own notes regarding which horse or horses I think will run well, maybe even win. I then note what the morning line or expected odds are on those horses. Lastly, I’m keeping my eye on the tote board to see if any of the horses I’ve initially noted are taking action.
If, at post time, a horse that I like is higher than the expected odds, an opportunity could await. For instance, say a horse that I think will run well is 5-1 on the morning line, and I also think that that morning line is a reasonably acceptable price. Come post time, if that same horse is 8-1 on the tote board, that’s my definition of value.
Now that I’ve found value, I want to play. There is no harm in passing on a race I’ve handicapped if I don’t find any value or if an opinion is not particularly strong. As I’ve noted at the outset, handicapping and wagering are two separate endeavors that are not always connected. In this case at 8-1, the odds are high enough to consider playing this horse across the board, because I think that this horse will run and I might as well ensure that if the horse does run well but doesn’t win, I can cash a ticket or two. At this particular range of 8-1, I’ll play a little more underneath in the place and show pool than I would in the win pool, for example $2 to win, $4 to place and $10 to show. This is considered to be a conservative play. Others might eschew the show pool altogether with the idea that 8-1 is too short, and the payout on a show bet would be too small to make the wager worthwhile.
Generally, the shorter the price on the horse I like, the less I’m inclined to get involved in the place or show pool and the more inclined I am to take my chances in the win pool only. The higher the price, the more interest I have in the place and show pools, even sometimes more interest than the win pool.
The key to this strategy is aligning your opinion with an expected fair price and then acting accordingly when that fair price is at or above what you expected.