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Pandolfo: When it comes to exotic wagers, sometimes less means more
By Bob Pandolfo
There's no doubt that exotic wagers are popular with harness and Thoroughbred bettors. At most harness tracks, the exacta and trifecta pools attract the most action. From top to bottom, the amount of money bet in the pools usually looks like this: Exacta, trifecta, win, superfecta. After that, the amount of money bet to place, show, and in pick threes and pick fours varies from track to track, but is almost always smaller than the top three pools, exacta, trifecta, and win.
Some tracks offer a dazzling array of exotic possibilities on each card. Let's look at the exotic wagering menu available at Monticello for Tuesday, Dec. 4. On the 13-race card, there were 53 different exotic wagers that could be made: 13 exactas, 13 trifectas, 13 superfectas, 11 pick threes, and three daily doubles.
Monticello does not have a Pick four or Pick five. If they did, the pools wouldn't be big enough to attract much attention. This format seems to work well for Monticello, which has respectable handle on Mondays and Tuesdays when most major Thoroughbred tracks are dark. Even though the favorites are winning at 44 percent at Monticello this year, there are still some big payoffs, especially in the superfectas and pick threes. On Tuesday, three pick threes paid between $350 and $390. The superfectas offered some big payoffs, with one paying $19,891, and payoffs of $5,022, $1,116, $962, and $922, all for $2 bets.
For a track to offer so many different exotic wagers on one card, it needs handle. Unfortunately, some tracks simply don't have the handle. That’s why you'll see tracks limit or cut back on the exotic bet options. On Saturday night, Dec. 1, Northfield Park had a 14-race card. On the card they offered superfecta betting in four races, three pick threes, and one pick four.
Northfield probably gets complaints about their format. Some players want rolling pick threes and superfectas in every race. I understand that thinking. For instance, say I'm handicapping a 14-race card and I find two potential longshots that I plan on betting if the odds are right. One of the longshots is in the 6th race and the other is in the 8th race. Well, one of the first things I'm going to do is check to see if a pick three is available in races 6, 7, 8. If it is, I'm most likely betting into that pool. Of course I'm probably going to make other bets, perhaps in the win and exacta pools, but if I like two horses in a three-race sequence I'm certainly interested in the pick three. If the bet isn't available, it is a disappointment. This is especially true if for some reason I can't watch the races live that night. Bets like the pick three and pick four are blind wagers anyway so they are ideal for bettors who don't wager at the last minute.
The same holds true for daily doubles. If I only find two horses on a card that I like and they are in consecutive races, I am definitely betting the double. If one isn't available and I am not betting live, then I can't parlay and I miss out on the chance to hit a parlay/double type of wager.
So I understand the frustration when certain types of bets aren't available. But I also understand the reason why these bets are not always possible, and that's because of pool size.
If a track has low handle, the more exotic wagers it offers the more those wagers are diluted. For example, say that the total handle is $200,000 spread out over 15 races. That’s less than $14,000 a race. If a track with that type of handle has rolling pick threes, two pick fours and exacta, trifecta, and superfectas in every race, it's hard to attract any big bettors. The pools are so light that even small bettors are turned off. In situations like this, you could hit a superfecta with a $50 horse on top and still only get 400-1 odds if there's only $800 in the superfecta pool.
That's why when a track has low handle it's probably smarter to limit the amount of exotic wagers. In Minnesota, Running Aces, a half-mile harness track, often handles less than $100,000 a card and sometimes only about a third of that is bet ontrack.
When the Meadowlands opens in December, the track will be adding a pick four beginning in race 3. The late pick four moves from race 6 to race 7. The early pick four will have a guaranteed pool of $25,000. The late pick four will have a $50,000 guarantee on Thursday and Friday and $75,000 on Saturday night. The early pick four is replacing the pick six, which simply did not work at the Meadowlands. The Meadowlands will also retain the 50-cent pick five starting in the first race and the guarantee for that wager is $15,000.
So basically the track has two pick fours and one pick five a night with guarantees totaling as high as $115,000 on Saturday night. If you add up the guaranteed money for the proposed three nights of racing, it comes to $285,000 spread out over the three cards.
But I wonder, what if there was only one pick four a week and no pick five? Say that instead of six pick fours and three pick fives, the track had one pick four on Saturday night; a 50-cent pick four with a guarantee of $300,000. Would the handle in the one pick four with four times the guarantee (and lower minimum bet) exceed the handle of the six pick fours and three pick fives combined?
It's hard to say. The Meadowlands still has good handle numbers. For most harness tracks I would suggest that they would do better with my option, less super exotic wagers with higher guarantees and lower minimums (and lower takeout when feasible).
I remember when the superfecta started in New York years ago. There were no pick three or pick four wagers. There was only one daily double and I believe that most or all of the races had exactas and trifectas. And there was one superfecta a night. Because there was only one superfecta a night (and no pick four) the handle for the superfecta was monstrous. I lived about 10 miles from Roosevelt Raceway in Malverne, N.Y. and during the day in my town people at the coffee shop, in the bowling alley, and even in the supermarket would be figuring out their superfecta tickets, especially on Saturday nights. It was like the lottery. People were interested because they knew that the handle would be big, and unlike the lottery, the bet was not impossible to hit. I still think that most tracks, unless they have huge handle, should only offer one superfecta a night and no more than one pick four a night, especially on weeknights.
If a track has only one big pick four a week, on Saturday night, and the pool grows to a half-million or higher, that will generate excitement. Sometimes too much of a good thing proves to be a bad thing. I remember when ABC debuted their popular game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with Regis Philbin. The show was a huge hit and shown twice a week, then three times a week. But of course they expanded to five nights a week and before long the show's ratings collapsed and it was taken off of prime time television.
I sometimes wonder if the NFL will dilute their popularity in the same way. It used to be that you looked forward to Sunday afternoon on those cold winter days so you could just sit back and relax in the comfort of your home and watch football. Then came Monday Night Football and that worked out. But now they have Thursday night football, and NFL games are on Saturday during the playoffs. If the NFL isn't careful this expansion could backfire. If football's on every night, fans may not look forward to Sunday's games.
To learn more about Bob Pandolfo’s handicapping theories, check out his handicapping page at www.ustrotting.com or his www.tropicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites. Or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Rd, Northampton, PA., 18067.
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