Longshots Across the Board
Level: Intermediate
By Adam Wiener, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

Everyone loves longshots, but not everyone knows how to factor them in when wagering.

Do you simply rely on the “What if?” strategy in hopes of a thrill, or do you really believe that a horse with long odds has a chance to finish in the money? While most beginners tend to fall in to the former category, more experienced players will usually only consider a longshot when handicapping indicates that the horse has a legitimate chance.

If your handicapping points to a longshot, the “across the board” wager could be the right bet.

The term “across the board” is shorthand for making three bets simultaneously: win, place and show. Therefore, a $2 across the board wager will cost you $6 ($2 to win, $2 to place and $2 to show).

Be careful! This bet requires what I call the “across the board threshold,” a concept often not obvious to the first-time track visitor and one that requires attention to the tote board.

What are longshot odds? Let’s pretend that there are six horses in a race and five of them have short odds (4-1 or less). One horse is 10-1. There’s your longshot. Can you play an across the board bet?

At 10-1, a $2 win bet pays about $22 (probably a little less after the track takes a cut).

Unfortunately, determining the payouts for place and show are a little tricky (influenced by the total pool of money in play, plus a little off the top for the track). My rule of thumb (far from exact) is that the odds for place are about 40% of the win odds (4-1 in this case). Show odds would be about half of the place odds (2-1), often less.

If your 10-1 horse just gets up for third, you’ll cash the show part of the bet only and you’ll collect $6 ($2 at 2-1). Since your initial wager was $6, you don’t make a profit; you just get your money back.

Using my calculations, therefore, the threshold for a safe across the board wager is 15-1. At 15-1 or above, you’re likely to make a profit on your bet; anything below 15-1, and you’re lucky if you break even. Remember: this threshold is not exact. While as low as 13-1 can occasionally return a profit at the show level, I always stay above my threshold: Better safe than sorry!

While that 10-1 horse was the race’s longshot, an across the board bet was not the way to go. If you really believe in a horse that doesn’t meet the threshold, consider a single win, place or show wager, or playing more money on place and show, as explained in Win, Place, Show: Finding Value in the Basics.

When you find that longshot that you really believe can pull it off, though, the across the board wager can really pay off! Stately Victor won the 2010 Blue Grass Stakes at 40-1, resulting in a $6 investment cashing for $125.40 ($119.40 net profit). Nice.

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