Curlin Won, I Didn’t
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

It may seem crazy now, but I used to be afraid of playing win bets. Maybe afraid isn’t the right word–more like leery. To say that I look for a price would be an understatement; I’d rather go down in flames on a 15-1 shot than slowly crank out out the winnings on 3-1 shots. This is one of the reasons that I adore dime supers: plenty of potential upside for my investment when I think a couple of long shots will be in the mix. I also like to spread it around a little and cover a couple of different scenarios unless I feel like there’s a clear outcome.

I’m happy to report that I’ve overcome my unwillingness to play to win, but it wasn’t without being pounded over the head by a “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda” moment.

The 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic was for all intents and purposes a wide open affair. You had the Kentucky Derby winner, Street Sense, trying to head off to his impending stallion career with another notch in his bridle; the incredibly versatile Hard Spun looking to finally quiet the notion that he had distance limitations; Haskell winner Any Given Saturday looking primed and ready; Preakness and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Curlin, who was dangerously rounding into form; and Lawyer Ron, who had come into his own as four-year-old.

There was no consensus on who would take the honors, but after the Jockey Club Gold Cup, I had my eye on Curlin. After a grueling Triple Crown season in which he ran in all three races, Curlin resumed his three-year-old campaign in the 2007 Haskell at Monmouth, the same track that was to host the 2007 Breeders’ Cup. He didn’t fare so well that day, and the conventional wisdom became that he was “too big” for the tight turns at Monmouth.

2007 Haskell:

I wasn’t buying that. It was an incredibly humid day and he was coming off a well-deserved break. I was willing to give him another shot.

His next stop was the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, where he came to life in a fantastic performance chasing down Lawyer Ron in the stretch. The conventional wisdom then became that he did his best running at Belmont! (Note: Conventional wisdom isn’t always what it cracked up to be.)

2007 Jockey Club Gold Cup:

The night before the race, Swifty (Hello Race Fans! co-founder Adam Wiener) and I wienied-out, discussing in great detail each of the Classic starters to determine who we thought would win, as we were planning on going in on a Pick 6 ticket. My stance was fairly set on Curlin for the Classic, but after almost two hours of deliberation, we both were of the solid opinion that Curlin would be the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.

Here’s where it gets stupid. Because I’m always swinging for the fences, I chose to spread it around with an exacta box of Curlin and Any Given Saturday and trifecta box of Curlin, Any Given Saturday and Lawyer Ron. (The gory details of all my wagering selections for the day.) When I contemplated a win bet (for only a second or two), I thought, “Why bother at odds of 7-2?”

At that point in time, I only looked at the odds to determine the value, not the odds relative to what I thought Curlin’s chance of winning was… in hindsight, odds of 7-2 were a gift. Had I taken the same money I spent on my two losing wagers and put it to win on Curlin, I would have had a nice juicy four-digit score. As soon as Curlin started to pull away in the stretch, the lesson had been learned.

2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic:

I’m happy to report that my recovery is going well. I usually will only play either a couple of bucks or $5 or $10 to win on a longshot (which has worked out well for me), but every once in a while, when I have a strong opinion on a horse whose odds aren’t as long as I like, I’ll play a sizable (for me!) win bet. Your mileage may vary regarding what you consider value, but don’t be afraid to play to win!

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  • I really enjoyed this post. As a newcomer to horseracing, this is the sort of post-mortem wagering analysis that is particularly interesting to me. It’s very illuminating to see the angles other people take explained in straightoforward language. Please keep up the great work and keep coming with more of this sort of thing.

  • Thanks for the feedback Dave! This is one of the site’s sections that I’m most excited about because I learned a lot (and continue to learn a lot) from reading others post-mortems. Steve Davidowitz will frequently offer one up in his regular DRF+ column. Always great to see a “master” have issues to work through!

  • The story of my life! My inner greedy animal always rears its ugly head when it’s time to put my money where my big mouth is: being the penny ante bettor that I am, who has managed to squander away more than half of my legendary Breeder’s Cup score, who’ll have no score by the time the Belmont rolls around, I always revert to form when the time comes to place the bet. Cannot be a smart bettor, not even a smart handicapper, a worse bettor. HOWEVER, the one thing that keeps me going, if not my bank account, is that HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL before every single race; it’s never failed me! Lots of hope, not lots of money!

  • Joan, I remember discussing my epic blunder with you on the phone after the race… but yes, hope springs eternal! After spending a lovely weekend at Gulfstream I’m very excited to get back to the track once Belmont opens, it was very refreshing to see some live racing. I think it was good for my game too.

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