Show Me the MoneyWhen third place calls
By Jessica Chapel, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
I don’t remember my first bet — I can tell you nothing about the horse or the race — but I do remember how I bet the first time I went to the track. I was eight years old and at Santa Anita with my grandmother and younger sister. My memory of the afternoon is all hazy sensation: the brightness of the California sunshine, the exhilaration of standing at the rail and watching the blurred, flashing colors of the jockeys’ silks and the horses as they passed in the stretch, the intensity with which I studied the program, trying to decipher the mysterious sans-serif numbers.
My grandmother gave us each $2 a race; my sister bet to win. I was cautious and considered; I bet to show. I remember the money returning, accompanied by a dollar and some change, or just some change, and that was somehow enough, the money coming back. It didn’t matter how little it brought back with it.
Many horseplayers and handicappers will tell you that that’s the problem with the show bet, what makes it suitable only for suckers, children, and people without conviction. No one ever brags about being a bridgejumper. But I still bet to show — and what’s more, show betting is one of my favorite wagers.
It all depends on the situation, of course. Playing a 5-1 shot to show in a race where the favorite looks right isn’t very satisfying or profitable. There are circumstances, though, in which the show bet is just the thing. If you’re in a slump — especially one of those where every horse you pick seems to run second or third — the show parlay is a great way to rebuild morale and, at the very least, put an end to the dwindling bankroll. The show parlay is also fantastic fun for a group at the track, a way to keep interest high and money churning through a card. On the 2008 Wood Memorial day at Aqueduct, friends and I played a show parlay that began in race five with 20-1 Fire Marshal paying $10.00 to finish third, and continued through the last race. It was only in the nightcap that we lost, our winnings of more than $100 disappearing on a horse named Tribolet.
The show bet also has a place in day-to-day play. “Wagering to place and show is futile,” warned Brad Free in Handicapping 101: A Horse Racing Primer, but there are opportunities that arise in which the show pool offers the best value, and an alert horseplayer is wise to take advantage.
Take, for example, the 1-mile 2010 Withers Stakes. D’Funnybone, coming off four graded stakes wins sprinting, went to post as the 1-2 favorite. The one time the 3-year-old colt had raced past seven furlongs — the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita — he had tired badly and finished last. You could look at that race as a sign that D’Funnybone wanted no part of going another furlong, or write that off as a one-time misfire and possibly a surface issue, taking the view that the colt was good enough, no matter what, to finish in the money – which bettors did, betting so much to show that NYRA posted minus pool alerts.
Four other horses were entered, in which two stood out as longshots: Afleet Again, runner-up in the Whirlaway, last in the Gotham, and 24-1 in the Withers; and trainer Rick Dutrow’s other starter, Spangled Star, making his stakes debut and 28-1. This is the set-up for a show play that I’m always looking for: The favorite was a bad underlay, not only to win, but to finish second or third, and the short field’s two longshots were both overlays, better than the odds suggested.
Players who tossed D’Funnybone were well rewarded when he finished fourth:
The other Dutrow, my sole play in the race, paid $54 to show, $3 more than Afleet Again paid to win. If I were more of an exotics player, this race would also have been a trifecta opportunity. Keying Afleet Again and Spangled Star in the third slot, then playing all, minus D’Funnybone, in the first and second would have returned $750 for $24. Sometimes looking for third pays off — the much maligned show pool can return more than pocket change.