Eric Floyd is a turf writer for various gaming publications as well as a Triple Crown pari-mutuel consultant for several national media outlets. Excerpts from his gambling memoir, “My First Decade Playing the Game,” can be found at LuLu.com.
Horseplayers who labor when the sun is shining often miss the opportunity to play major “daytime” racetracks like Churchill Downs, Santa Anita Park, Saratoga Race Course, Gulfstream Park and Belmont Park. Instead, they typically help fund the handle at intermediate “night time” ovals like Evangeline, Prairie Meadows, Canterbury, Mountaineer, Charles Town, Delta, Penn National, Remington, Fairmount and Assiniboia.
Now, relatively speaking, punters should probably employ a different mindset when they’re poised to attack an intermediate racetrack. See, because there isn’t as much quality, outcomes “in the minors” are quite unpredictable; tremendously more so than those results which unfold inside major pari-mutual markets. Therefore, consider employing the following six axioms when playing any of the down-home hippodromes listed above.
Retain familiarity with trainers and jockeys. This is perhaps the most vital particular associated with launching a successful fiscal siege against an intermediate race track. Believe me, ninety-nine percent of the time there is a complete standout residing within the trainer and/or jockey colony so before the start of any card, simply review the appropriate standings (they’re usually located on the program’s last page) then bet accordingly.
Don’t be tricked by the tote-board. Compared to their dominant counterparts, middling strips confer relatively humble pari-mutual pools. As a result, players often discover glaring disparity between morning-line and actual odds; especially early on in the wagering. Hence, when a hopeless 30-1 morning-line entry sits at 4-1 with fifteen minutes to post, don’t assume insiders know something you don’t. More than eighty percent of all pool monies haven’t even breached the teller’s window yet so this underlay is likely the result of an isolated player’s stout recklessness.
Avoid certain types of wagers. Due to the aforementioned deflated pari-mutual pools presented by intermediate race tracks, players should think twice about making large show bets. A $100 flutter might literally comprise half of the total show pool and would significantly dilute prices, even on double digit long-shots. Comparatively, abstain from wagering the “Pick 6” since there isn’t enough booked action to warrant pursuit of horse racing’s most difficult horizontal sequence.
Study state-bred statistics. A modest racing strip’s normal card will conveniently feature multiple state-bred competitions. Unearth what conditioners specialize in readying homegrown stock then determine how successful they’ve been inside the current meet.
Intermediate race tracks are often the proving ground for inexperienced jockeys and as you can imagine, some of these anxious apprentices inexplicably put their mounts behind the 8-ball.
Be willing to accept a short price. Contests at less popular courses often fill with many plodders and one standout. Friends, I’ll never assert a player should accept 1/9 odds but then again, don’t pass up “even money” on a racer who appears invulnerable. Additionally, if a strip’s leading horseman saddles chalk (that’s race tracker slang for “the favorite”), be assured capital attached to said runner’s nose will likely multiply.
Revise class handicapping values. Those fancying themselves as “class handicappers” should note that the two lowest claiming levels at middling ovals are often one in the same. Available participants are simply pointed towards whatever race is available in a given week. This is no exaggeration; the same batch of horses can be found in a $2500 claiming race one day, then a $3,000 claiming race two weeks later.
One last point I want to make stems from the fact that only a tremendously talented thoroughbred can overcome a troubled trip and still win. For example, equines like Man O War, Citation, Secretariat, Affirmed, Cigar and Zenyatta were often sternly bumped at the break, checked hard or carried wide on the turns and yet still, never missed a beat. Arguably the most able jockey of all time, Eddie Arcaro (nicknamed “The Master”) was once quoted as saying, “Most horses flaunt one or two moves in a race; Citation has six or seven.”
On the contrary, cheap claimers at intermediate race tracks seldom secure the blue ribbon if they’re awarded a disastrous trip. Deficient talent and lingering physical ailments are overt explanations for this phenomenon; however, at day’s end fault does not completely fall on the side of the equine athlete. Intermediate racetracks are often the proving ground for inexperienced jockeys and as you can imagine, some of these anxious apprentices inexplicably put their mounts behind the 8-ball.
In order to pen a comprehensive tutorial dealing with wagering on middling ovals I’d require far more parchment yet merely disseminating the topics we’ve touched on will significantly raise any horse player’s I.Q. In truth, handicapping minor league strips is indeed an advanced science; however, for all you “intellectual minimalists” out there, your three golden rules are simply: 1. Retain familiarity with trainers and jockeys, 2. Study state-bred statistics and 3. Recognize those horses likely to inherit a good trip.