When I got out of work this past Friday I was all set to stop by my local betting parlor lay some bets down for the Dubai World Championships, and go about my Friday night. My Saturday was scheduled to play Fairgrounds and the all stakes pick 4 leading into the Louisiana Derby. However, as I was wondering around my ears caught something I couldn’t ignore, one of the guys yelled to his friend, “Oh my God, there is a $4.5 million mandatory payout at Gulfstream park tomorrow!” Just like that any plan I had for that Friday night was gone as well as the pick four at Fairgrounds. I immediately raced home to download the last six races at Gulfstream Park.
After saving them to my computer, the first thing I did, was to take a quick scan through all the races to see what I would be working with. There was the real possibility that every race was too deep and difficult to even attempt. After all, as anyone who has ever attempted playing any deep multi-race ticket, if there is no real key in the sequence the multiplier will add up quickly. Even at Gulfstream where they offer a minimum bet of 20 cents. Take for example the simple plan of using just 3 horses in every race, at .20 cents how much could that be? Well it quickly adds up to $150. So after looking at the depths of the fields I knew this would be no picnic. The smallest field comprised of 11 entries. The rest had 12 entries with 2 – 3
“Also Eligible” meaning if a horse were to scratch another was right there to take its place. To give another idea of how daunting the task was, if you were to limit the multiplier to 5 each race (which would still leave out 6-7 entries), even at .20 the total would be $3,125.
To add to the frustration, the quality of the races was not the best that Gulfstream has ever put together. If your looking at a sequence with 2 or 3 stakes races, there should be more consistent form to work with. This on the other hand was a grab-bag of inconsistency at its finest. The pick-6 started with the 7th race, a maiden special weight on the turf, with three first-time-starters and the remaining relegated to little if no turf form at all. Then there was the eighth race which was a $16K claiming race at 5 furlongs on the turf. This race essentially broke down to 12 horses who have taken turns beating each other, with each race being a matter of post-position and how each pace scenarios played out. The 9th was the first one on the dirt, yet it also was a low level claiming race at $12,500 with 14 entries to boot. The 10th was back on the turf this time it was a $35K Optional Claimer at a mile. The 11th was the only stakes race which was for three-year-old fillies again on the turf. And finally, if I was in someway able to make it to the 12th I would have to endure another low level claiming race, this time a maiden claimer at $25K also run at a mile on the turf.
The sequence was a formidable one to put it lightly. Ordinarily I would have no business even attempting it, but there it was, over 4 and a half million dollars just sitting there, and reports that another $15 million that would be bet into it on Saturday. Opportunity like this doesn’t come around often and unlike a state lottery – where you just sit and hope against hope that your numbers come out, here you actually may have a way to reduce the probability and steer the odds in your favorer. Of course that would require all the handicapping skill in my repertoire and some additional coffee. It was already eight o’clock and there was plenty of handicapping to do. With so much money on the line it had to be something more than the usual, no matter what I consider the usual.
The first thing I noticed was that many of these horses have ran against each other at Gulfstream Park during the winter meet. For example, in race 8 which is the 5 furlong claiming race, there were three horses entered who ran against each other on 2/10 at this very same level. Then on 3/6 another 5-furlong turf sprint at this level which featured three different horses who ran against each other. In fact, when I went back throughout the winter meet at Gulfstream there were a lot of races like this. However, this didn’t necessarily make it easier, I still had to piece together something logical that could come out of all these races. This pattern repeated itself for most of the races, with the exception of the first leg which was again was maiden special weight featuring horses with only one or two races under their belt.
What I did know was that Gulfstream Park has a channel on You Tube which has shows every race of the meet. What I had to do was watch as many of these races as I could and try to piece that together with the information in the past performances and hopefully come to some logical conclusion.
