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For all the seasoned horseplayers out there, how many of us actually turn to the lowly show bet in the wide selection of betting opportunities before us? The show bet although scoffed by many as a silly or amateur play, can yield profits not easily discounted. Many full-time and professional players realize that a 20-25% return on investment (ROI) over the course of a year would be considered a success. Frequently, you will see exotic bets with there staggering potential balance out with unfortunate head bobs, and other race perils haunting our dreams as the “one that got away.” My goal is to provide you with some situations where this meek and overlooked bet can supplement your bankroll over the course of a season or meet.
After handicapping a card and targeting an exotic bet such as a Pick 4, my wife and I have began apportioning more capital towards straight bets on some of the individual races in the sequence. After locking up a significant portion of our daily bankroll in the exotic, we are careful when laying additional high-risk bets. As such, we are focusing on more win, place, and even show bets. As we have spent a significant amount of time handicapping and crafting an intelligent wager, our familiarity with the horses in the sequence gives us confidence; especially as the odds board begins to flash.
Many of the advanced deposit wagering (ADW) outlets not only display the various straight pools in dollars but also in percentage. By paying attention to the pool percentages, low-risk/high strike rate wagering opportunities can be easily and quickly discovered. We know the public is often the best handicapper out there, and determine the winner as the favorite roughly 33% of the time. In the examples described below, the horse in discussion was the favorite at post-time. If the public agreed on our assessment of the horse as standout in the win pool but overlooked the other straight pools, a favorable and lucrative betting opportunity was potentially at hand.
In his book, Money Secrets at the Racetrack, Barry Meadow describes the various opportunities that can arise based on the efficiency of the win pool odds relative to the odds in the straight pools for place and show. The disparity in the odds can arise either one or both latter pools. For the full table with an added edge I would direct you to this timeless betting classic. However, I will relate a few recent experiences identifying this shrewd betting opportunity. I do not see this at the NYRA or SoCal circuits often as computer betting frequently trolls this inefficiency in the pools. However, smaller tracks can be excellent examples of where to unearth these types of plays.
Last year near the end of the Remington Park quarter-horse meet, a horse at near 9/10 odds was coming to post. The horse looked near unbeatable unless something chaotic occurred. When I viewed his odds percentage in the show pool, it was near a dismal 18%! This means the public is telling me this horse has a 50% chance of winning but only 18% chance to show? How can this be and what do I do about it? Although I knew this is a prime opportunity, I quickly glance at my trusty yellow book to page 58 and discover Mr. Meadow’s decisive percentage for the play with an edge is at or below 25% in the show pool at win odds of 9/10 so I quickly enter in a show wager. As the horses left the gate, a few others saw this discrepancy and wagered as well. If memory serves me right, the final odds percentage in the show pool was at 20% and still under the 25% threshold as presented in Mr. Meadow’s book. The payout was $2.60 for every $2 wagered, or a 30% ROI. By no means am I saying that you are going to strike it rich on these types of bets, but they can supplement your bankroll and pad some of the losses we incur as regular horseplayers. As a caveat, one must not be overzealous as some pools may not be large enough to sustain a significant bet and your final odds plunge below the threshold of a positive opportunity.
I have seen multiple opportunities arise at my home track of Oaklawn in the same manner as previous described. They are usually favorites in the 2-1 or 5/2 win pool odds with show percentages in the 16 and 12 percent ranges, respectively. These are at or just below the percentages provided by Mr. Meadow’s book to initiate the bet. The 7th race on January 22, 2017 resulted in a favorite named Tiger Moth, No. 9, at 2/1 that overlayed in the show pool at 16% (Figure 1). In the end, Tiger Moth edged away and won by a length. The payouts indicated that both place and show bets returned an equivalent $3.60 for every $2 wagered (Figure 2). You received the same reward as placing and with a lower risk than just finishing in the top two spots. Coming to the post with the win pool at 25% but a show quite lower spurred the bet and resulted in an 80% ROI. A solid return and nothing to be sneered at.
Reading books such as Winning Thoroughbred Strategies from Dick Mitchell, Ph.D., has given me a new perspective on investment returns from the races. From a mathematical perspective utilizing expectation with the Tiger Moth race, you could expect a long-term return of 24.2% with the assumption that the favorite is in the money at 69% of the time. For those math gurus out there, the expectation expression calculated with these probabilities is E(x) = odds x P(w) – P(L). Betting 2-1 shots with the long-term potential of positive expectation is very encouraging. Granted, betting these show bets are not as sexy as the Pick 4,5, or 6 … but in the end, isn’t the true sign of success at the end of a horseplayer’s year a positive ROI?
This does get even better for those in Arkansas. If you were on-track and bet the Tiger Moth race at Oaklawn, you would have been the benefactor of a 100% ROI as they offered a new wagering item termed the Show Bet Bonus. This bonus is offered only available during the live Oaklawn meet and must be bet onsite. This bonus has laid another 10% approximately to winning show bets (Figure 2). Now the expectation expression has increased to 38% ROI. After each race, the Show Bet Bonus is displayed on the Oaklawn toteboard. This really helps show you the value of this inconspicuous bet as it now paid more than the place bet! See you at the post!
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