Rooting vs. Wagering
It's Good to Recognize the Difference!
Level: Beginner
By Kevin Martin, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

California Chrome's Triple Crown at Belmont Park 2014 (Eclipse Sportswire)

I am a fan of racing, but I also like to gamble. Like all fans, I have rooting interests — horses that I follow and root for to win. Of course, as a gambler, I want the horses that I bet on to win, but the gambler’s head does not always jive with the racing fan’s heart. And, sometimes, the horses that I want to win as a fan are not the best options for my wagering dollar. In other words, rooting for and gambling on horses can sometimes be two different things.

The closer you follow the game, the more likely you are to end up with a favorite horse or two. It might be a horse that cashed a ticket for you, a horse whose style you like, or a horse with human connections that you might have an affection for. You will no doubt find that your rooting interest affects your view of the past performances.

A recent and perfect example are the first two races that Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra ran in 2010. In her first race, the New Orleans Handicap, it was no secret that she wasn’t 100%. She had been off for nearly six months, and those who watched her train were less than impressed with her workouts leading up the race. On top of that, her odds were well below even money, a horrible value considering the circumstance. I did not play the race and decided to be just a fan and try to root her home. Of course, Rachel Alexandra was beaten, and the winner paid $21: a great betting opportunity missed.

So, a few months later when she made her second start in the La Troienne on Oaks day at Churchill Downs, I decided to find a way to play her: surely she wouldn’t be beaten again. Everyone who saw her train said that she was back to her 2009 form. This time, I would use her as a “free square” on multi-race tickets — meaning that I would single her and hope for longshots in the other races in the sequence. I didn’t event bother to look at the past performances for the race — I wanted her to win and I had heard enough to think she would.

Of course, Rachel finished second and blew up all my multi-race tickets, and the winner paid $20.80. Another missed opportunity, but this one was harder to swallow. If I would have used my head and considered what had happened in her 2010 debut, I might have played the race differently. Through the years, many cases of great 3-year-old fillies have been unable to carry their form into their 4-year-old season. I had enough analytical ammo to play the race differently, but my rooting interest screwed up my betting and cost me a potentially big payday.

Naturally, there is a flip side to this situation. Take the 2007 Belmont Stakes, in which the filly Rags to Riches was trying to become the first filly to win the Belmont since 1905. I am a sucker for all things historical — I wanted her to win. On top of that, she went off at square odds (4-1). I thought she had a good shot to win and believed she was a prime bet. Here, my head and heart were in unison. The race was an absolute thriller, with a down-to-the-wire stretch duel that turned me into a blathering idiot trying to root her home. As Tom Durkin said, as she hit the wire first, “It’s a filly in the Belmont!” My “team” won and I got paid for it — ain’t racing great?

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One comment

  • I so know what you mean. My heart lost many a dollar on my local hero Lava Man there toward the end of his career – not to mention when he traveled, even though I knew in my head he was reduced to a 1200 lb. ball of nerves when he left CA. That knowledge, and recollection of pain, did not permit my head to place a bet on my current local hero, Zenyatta, in the BC Classic. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. ;-)

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