04/10/2013 6:01PM

Bob Pandolfo: Going For a Price


Someone e-mailed me the other day and asked, "Do you have a method to determine which races are good races to bet a longshot?"

This brings up two questions: When do you go against the favorite? And which races are likely to be won by a longshot?

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Let's examine two different potential longshot situations. One is the obvious, which is a wide-open race. If you're handicapping an entire card, these races are easy to spot. They're the races that have you scratching your head because you can't figure out who's going to win. These races are wide open because the horses are closely matched. Many times the horse who wins is the horse who gets a favorable trip.

The other longshot race is the best betting situation for a smart player. That's when the public overbets a horse and there are good overlays in a race that really isn't that wide open. A race like this was the first race at the Meadowlands on Friday, April 5. The favorite in the race was JK Letitgo.

Now JK Letitgo certainly looked tough to beat in the race. On my Big M picks that are published at www.ustrottting.com, I picked JK Letitgo and made the filly 4-5. My second pick was Ms Caila J Fra, and I made her the 6-1 second choice. My picks in the race were 5-4-7.

In his Meadowlands picks that appear in Harness Eye and www.drf.com/harness, Derick Giwner picked 5-4-7, same as I did. Since we both saw the race the same way, I think it's safe to say that Ms Caila J Fra was a fairly obvious main threat to the favorite.

But the bettors saw the race a little differently than us. They did make JK Letitgo the favorite. But instead of 4-5, she went off at 1-5. And unlike Derick and I, the betting public did not think that Ms Caila J Fra was the main rival. The filly went off as the sixth choice in the betting at 27.90-1.

Let's compare the two fillies coming into the race. Interestingly enough, both fillies have similar pedigrees: they are both by Western Ideal out of Artsplace mares. Both fillies came into the race with the exact same record, 1 win in 5 starts. JK Letitgo's one win was an easy wire to wire win over the track from post 9 in a NW1. Ms Caila J Fra's one win was a gutsy wire-to-wire win over the track from post 8 in a NW2. I say "gutsy" because in that race she had to make a prolonged brush to the lead down the backstretch to attain the lead. Their final times and figures were almost identical. JK Letitgo's best speed figure was 82, and Ms Caila J Fra's was 81.

But there was one knock on Ms Caila J Fra: she was coming off a "sick" scratch. If you're a regular reader of my column, you know that I've written about how these old rules don't work anymore. There was a time when you could safely eliminate horses who missed a start or a few weeks. Not anymore. And regardless of how much of a negative a scratch is, a negative always has to be weighed against the odds. The bottom line is, on paper these two 3-year-old fillies, both eligible for NW2, were basically the same horse. Their past performance records were virtually identical.

JK Letitgo had won her last start finishing six lengths in front of Ms Caila J Fra. But on one of her best efforts, Ms Caila J Fra looked just as good, and her game win was just three starts ago, so it's not as if you had to go far back to find a good start.

As I have said, I made Ms Caila J Fra 6-1 and JK Letitgo 4-5, and I believe that was a good line. But for some reason the bettors felt that JK Letitgo was the second coming of Shady Daisy and bet her down to 1-5.  Ms Caila J Fra made two moves and wore down the favorite late to win and pay $57.80. What made this bet even better was that if you were afraid of the favorite, all you had to do is play a two-horse exacta box. The exacta paid $93.80. This was probably the best value of any exacta during the entire Meadowlands meet.

One of the reasons why I bring this up is because some people think that if you're going to bet longshots, you have to bet the wide open races. This is not always true. Those races are tough to pick. But, there are good longshot bets in the easier races. Naturally, these types of monster overlays don't happen that often, but when they do, they are smart bets. These are really the best bets in racing, the big overlays that are in races where there aren't that many contenders. It pays to stay alert and watch the board.

If you like to bet longshots, here are some other tips to keep in mind:

1. Look for longshots in the pick four races. Most racetracks try to card the most difficult races for their multiple race exotics. They want the pick four to pay big, so the racing secretary will put the most contentious races in that sequence. If there are two pick fours, the one that usually gets the biggest handle will be the toughest to hit. Generally speaking, if you like to bet chalk, the pick four races are not your type of races.

2. Open claiming races are usually good longshot races. Condition races can be tough to handicap too, but in the lower levels, such as NW6000, favorites often win easily when they're taking a big drop in class. That's why the Meadowlands went back to the letter classification method this year. In mid-level claiming races, such as $20,000 to $50,000, these are usually wide open races.

3. Saturday night is generally the best card at most tracks, and that's where the favorites are often vulnerable.

4. Big fields are usually best for big payoffs. One of the reasons why bettors have been gravitating towards the one-mile racetracks is the fact that they often have 10-horse fields.

5. Two-year-old trotting races. Later in the summer when the 2-year-olds come out, these races are tough to handicap. Very often horses break and some monster longshot wins. Any race that has several horses who show breaks is eligible to blow up and produce a chaotic race. In fact, in trotting races, if I see a trotter who shows breaks going off as the favorite, I look for overlays, because when the favorite breaks in a trotting race, the race is often won by a big longshot.

I'm usually not a big fan of pushing the "all" button or wheeling horses. In these 2-year-old trotting races, however, especially the filly trots, a wheel can be a smart bet. For instance, say the first race of the night is a 2-year-old filly trot and you like a horse in the second race. A backwheel in the double could produce a big payoff if your horse wins and a bomb wins the 2-year-old trot race after several "contenders" make breaks.

In an upcoming column, I'll give some examples of how to spot vulnerable or overbet favorites. JK Letitgo was not a terrible favorite, but she was over bet. This creates good value elsewhere.

To find out more about Pandy's handicapping theories, check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.