04/24/2015 9:44AM

Closer look at superfecta strategies


Superfectas may be the most misunderstood wager in horse racing. Seasoned horseplayers often ignore the superfecta pool, even when it means passing up potentially huge payouts. Many people simply do not know how to play the bet, approaching it the same way they do an exacta: pick your favorite horses and box them. However, since you need to pick the top four horses in exact order, boxing a super can be inefficient and expensive. A $1 superfecta box with four horses costs $24, and in the absolute best-case scenario (barring a dead heat), you will have 23 losing wagers. Including a fifth horse in your box shoots the price up to $120. This is a very difficult way to make money playing the horses and rarely an accurate reflection of one’s true opinion. And that’s what horse racing wagers should be: your opinion, converted into a series of bets.

Many players see the rapidly escalating cost of superfecta boxes and either box anyway or simply choose to bypass the bet. But shrewd players know better. Because of all those inefficient boxes, there is money to be made. Stated simply, there is a lot of dumb money in this pool – money that could end up your pocket. And make no mistake – we’re talking about lots of money. As you will see in this series highlighting different approaches to playing the superfecta, the wagers can be fashioned after your handicapping analysis and since most tracks offer a 10-cent super, scaled to nearly any wagering budget. Even better, the payouts for very logical plays can be huge, often more so than for the popular horizontal wagers such as the pick three or pick four.

In this article, we will cover specific strategies you can use for playing supers that will maximize payoff while reducing your cost.

1.       The Strong Opinion – Crushing the super

2.       The Likely Winner – Keying and the “triangle” ticket

3.       Two key horses – The “double exacta box”

4.       Being Open to the Big Score – The all button

5.       Fighting the Ballooning Cost – Reducing your budget


The Strong Opinion Crushing the super

As horseplayers, it’s always more fun to play longshots. But occasionally, there are races that look unavoidably formful. The bettors have correctly chosen a clear favorite, and there a couple of other obvious contenders in the race. Worse yet, your own analysis meshes exactly with the way the public is betting those horses. You feel that the clear favorite is the most likely winner, the second choice looks second best, and so on. One option is to simply pass in these spots, but the superfecta can still offer an opportunity. As an example, let’s look at a maiden-claiming race down the hill at Santa Anita.

After the disqualification, the results aligned almost exactly with the closing odds – not a situation where you’d expect there would be money to be made. The even-money favorite (No. 6) won, the 3-1 second choice (No. 8) got place, followed by the 5-1 third choice (No. 7) for show, and the 8-1 fourth choice (No. 5) rounded out the 6-8-7-5 super. No other horse in the race went off below 10-1. In only an eight-horse field, you’d have to assume such formful results would yield low payoffs, and for the most part you’d be right – with the notable exception of the superfecta. The $1 exacta returned only $5.70, and the $1 tri brought back $31.60. Those prices, especially the exacta, will not help you get rich. The $1 super, however, returned $101.60, which is pretty remarkable for what was, by the numbers at least, the most likely result.

It’s always easy to construct wagers after the race, but let’s take a look at some ways a bettor might have played this race. If you felt that favorite was the most likely winner and thought the clear second choice would most likely get place, you could bet a big exacta, let’s say $20. That bet would have returned $114, or a little more than 9-2. Not great, though more than acceptable if you felt that was the most likely result. However, a whole lot could have gone wrong (without the DQ you’d have been out $20 for only a moderate financial upside).

Or you could have played that $20 on the trifecta. Fewer people play cold tris than cold exactas, but maybe you would have constructed a ticket like this:

$2 tri 6 with 8 with 7 for $2
$3 tri 6 with 8 with 5-7 for $6
$1 tri 6 key with 5-7-8 with 5-7-8 for $6
$1 tri 6 with 8 with all for $6

That combination of wagers would have totaled $20 also, but it would have cashed on $7 worth of tickets, yielding $221.20, or just more than 10-1. Additionally, there are a few saver bets that would have cashed had things played out a little differently, like a longshot coming in third or one of the other likely horses grabbing the place.

But let’s look at how that $20 could have been played on the super. If you have a strong opinion in a single race, you want to position yourself to hit the super multiple times. It could easily have been played this way:

$2 super 6 with 8 with 7 with 5 for $2
$1 super key 6 with 5-7-8 with 5-7-8 with 5-7-8 for $6
$1 super 6 with 8 with 5-7 with all for $10
$1 super 6 with 5-7 with 8 with 5-7 for $2

Compared to the trifecta bets, these bets would cash on only $4 worth of supers, but since the payoff is so much greater, the $20 turns into $406.40, nearly a 20-1 return. Better yet, it allows for coverage on many other possible outcomes that could pay more, like the 5 or 7 beating the 8 for place or the 34-1 first-time starter getting up for fourth.


The Likely Winner – Keying and the “triangle” ticket

When many people have a horse they see as a clear winner, they often single that horse in multi-race wagers. Or perhaps, if the odds are too low, they just opt to pass the race with the heavy favorite entirely. It can be very frustrating to single a horse in the pick three and spread in the other two races only to find the favorite in each of the two spread races. Your chalky pick three might barely cover your investment and you’ve wasted the chance to make some hay with a single you really liked. This happens a lot less in the superfecta, where there is so much wasted money in the pool due to boxing. So why not play the super with your single on top of the other likely horses?

