09/24/2014 10:29PM

Pandolfo: Make your bets count

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One of the comments I often hear is, "I only bet to win. Exotic wagers are sucker bets." From a mathematical viewpoint, some of the best bets are in the exotics. Northfield Park, a harness track in Ohio, has a 14% takeout on its Pick 3, 4 and 5 wagers. If you were to play a three-horse win parlay, you would have to pay the takeout, which normally exceeds 14%, three times. These low-takeout exotic wagers that many tracks now offer are smart bets.

I have my doubts about the win-bet-only philosophy. I've known quite a few winning horseplayers, including a few professional bettors, and not one of them is a win bettor. At most harness tracks it would be mathematically impossible to be a professional bettor with just win bets. If you bet a few hundred dollars it would knock the odds down too much.

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But the thing I like most about exotic wagers has nothing to do with takeout. Let's examine my own betting. This year the state of Pennsylvania has managed to eliminate my rebates because they created a 10% charge to any out-of-state wagering company that accepts bets from PA. residents. Other states have adopted similar rules.

Without the rebates, I still bet every day, but not nearly as much. There were a few years, especially when I first started receiving rebates, when I bet a lot of races. One year in particular, I was experimenting with different methods, betting flats and trots, and making a lot of bets, 60 to 80 a week. My average bet was $75 on each horse, usually spread out over different wagers.

At the end of the year I looked over my bets and realized that I profited even without rebates. But, the profit was generated by four or five winning bets. The other bets, and we're talking over 2,000 bets, generated a 2% loss without the rebates.

The handful of bets that produced the profit were all longshot winners that I had correctly hooked up in exotics. Most of the profit was from exotic plays, but all from five winning horses. On one series of wagers, I hooked up a $42 winner correctly and hit the double, trifecta, exacta, and the Pick 3, all with the same horse. That one score alone would have been enough to produce a profit for the year.

This lead me to several conclusions about my own betting:

1) It's the big payoffs that produce profit.

2) Although the lower odds winners, like favorites and second choices, may be mentally uplifting because of the higher hit rate, they are basically a waste of time and money unless I'm getting a sizeable rebate. In other words, they're losing bets over the long run.

3) The longshot winners, if keyed correctly in winning exotics, were the profit producers.

4) Many times my saver exotic bets bailed me out and made it easier for me to keep betting.

I think a lot of bettors have similar stories. You make a lot of bets, but your bottom line is dependent upon a few big scores.

And that's why you have to make every good overlay or longshot winner count. This year in the Belmont stakes, I liked Tonalist and I decided to take a stand against the favorite, California Chrome. I listed 5 horses, with “Chrome” ranked 3rd. But, in my own betting, I left Chrome out and boxed 3 horses in the exacta. Tonalist won and I hit the exacta for $348.00. Did I make the winner count? No, I didn't. The same three horses I boxed in the exacta came in for the trifecta and it paid $6781.00. Even if I had spent another $6 and boxed the same 3 horses for a buck, I would have gotten half of that.

And, to make matters worse, Belmont has 50 cent trifectas. For $12, I could have put in a four-horse 50 cent tri box, leaving the favorite out, and that would have given me good coverage, and put an extra $1,600 in my bank.

What I'm getting to is, when you like a live longshot, you have to look over the wagering possibilities carefully. When I first started betting horses I was 17 years old, and the minimum bet was $2. And I liked to bet superfectas, which had a minimum of $3. With tracks offering low minimum wagers like 50 cent trifectas and 10 cent superfectas, there are now inexpensive ways to protect your bets, while also maximizing your potential for big scores.

Naturally, coming into any race, we have no idea that our longshot is actually going to win and the race is going to go exactly as we expected. It's all easy after the race is over. But, we have to try our best. It's a matter of examining all of the wagering possibilities carefully. Ever since that race, I pay even closer attention to the wagering options that are available in each race.

I've had many stretches where my winning percentage on longshots was about 18%. I bet the horse to win, but I always box an exacta with the horse I feel is the one to beat, often the favorite. My longshot key horse finishes second even more often than it wins. When it does, I hit the exacta about 30% of the time. When that happens, I end up making a profit, even though my horse lost, which is awesome. And sometimes I use a few horses in exacta boxes, which increases my hit rate. Without these exotic wagers, betting longshots to win would be grueling. Anyone who bets longshots knows that you can easily go 15 races without a winner. But, if you box the horse in exactas with one or two obvious contenders, you'll often get bailed out when your longshot runs second. The higher hit rate also makes it easier on the nerves.

When you've found that juicy live longshot or double-digit overlay, make it count!

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.