The exercise of watching a race with 3 or 4 horses of interest is more laborious than it may sound. To get something tangible out of it obviously you have to watch it more than once. Let’s say there are three horse in a video that are running in a future race. The first thing to do is write down which number each one was in the video so you are able to get your bearings and know who and what you are looking for. The next thing to do is to just simply watch the race from start to finish without getting too analytical. Then after you’ve seen it once the entire way through, go back and focus specifically on each entry. But first, and this is very important, what you really want to do is watch the start of the race. Over and over again. What you want to see is how each one of your horses brake out of the gate, and how easy or difficult it was for the jockey to get them into position by the first turn, or at least until the race settled. This is very important because when you are handicapping a race where many horses have been running against each other at a certain condition (i.e. 16K claiming race). Then the only conclusion as to why they take turns beating each other is how each race unfolds. So you want to look for post positions and how they compare to the race your going to play. Then you want to look for which horses have ‘gate speed’ verses which horses have ‘early speed’. The difference here is that horses with ‘gate speed’ are able to break cleanly and put themselves in a favorable position for when the jockey will ask them win the race. Horses with ‘early speed’ are those who need the lead in order to win. Those horses will rush to the lead regardless of how they break and either settle in nicely on the front end or get caught in a speed duel with other pace setters.
So that is just one of the things you are looking for when watching a race. From that point on you want to see how each horse ran their race and ask certain questions to get a sense of their performance. Did they break poorly and have to lose ground on the turns? Did they settle into stride or were they rank (did the fight the jockey)? Did they in fact have a clean trip – did they get to their tactical spot and run their best race without having to overcome any traffic troubles that may have colored their results? Was the pace unusually fast or slow? (now DRF past performance feature a symbol that shows if the pace was fast or slow). And finally did they respond down the stretch? Did they fire when the jockey asked them to?
The conclusions that I come to will help in the decision making process to decide if a horse is indeed in good form and at what odds do I consider to bet them at.
Now when going through the process, there are subtle clues that will tell you what to do. The first thing to do is to get an idea of the jockey colony at a track and see who is doing well for the meet. That way you will be able to see if a jockey who is doing well will decide to stick to a mount or not. Generally, if a successful jockey decides to take a different mount I generally downgrade to outlook for that horse. Another clue is to look at their workout patterns. Not so much how they did during the workout, but if they have been maintaining the same pattern of recorded workouts that the trainer likes to prep their horses with. All of these things may seam tedious, but after a while they become second nature and using them to decide who stays on your ticket is a huge advantage. Obviously for the sake of brevity I will not get into each and every detail, but developing a ‘feel’ for the game is invaluable perhaps more so than just reading speed figures and pace charts.
After diligent handicapping and repeated watching of races it was time to come up with a game plan to make my tickets. Now I can’t say enough about the influence Steve Christ and his book Exotic Betting has had on how I construct tickets. Back in 2007 when the book came out, I felt like I had found the key piece to help me beat the game. Unfortunately, more people read the book than I first imagined and even if they didn’t Christ later put the method on to Daily Racing Form to be bought and used by bettors who do not take any pleasure in constructing a ticket. In short the book breaks down the process of what to do after you’ve done all the handicapping. This is the part of constructing your tickets based on the strength of your opinions. He gets you out of the bad habits of boxing three horses or hitting the ‘all’ button, by explaining why they are not profitable in the long run. He then takes the reader through his process of constructing pick 6 tickets. This is what he is best known for and why he was labeled ‘king of the pick 6’.
By the time I had walked away from my computer and went to bed it was 4am. I had been engrossed in trying to break these races down that I had lost track of time. The only reason I stopped was that I wanted to be somewhat rested for the next day, and also I knew there wasn’t much more I could do until I saw the scratches. The best part was that I knew there were people peppered all over the country who were pouring over race results and video replays trying to get another piece of information that may help them get through all six races.
As it turns out the best I could muster on any ticket was 5 out of 6, a bitter pill to swallow considering there was no consolation, yet I still left having a strange feeling of accomplishment or perhaps it was exhaustion.