After identifying the likely winner, key him on top in the super. Then pick out the horses most likely to finish 2-3-4. By keying a horse on top with three horses underneath (essentially boxed in the 2, 3, and 4 spots), the cost is only $6 for a $1 bet. The bet looks like this: 1 with 2-3-4 with 2-3-4 with 2-3-4. If you have even stronger opinions about the horses likely to finish 2-3-4, you should make additional wagers to maximize your payoff and try to hit it multiple times (see Crushing the Super). If you just feel there is a clear single for the win, but any number of other horses could hit the board, the best play is keying and/or creating a “triangle” ticket.

Here’s another chart:

The 9-5 favorite won fairly easily, and the second, third, and fourth choices came in 2-4-3. The results are quite similar to the earlier example, though the order of finish varied slightly from the order of the final odds. The $1 exacta in this race yielded only $10, yet including the two next most likely horses underneath returned a super of $153.10 for a $1 bet. Let’s assume you felt this race had one A horse (the 4), three B’s (2, 6, 7), and two C’s (3, 5). Here’s what your suggested wagers might look like:

$1 super key 4 with 2-6-7 with 2-6-7 with 2-6-7 for $6
$1 super 4 with 2-6 with 2-6-7 with 2-3-5-6-7 for $12

The two wagers total $18 and hit twice, for a payoff of $306.20. The added advantage of the “triangle” ticket is that you open yourself up to more possibilities that would lead to higher payouts, such as the second choice not finishing in the top four and/or a 14-1 shot finishing fourth. If your super key loses, the triangle ticket could still lead to a very large payout, even with the 9-5 favorite on top.


Two key horses – The “double exacta box”

Many experienced horseplayers love the exacta. It is almost always the largest pool for any of the vertical wagers, and there are many players who target the exacta specifically and exclusively. If you’re reading this, there’s likely no need to explain the approach or strategy to playing the exacta. Instead, the goal here is to make you consider adding the superfecta as an additional wager anytime you are considering making a strong exacta play. In this section, we’ll discuss an easy and affordable superfecta wager called the “double exacta.”

Let’s assume you have a nice exacta play. Perhaps it’s a mid-priced horse with a 15-1 shot and the combination is returning a nice value based on your handicapping of the race. You might like the shorter-priced horse slightly better, but since the payoff would be higher with the 15-1 winning, you decide to play a straight $5 exacta box. In addition to that wager, we suggest a $1 superfecta with your two horses on top of the next two most likely horses. That wager might look something like this:

$1 super 1-2 with 1-2 with 3-4 with 3-4 for $4

Essentially you are backing up your exacta box with a super that adds the next two most likely horses boxed in the three and four slots. If you hit your exacta, you have set yourself up for a big payoff. Let’s look at charts from a couple races at Belmont Park.

In this case, the 8-9 exacta pays well, returning $186 for a $2 bet. After all, the top three choices in the wagering did not finish first or second, so you’ve assured yourself a healthy payoff. But once you’ve done the hard work of nailing the top two finishers, consider the most likely horses to run third and fourth. In this case, at least based on the odds, the 4 and 6 seem rather obvious. However, the superfecta with those two horses underneath pays more than 27 times higher than your exacta. That’s a 27-time increase for a super wager with the next two most obvious horses underneath. Even if you played the “double exacta” super for $1, it still returns $2,631 for a $4 bet.

This strategy doesn’t just work in stakes races with large fields, though. Take this six-horse optional claimer turf sprint.

That $2 exacta pays $75, which isn’t bad at all for a small field. However, the two 2-1 shots in the third and fourth spots return a super more than 11 times the exacta, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that there are only four remaining options to secure those bottom two placings.

And lastly, it’s not just when there are price horses in the win and place positions.

This rather obvious exacta paid $18.60 for $2, and when played on top of the next two most likely horses as a double exacta, the super returned 19.5 times that. In fact, this exacta payoff was so obvious and so low, many people would have bypassed it entirely, figuring there was no value to be had in the race. In this case, as in many cases, the value could be found in playing the most obvious horses underneath.


Being Open to the Big Score – The all button

Since a winning superfecta requires you to pick the top four horses in that exact order, there is a greater chance for chaos than in a win wager or an exacta. With a super, you are vulnerable to a horse being disqualified from fourth or to the longest shot in the race outrunning his odds and grabbing the bottom rung of the super. With an exacta, you might be very tactical focusing only on your top two horses in the race or your top horse with two or three underneath. For super wagering, it benefits you to be more comprehensive in your approach, and you might want to cover horses that will provide huge prices should they hit the board. Simply put, being too targeted in your superfecta wagering will mean missing out on cashing tickets. Since you are unlikely to hit a super cold, you want to embrace the possibility of being wrong in some aspect of your handicapping in order to catch a large payout.

