08/08/2013 3:53PM

Steven Crist: Some Fourstar hedging advice for the $15K winner

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In his day job, Adam McNeill of Saratoga Springs dispenses investment advice as a financial planner with a local firm. On Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, where he won a drawing to make a free $15,000 win bet on the Fourstardave Handicap, he may want to consider some investment advice from more seasoned horseplayers: Hedge your bet.

Personally, I think that if you win $15,000 in free wagers, you should be able to bet it however you want – put it all to show on Wise Dan at a likely $2.10 for $2 and walk away with $15,750, or play it even safer and bet the entire field to win in varying amounts so that you would lose the 16 percent win takeout but go home with $12,600 no matter how the race turns out. However, under the rules of the ongoing contest – a different random patron gets chosen on each of five Saturdays as part of the Saratoga 150 anniversary celebration – one must bet the entire enchilada on one horse to win.

Last week’s winner had to select one horse and only one horse in the Whitney. He spent the week agonizing whether to go with Fort Larned or Cross Traffic, and this being the racetrack you know how that story turned out, whether or not you saw the race. The moment of truth came and he went with Fort Larned, who ran fifth as the 6-5 favorite while Cross Traffic won and paid $9.10. What would have been so terrible about letting him bet $10,000 on Fort Larned and $5,000 on Cross Traffic so he could have walked away with $22,750 instead of nothing but indigestion from second-guessing himself?

So McNeill must bet one horse to win in the Fourstardave and he would be crazy not to bet it on Wise Dan, not only because he is by far the most likely winner but also because putting the big free bet on the heavy favorite will allow him to hedge. This may not seem to be in the spirit of the thing, but there is no reason for him to go home empty-handed, or with nothing but a baseball cap and a sad story, if the reigning Horse of the Year is upset.

Here’s what he could do to guarantee keeping some of that free money: Bet the free $15,000 on Wise Dan, which will get him back $24,000 if he wins and pays $3.20, $22,500 if he wins and pays $3.00, or $21,000 if he wins and pays $2.80. Then he could take something like $8,000 of personal funds – I’m sure his firm could lend it to him if he doesn’t have it on hand, since this is a foolproof investment – and bet Wise Dan’s six opponents in varying amounts to get at least $15,000 if any one of them wins.

It would work something like this: Bet $2,200 on King Kreesa and Lea at 6-1 each to get back a minimum of $15,400 (he would get more if 6-1 turns out to be $15.80 instead of $14); bet $1,700 to win on Za Approval at 8-1 to get back at least $15,300; $1,400 on Mr. Commons at 10-1 for at least $15,400; $1,000 on Skyring at 15-1 ($16,000), and $500 on Willyconker at 30-1 ($15,500).

That’s a personal investment of $8,000 and yes, that means he’d “profit” on the $15,000 “stake” by only $7,000 to $9,000 if there’s an upset, and walk away “only” $16,000 to the good, instead of $24,000, if Wise Dan wins at 3-5. But isn’t that better than going home with nothing but a free lunch, a Saratoga baseball cap, and a sad story if Wise Dan loses?

Campaign advice

As for all the debate about whether Wise Dan should be running in Grade 2 turf miles such as the Firecracker and Fourstardave instead of the Whitney or the Woodward and eventually the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I think some fans and the gelding’s defensive owner, Morton Fink, are missing the point. Fink is not obligated to run Wise Dan in the country’s best and most important races, and if he wants to try to keep winning the same turf miles every year, that’s entirely his prerogative.

What he can’t do is assume that redundant campaigns entitle Wise Dan to retain his Horse of the Year title year after year, because that ignores the fact that Wise Dan got the award somewhat by default last year, and I say that having voted for him. Had Game On Dude won the Classic or had Point of Entry won the Turf, either would have been more deserving.

This is no knock at all on Wise Dan, a very good racehorse, but by staying within a narrow band and running only on America’s secondary surface, his accomplishments in turf miles will by definition not match up with those of classic-distance horses at year’s end unless there is chaos among the best 10-furlong dirt horses and turf routers.