10/21/2009 12:00AM

Risking $10K to try and make $500. Why?


PHILADELPHIA - Imagine you were confronted with this real-life situation. The first race at Philadelphia Park last Sunday was for horses that had never won two races. They were going 5 1/2 furlongs. All the horses were entered for a $7,500 claiming price.

Minnie's Boy, a 5-year-old, had won his maiden on Aug. 30 in his first start at the Pha. It was a $12,500 claimer. He ran back on Sept. 9 in a $25,000 nonwinners-of-two. He showed brief speed before tiring to finish last, 10 3/4 lengths behind the winner.

After 39 days away from the races and with one published workout, the horse drops from that $25,000 claimer to the $7,500 claimer. He had gotten a 67 Beyer in that maiden win and 41 in the subsequent loss.

The win came on a muddy track. This race was on a sloppy, sealed track.

If Minnie's Boy ran back to the maiden win, he would win easily against a field that showed just two 60 or better Beyers anywhere on the form of any horse. And those were not recent Beyers. Minnie's Boy had seven Beyers of 60 or better, six of them earned at Santa Anita or Hollywood Park.

So, if Minnie's Boy was fluctuating in the betting between 1-5 and 2-5 as post time neared, what would you do?

Pass the race because a horse that won his maiden as a 5-year-old in his 10th race never inspires much confidence, regardless of the figures and the competition. Maybe bet a few tiny exactas with Minnie's Boy on top because you just are not that confident about a horse that made his debut on April 17, 2007 at Santa Anita, then did not race again until Oct. 19, 2008 and then was off again until Jan. 2, 2009. Or bet $10,000 to show on Minnie's Boy.

I chose Option B, which was stupid. Somebody chose Option C, which was insane.

The typical Philly Park show pool on a Sunday might be $4,000. In fact, it was $4,525 for the second race and $3,499 for the third. It was $12,846 in the first. And $11,306 was bet on Minnie's Boy.

Minnie's Boy prompted the pace from second, and when the field hit the stretch he began to retreat, first dropping back to third and then, eventually, fourth.

Which brings up the obvious question: If you already have $10,000, why do you need $500, especially when you are not guaranteed to get the $500 and could lose the $10,000.

I have never understood these bridge-jumpers. When they are betting on Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta, I sort of get it. When they are betting on Minnie's Boy, I really don't get it.

For each $1,000 bet to show in this situation, the player is guaranteed $50, assuming the horse he bet on hits the board. Again, why would anybody do this?

Isn't this game supposed to be about betting a little to make a lot, not betting a lot to make a little? In fact, the very allure of horse racing as a gambling game is exactly that. Unlike sports betting and most other mundane forms of gambling, there is a chance in horse racing to make a large score at any moment in any race.

Nobody at Philly Park made a huge score because of the bizarre show pool. But a few people did bet a little to win a lot.

That $11,306 had to be distributed somewhere. The eventual winner Show Low had exactly $429 bet on him to show. So he paid $17.40, $4.20 and $16.80. The second horse, Kentuckysoldierboy, had $291 bet on him to show. He paid $7.80 and $24. The third horse, Delivery Man, took $262 to show and paid $26.80 for third.

I don't know who bet the $10,000, but I do know this: The lesson never gets learned. It will happen again and sooner rather than later.

Assuming the bet total is the same in every instance, a player would have to win 20 of 21 times to break even. Does this make sense?

We all see this. It happens many times around the country every year. I generally look for it in the big races where I think the obvious favorite is at least somewhat vulnerable. I really would not think to look for it in a race like a nonwinners-of-two lifetime at the Pha on an NFL Sunday.

In fact, I did not notice it even as I stupidly bet a few exactas with Minnie's Boy on top. If I had, I hope I would have bet $20 to show on the other six horses in the field. If I had, I would have shown a profit of about $500, allowing for the fact that my $20 would have dropped the three actual show prices a bit.

So, for a $120 investment, I could have shown a profit of $500. And the worst that could have happened was an $80 loss.

All because somebody decided to risk $10,000 to win $500. I don't get it. I will never get it. But I will keep paying attention because you never know when the next person is going to get up on that bridge.