For many players, the all button is anathema. They pride themselves on their handicapping skills, and see the all button as the handicapping equivalent of throwing up their hands. Instead of hitting all, they will seek to eliminate a few horses – most often the ones with the biggest prices. In superfecta wagers, though, the all button can be a very powerful tool and is often essential to the biggest scores.

Let’s look at a couple more races.

The even-money favorite was an easy winner, finishing on top of a couple logical horses, leading to a trifecta payoff of $92.80 for a $2 bet. Not too bad for a seven-horse field. The longest shot in the field, however, outran his odds to beat three horses home and grab the fourth spot. This led to a $749.20 payoff for a $2 super bet, eight times higher than the trifecta and 36 times more than the exacta. If the even-money favorite was a single on top, the super was hittable if the all button was used on the bottom. Most of your super wagers on this race would have missed, but just hitting this super once for $1 could be enough to make your day.

Here are some potential plays to get there:

$1 super 2 with 4-5 with 4-5 with 3-7 for $4
$1 super key 2 with 4-5-7 for $6
$1 super 2 with 4-5-7 with 4-5-7 with ALL for $24

Other times, you might feel that a favorite is likely to hit the board but doesn’t have to win. Limiting the use of such a horse to just underneath in the super can lead to large payoffs, especially if you catch a longshot winner on top. The best time to use the ALL button is when there is a favorite or a short-priced contender that you want to play against. Take this race from Belmont.

From a final odds standpoint, all the horses in the super are logical except the winner. And yet, the super paid $3,618 for $2. You might not have envisioned the 19-1 winner, but if you played the favorite underneath, along with the other most likely horses, that super suddenly becomes hittable, especially if you felt that the 1 horse (Noosh’s Tale at 4-1) was a play against. Here’s how you might have constructed that wager:

$1 super 5-10 with 5-10 with 1-7 with 1-7 for $4
$1 super ALL with 4 with 5-10 with 7-5-10 for $20
$1 super ALL with 5-10 with 4 with 7-5-10 for $20

The first play would represent a “double exacta” super with your most likely horses on top, over that underneath-key favorite and another possible, though less likely, horse. Then, you take those two likely horses and play them with the favorite singled in each of the 2-3-4 slots, combined with ALL to win. This strategy, of course, backfires if the chalk wins or finishes fourth or worse, but you have to take a stand somewhere. And if you believe a favorite is vulnerable on top but likely to hit the board, this is an approach that can pay off very well.


Fighting the Ballooning Cost – Reducing your budget

If you are a pick four or pick six player, how many times have you put together a ticket and then realized that the cost exceeds your budget? You end up dropping two or three horses from the ticket, and too often, one of those horses wins and you lose out on cashing.  With the super, however, you can much more easily scale your wagers to fit your budget. Since nearly every track offers a superfecta for 10 cents, you can reduce the costs of some plays to match your opinion of the outcome. Let’s look again at one of the examples from above.

As you’ll remember, we had an $18 play that looked like this:

$1 super key 4 with 2-6-7 with 2-6-7 with 2-6-7 for $6
$1 super 4 with 2-6 with 2-6-7 with 2-3-5-6-7 for $12

Additionally, using some of the other strategies discussed here, you might want to consider adding a “double exacta” and dabbling with the all button. Those plays, using lower-cost wagers, could look like this:

50-cent super 4-6 with 4-6 with 2-7 with 2-7 for $2
50-cent super 4 with 6 with 2-7 with ALL for $5
20-cent super 4 with 2-6-7 with 2-6-7 with ALL for $6
10-cent super ALL with 4 with 2-6-7 with 2-6-7 for $3

These additional wagers added $16 to the cost, and in this case, you’ve hit the super for an extra $1.20, which amounts to a $183.72 return on that $16. Better yet, you’ve covered other less likely but more profitable possibilities, like a longshot winning or coming in fourth. And since your handicapping views these as less probable outcomes, you can reduce the amount of the wager accordingly.

Debbie Gardner More than 1 year ago
Mr. Hogan, Do you normally carry each horse down all the way thru your supers? Of course, unless you single on top. what is your favorite Ky Derby super play, ie 2x4x6x8 ? Very good article, Thank you
DRFFormulator More than 1 year ago
Good question, which I will answer two ways. First, I hope to have an article next week focused specifically on betting the super in the Derby, since it's a unique race. And second, I wouldn't always carry my same horse all the way through. Sometimes you think a horse may only win or run out of the super, and other times you might want to key a single horse only in 2nd & 3rd (like Mr Z in any of his recent races.)
DRFFormulator More than 1 year ago
To Anonymous, I went to reply but accidentally deleted your comment. Anyway, here's my response: Good catch on the 5-horse box; it's been changed. The $1 increments were used as base wagers because the charts shown display $1 or $2 payouts, and because some races (like the Derby) have a $1 minimum. But the point of making smaller wagers is valid, and as payouts increase, the dime bet makes more sense. However, in smaller fields, a 5-horse box can lose money even if it cashes.
Derbyologist More than 1 year ago
As the % of favorites go up and shorter fields - Superfecta may have to become more into the arsenal to turn a profit.
akakug . More than 1 year ago
Thanks Mr. Hogan. You are super!