09/02/2015 5:15PM

Pandolfo: Wager selection is key in maximizing profit

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As much as I like all of the exotic wagering options that are available now, I have to admit it was a lot simpler years ago. When I first started going to the track many races just had win, place, show and exacta wagering. When superfecta wagering was introduced, it was in one race a night and the pools were huge. Now there are a lot of options and you have to be careful about which ones you bet.

Some wagers have reduced takeout rates. Tracks offer multiple race exotics such as the Pick 4 and Pick 5 with takeouts as low as 14%. The lower takeout equates to a higher payoff, so it's a good thing.

Obviously a person who likes to bet the Pick 4 or Pick 5 is a risk taker that shoots for the big score. But this is not for everyone. At the Meadowlands, or any track that has competitive racing and full fields, the Pick 4 is especially tough to hit during the more competitive winter meet. The takeout could be zero, but if you can't pick four straight winners it isn't going to mean a damn thing.

The Pick 4 is ideal for big bettors. If you don't mind losing several hundred dollars in one shot, then that bet may be for you. However, at some of the half mile tracks, which are easier to handicap, you can play the Pick 4 with $60 or less and have a realistic chance of cashing some tickets.

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Some tracks have guaranteed pools for these bets. The Meadowlands usually has a $50,000 minimum. You can hit the Pick 4 for five figures if a few longshots come in. But if you bet the Pick 4 at a small harness track like Plainridge Park, even if you take down the entire pool, it may not be that big. So with these bets, stick to the tracks that have good handle.

I'm not knocking the smaller tracks, they can be fun. But win bets and exactas are probably the best wagers to make at tracks with lower handle because those are usually the two biggest pools.

This August, the USTA announced that its Strategic Wagering program was extended to cover trifecta wagering at Balmoral, Maywood, and Northfield Park. The guaranteed pools are a good marketing tool because it shows that the track is thinking about its core customers, gamblers. I haven't heard if the guaranteed trifecta pool promotion is being carried over into September, but Balmoral and Northfield in particular have attractive pools anyway.

Generally speaking, at most tracks, the takeout in the exacta is lower than the other two wagers. But it varies. Northfield Park has some of the lowest takeout rates in the business. These rates change from time to time but according to my information the trifecta takeout at Northfield is 22.5%, which is better than most tracks.

At Harrah's Philadelphia, the takeout in the Trifecta is 30% and the superfecta checks in at 32%. Pennsylvania has historically had very high trifecta and superfecta takeouts. In this situation, the exacta at Philly, which has a 20% takeout, is a much better bet.

Say you want to bet $40 on the race. You like a 10-1 shot and you think the favorite is the main threat. With the takeout I just quoted, the smart bet would be a $20 exacta box of the two horses. If you take your $40 and spread it out in either trifectas or superfectas, or both, you're not only betting into the much higher takeout, but you'll have to use more horses in smaller denominations. If the exacta pays $50 and you have $20 on it, you'll get back $500. Even if you hit the trifecta, chances are you won't get as much back. And that's if you hit it.

I've seen people boxing all sorts of combinations in trifectas and superfectas, but they've spread their money out so thin that even if they hit it, they would have made a bigger profit just putting all of their money into exactas. If you like a bet like the superfecta, find a track that offers a reasonable takeout rate for that bet and has good sized superfecta pools.

Another thing I like about exactas is that you can be wrong and win. I bet a lot of longshots and I'll be honest, when I key my longshot in horizontal wagers like the Pick 3, I usually lose that bet, even when my horse wins. And, of course, if my longshot finishes second, I automatically lose my Pick 3 bet.

But with exactas, I've hit plenty of exactas where my key horse lost, but the bets I made turned a nice profit. It's great to come out a winner when your horse lost. When I key a longshot, the horse that completes the exacta is usually the favorite or second choice, so it's not like the exacta is tough to hit. At most tracks, the favorite will finish first or second around 55% of the time, but at some harness tracks, that number is around 60%. And on half mile tracks, the one-horse finishes in the exacta over 40% of the time. So if you like a longshot and you box it with the favorite and the one-horse, if your longshot comes in first or second, you have an excellent chance of hitting the exacta.

Again, pool size is important. Let's look at an example from Northfield Park this past Monday (August 31) night. The 11th race was the final leg of a Pick 3 and a Pick 4, plus it had exacta, trifecta, and superfecta wagering. The total wagered on exactas was $15,019. The trifecta pool was $18,694. The pick 3 pool was $2,359. And the Pick 4 pool was $10,594.

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The pick 3 paid $72.70, which was less than the parlay on the same three horses. But as you can see, the pool wasn't that big. If you play the Pick 3 at a major thoroughbred or harness track, you can hit for five figures. But at some of the smaller tracks, there isn't enough money in the pools to make it a good risk.

But the other pools in the 11th at Northfield were strong. You don't want to pick a few longshot winners and hit a $200 pick 3 when you could have bet the same amount of money in exactas or trifectas and won three or four times as much. Pool size is important and that's why tracks offer the guarantees.

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.