03/17/2008 10:21PM

Low Payoffs at Tampa?


A bunch of commenters and private e-mailers, not all of them certified wearers of tinfoil hats, think there's something amiss with the exotic payoffs on the Tampa Bay Derby. "Suspiciously low" is a phrase that recurs.

Were they low? Yes. Suspiciously so? Not necessarily.

With 0.05-1 War Pass finishing last, the $2 exacta of 7.20-1 Big Truck over 9.00-1 Atoned paid $66.20. If the two of them had been bet in the same proportions in the exacta pool that they were in the win pool, the exacta would have paid around $150.

The $2 trifecta adding 49.10-1 Dynamic Wayne in third paid $439.20. The payoff, again if the horses were bet the same way they were in the win pool, would have paid over $7,000. The $2 superfecta looks similarly very low at $1828.20 adding a 57.40-1 shot for fourth.

The question is whether the generally in-the-ballpark rule of assuming horses are being bet the same way in the win and exotic pools, and using their win odds to determine "shoulda-pays," applies in a race with a 1-20 shot. Those are so rare, and 1-20 shots finishing out of the money even rarer, that there's not a meaningful sample to analyze.

Is a 1-20 shot really on top of a similarly overhelming percentage of the exactas, tri and super combos sold? That seems very unlikely, given the number of people who box and wheel, not to mention the numbers-players and the born contrarians.

Also, you have to consider the ordinal rank of the horses as well as their win-pool odds. The 2-3-4-5 choices in the betting ran 1-2-3-4. Furthermore, this was an unusually-tiered race with the 2nd and 3rd choices being 7-1 and 9-1 and everyone else 49-1 or higher. Big Truck and Atoned were huge favorites to beat the rest of the field and clearly the only plausible alternatives to the favorite. If War Pass had been a gate scratch and there had been no further betting, here's what the odds would have looked like:

Big Truck 0.90-1
Atoned 1.40-1
Dynamic Wayne 12-1
Make Me Zach 14-1
Cigar Man 18-1
Gentlemen James 21-1

The race finished in precisely that order. At those win odds, the shoulda-pays would be about $6 on the exacta and $16 on the tri. Blow those up by 11x for getting War Pass out of the exacta and 26x for getting him out of the tri, and the payoffs don't seem so unusual or unreasonable.