Updated on 09/17/2011 11:30AM

Head-to-head bets among many options


BALTIMORE - Pimlico Race Course is offering a dramatically expanded wagering menu Friday and Saturday for Preakness weekend, unveiling a dozen head-to-head match-ups and four guaranteed pick four bets that all feature reduced takeouts Friday and Saturday.

The head-to-head bets, which will be offered for the first time this year, will have a takeout of 11 percent, well below the win, place, and show takeout of 18 percent. The pick four bets will have a takeout of 14 percent. Superexotic wagers such as the pick three or trifecta at Pimlico have a takeout of 25.75 percent.

The head-to-head bets will be offered on 12 of the 13 stakes races Friday and Saturday. Head-to-head wagers require bettors to select one of two horses to finish in front of the other, regardless of whether either finishes in the money. The bets proved popular on the Breeders' Cup races last year.

"I thought it was a unique type of bet," said Lou Raffetto, Pimlico's chief operating officer. "We're getting our feet wet, and I'm curious to see how it works out."

The head-to-head match-ups for the four Friday stakes races were released Wednesday. Match-ups for the Saturday stakes races will be released Thursday.

Betting on the Preakness will open this year at approximately 12:15 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, almost 54 hours before the race's scheduled post time at 6:12 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.

Pimlico will also offer an extra daily double that will link Friday's Pimlico Special to Saturday's Preakness. Takeout for the wager will be 21 percent, the normal rate for daily doubles.

Bettors generally welcome an expansion of the wagering menu, especially when that expansion includes guaranteed pools. But there is a risk to the racetrack: the expansion can dilute the amount of money wagered in other pools, making some bets unattractive to horseplayers, and push handle toward less-profitable bets, such as the bets with reduced takeouts.

Harder-to-hit bets such as pick fours can also reduce the amount of money churned.

Betting on the Triple Crown events has been extremely strong for the past five years, so Pimlico is minimizing the risk somewhat by expanding the menu at a time the entire country is playing the track's signal. Also, guaranteed pick fours have become some of the most popular bets in the country.

Pimlico will offer $850,000 in total guarantees for the four pick fours Friday and Saturday. A $500,000 pick four will link races 9-12 Saturday, which includes the Preakness. Earlier that day, a $200,000 pick four will link races 4-7.

Friday, a $100,000 pick four will link races 9-12, including the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and the Pimlico Special, and a $50,000 pick four will include races 4-7.

The expansion of the wagering menu can be credited in large part to Raffetto, a veteran racing executive hired two years ago who thinks like a horseplayer. Raffetto took the responsibility for the ultimate selection of the horses used in the head-to-head matchups and insisted that the selections be good betting match-ups, if not the two best horses in the race.

As an example, Raffetto nixed the idea of matching in the Black-Eyed Susan the two top choices, favored Santa Catarina and second choice Ivanavinalot. "Why would we do that?" Raffetto told the racing office by cell phone. "A bettor will take the odds on the board on Ivanavinalot instead of betting head-to-head against the chalk. Let's get someone else in there." Raffetto's recommendation was how it turned out: Roar Emotion, a horse who finished second in the Cicada Stakes in her last start in March at Aqueduct, against Ivanavinalot.

Friday's Head-to-Head Match-Ups

RaceHorses (Program number)
DistaffMandy's Gold (2) vs.Smok'n Frolic (3)
The Very OneMaypole Dancer (6) vs. Forest Heiress (12)
Black Eyed SusanRoar Emotion (2) vs. Ivanavinalot (5)
Pimlico SpecialBalto Star (2) vs. Hero's Tribute (7)