• Finding Value in Exactas

    POSTED Jun 23, 2011
    It’s happened to most of us, I'd guess. During the course of our handicapping, we find a horse we love — a steed that leaves us salivating like Doug Hutchison watching Miss Teen USA… with a pair of binoculars.

    Exhibiting all the eagerness of Snooki entering a house of mirrors, we can’t wait to plunk our money down. As the designated race draws nearer and nearer, visions of yacht parties with Donald Trump and Warren Buffet dance in our head. We order a hot dog at the racetrack/OTB concession stand — mainly just to pass the time — and then refuse it when we’re told that Gray Poupon mustard is not available and, no, the concessionaire does not offer a wine list.

    Finally, post time arrives… and our dreams are shattered. The love of our life, our wagering salvation, is a measly 1-5 on the tote. Depressed, we scan the board for other options, maybe bet our second choice and, then, watch in dismay as the 1-5 shot rolls by 10 lengths and sets a new track record in the process. With a depleted bankroll and dour spirits we make our way home and have a hot dog for dinner, minus the mustard we’re out.

    Sound familiar? Well, although such situations can be frustrating, they needn’t be devastating. Remember, at most racetracks, there’s an exacta or exactor (for my Canadian friends), which requires a bettor to pick the first- and second-place finishers in precise order, in nearly every race. Hence, with thoughtful wagering, a punter can improve his/her odds — at least in theory.

    But what is the best approach to betting the exacta? I decided to find out. Using a pool of 280 races run from 2004-present, I examined various techniques. I began by obtaining some preliminary numbers.

    Given that the point of this exercise is to increase one’s ROI — whether that ROI is positive or negative — and understanding that everyone’s handicapping skill varies, I focused on both morning line favorites (horses with the lowest pre-race odds) and morning line longshots (horses with the highest pre-race odds) in my study. I obtained the following results:


    Number (races): 290 (280)
    Winners: 108
    Rate: 37.2%
    Return: $520.40
    ROI: -10.3%
    Avg. Field Size: 9.2


    Number (races): 164 (164)
    Winners: 3
    Rate: 1.8%
    Return: $80.20
    ROI: -75.6%
    Avg. Field Size: 8.8

    Now, it should be noted that the above sample is hardly random. Rather, it is comprised of races rated 75 percent or higher on my Win Factor (computerized fair odds) line — races I’ve determined to be good betting affairs. This was not done on purpose, but instead, because I was too lazy to record exotic payoffs for all of the 6,000+ races in my database. However, the whole idea here is to see whether or not the base numbers can be improved upon with judicious exacta wagering. So, let’s see:

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    In some ways the data is stunning. Although I strongly suspect the biased sample contributed greatly to the positive ROI numbers (even wheeling the morning line favorite produced a 20.9 percent return on investment), the table above does drive home the point that value is generally derived by keying favorites or near-favorites with longer-priced steeds — and not the other way around.

    Derek Simon’s Free Weekend Win Factor Plays

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    BET(S): WIN on 4 at even (1-1) odds or greater.

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    BET(S): WIN & PLACE on 1/1A entry at odds of 3-5 or greater.

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    BET(S): WIN on 1 at odds of 4-5 or greater.
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