09/15/2010 4:16PM

Mispunch or Missed Coup?

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If Miss Marla and Upper East Sider had run 1-2 in Sunday's 7th race at Belmont, the $2 2-5 exacta would have paid just $161 for a 40-1 shot over a 12-1 shot -- a payoff so shockingly low that horseplayers would have been certain chicanery was afoot. Instead, they ran 4th and 1st, the exacta for a 12-1 over an 8-1 came back a square $231.50, and we can only wonder whether someone took an expensive shot at making a wild score or merely mispunched his tickets and mistakenly made a big bet on a highly unlikely combination.

The race was for 2-year-old statebred fillies going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, and there was a heavy favorite in the #1, Eden is Burning, who had run a strong second in her only start. Her eight opponents were six first-time starters and two fillies who had run: fourth-time starter Miss Marla (#2), who had flashed speed and stopped in dirt races at Finger Lakes and Saratoga in three previous starts, and Upper East Sider (#5), who had shown nothing in her dirt debut at 49-1 but figured to improve on grass (being a half-sister to stakes-class turf sprinter Yield Bogey.)

Eden is Burning, a cautious 2-1 on the morning line, figured to be bet more havily than that unless one of the firsters was an international tip, and opened at even-money.

I was watching the odds because, despite officially being off for the week after Saratoga, I was contemplating a little Sunday afternoon late pick-4 play if I could make any sense of this firster-laden opening leg. I looked up at the tv screen with 15 minutes to post, saw that the #1 Eden is Burning was now 4-5, and that the exactas with her on top were paying between $30 and $60. The next horse whose exacta probables were posted was the #2 Miss Marla, who was 23-1. The 2-1 exacta, with her over the 4-5 favorite, was paying about $70. The 2-5 exacta, with her over then 9-1 Upper East Sider, should have been paying over $400; it was paying only $30.

This was absolutely crazy. You might see an aberrant price like this in the first minute of betting at Podunk Downs with less than $100 in the exacta pool, but when I went to the NYRA Rewards betting site to confirm the wacky price, I saw there was already $26,554 in the exacta pool. For the 2-5 exacta to be paying only $30 meant that over $1400 had been wagered on this one strange combination that should have attracted more like $100 at this point.

I tracked it the rest of the way, and as you can see in the chart below, the 2-5 combo was bet in the tiny proportion it deserved to the rest of the way. While attracting over five percent of the first $26k in the exacta pool, it attracted less than half a percent of the pool in each subsequent cycle. By post time, the willpay was up from $30 to $161; after attracting $1,443 of the first $26k bet, only another $640 was bet on it amid the additional $179k that was bet the rest of the way.

 

I didn't start tracking the reverse version of this combo (a 5-2 of Upper East Sider over Miss Marla) until there were just two minutes to post. It too was bet out of all proportion to the win odds or reasonable expectations, with a probable of $71 that blew out to only $163 amid the final surge of money. When the 5-2 probable was paying $71, the 5-1 -- putting a 2-to-5 shot rather than a 40-1 shot second -- was paying $59.

As it turned out, both fillies in the bizarrely overbet exacta box outran their odds. Upper East Sider improved dramatically with the switch to turf, blowing away the field by eight lengths at 12-1. One of the firsters, Oatka Idas Rose, was up late to beat Eden is Burning -- who went off at 2-to-5) for second, with Miss Marla -- the top-half of the overbet exacta -- hanging in well for fourth.

So what happened?

I'm guessing mispunch. Nothing else makes sense. My theory is that someone meant to try to crush a 1-5 exacta box of the heavy favorite and the interesting second-time starter, to the tune of an $800 to $1,200 punch each way. The ticket was never cancelled, so maybe the guy still doesn't know he made a mistake, and perhaps he thinks he took a horrific tough beat when Eden is Burning couldn't hold second. If the favorite had completed the exacta, the mispuncher might have thought he had won $80,000 and gotten a very unpleasant surprise when seeing he had used the 2 instead of the 1.

If anyone has a better explanation, I'm all ears.

 

In any case, I did use Uppereast Sider in my little pick-4 play, but like most people was knocked out in the next leg by 57-1 Gentle Touch. Those two made it seem likely we'd have a pick-6 double carryover into today's card, but otherwise chalky results left seven combos alive into the nightcap, three of them to the victorious favorite for a $74,416 payoff.

The only graded stakes on a subdued opening weekend at Belmont was the G2 Bowling Green, where Al Khali nipped Winchester with a flying finish. Saturday and Sunday's cards were the first two of a 37-day meeting that runs through Halloween and is now down to just nine Grade 1 races, eight of them on Oct. 2nd and 9th:

The other is this coming Saturday's G1 Garden City for 3-year-old turf fillies, for which a field of eight headed by Check the Label was drawn today.