• 23 races and we'll make a big fuss

    POSTED Feb 21, 2012
    The TwinSpires.com Triple Crown Showdown is your classic game in which a simple task is made harder by repetition.

    Successfully pick one horse to show and maybe double your money; successfully pick 23 to show and win $1-million.

    Succeeding at picking a horse to show is the easiest bet to cash in horse racing. There are instances in which a horse has a 95% chance of finishing third or better. What adds to the challenge of the Triple Crown Showdown is that you don't get to pick your spots.

    Still, it's reasonable to expect that a good handicapper studying typically formful races (even if longshots have prevailed on the Derby Trail in the win spot the past two years, favorites don't necessarily tank) can successfully pick a horse to show at least 50% of the time.

    That $1-million prize might not seem like a lot for 23 consecutive even money horses, and at first blush the odds play that out. The chance that something with a 50% chance of happening (i.e. an even money shot) will happen 23 consecutive times is 8,388,607-to-1. Meaning a $20 show parlay across 23 races with each successful wager paying $4 would theoretically return $167-million, but you could never win that much money in the pari-mutuel system because by the time you got to through a dozen races you'd be creating minus show pools. Suddenly your $4 return comes back $2.10 or $2.20 depending on the state (e.g., Arkansas has a minimum payout of $2.20).

    And the better the prices you get early, the quicker you get to that diminishing returns threshold. If you somehow managed to find horses who paid $6 to show, you'd be creating minus pools by the eighth race in the sequence. This introduces an interesting dichotomy: So long as you're alive for the $1-million prize, the correct play is to take the horse most likely to hit the board, even if that horse offers the worst value to show in that particular race. Ultimately the value is in going for the $1-million, not for cashing 5-to-2 on a horse to show who should have been 2-to-1.

    The Risen Star kicks off the 23-race quest and illustrates the above paradox perfectly. El Padrino is clearly the horse most likely to hit the board, but questions about his ability to handle a fast surface and/or not to bounce off a freakish performance in allowance company while now contesting stakes foes are legitimate ones. He is likely to be an underlay in the win pool and at $2.40 to show doesn't really offer much value there, but survival is the name of the game to win the $1-million, so he's clearly the choice against this bunch to finish third or better.

    Of course, there's still plenty to play for even if you're out of the running for the $1-million, as $10,000 will be up for grabs for those who make at least one successful show wager among the 20 prep races AND sweep the Triple Crown series. So 23 straight winning show bets for $1-million or four winning show bets (including all three Triple Crown races) for a share in a $10,000 prize pool.

    For those wondering, the $1-million is paid out as a 40-year annuity or there is a cash option. Sadly, the winner will not receive a crisp $1-million bill, but if s/he did, we'd probably put Todd Pletcher's face on there.
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