Jun 5 2018

The ABC’s of Surviving Belmont Stakes Day – Wagering Strategies

I chose the term “surviving” with intent.  Whether Belmont Stakes, Kentucky Derby, Travers Stakes, or Breeders’ Cup Day … all of these “event days” have one thing in common – they are marathons with a dozen races or more that start in the morning and end past suppertime.  Even for the most experienced horseplayers, event  days test your endurance in ways that an ordinary day at the track does not.

On more than one occasion, I have found myself completely “out of gas” before the main event even took place.  For this reason, I have been refining an approach that is intended to help me (and you) make it through these days intact.  First, let me say, some of the strategies I am going to suggest are ones I would not necessarily use on normal race days.  The reason for this is simple, the challenges you face on “event” days are formidable and they require adaptations that will help you deal with them.  Among the many challenges are the following:

  1. There are a lot more races.
  2. There are a lot more horses in those races.
  3. Those horses are often coming from every corner of the country – ridden by unfamiliar jockeys and trained by trainers you’ve only heard about.
  4. Distractions abound. Gigantic crowds, long betting lines, long beer lines, and even longer bathroom lines.

So, my first suggestion is borrowed from Henry David Thoreau … Simplify, simplify, simplify.  Start by doing the bulk of your handicapping prior to post time.  This will enable you to do the following:

  1. Identify the races that are the most playable.
  2. Identify the races that you will likely take a “Pass” on.  I know this is anathema to many horseplayers, but strongly advised here.
  3. Identify the A-B-C horses in every race that you consider playable.

The last item on this list is the setup for the next phase of our survival guide.  For more experienced players, it is not to be confused with Steve Crist’s A-B-C methodology of planning for multi-race wagers (e.g. Pick-4, Pick-6, etc.).  For our purpose, based upon your handicapping, give a designation to each horse in a race based upon the following criteria.

A-B-C Description
A One of the most likely winners of the race.
B If the -A- horses falter, one of the next most likely winners (or) they have a decent shot of finishing in-the-money.
C An unlikely Win-Place horse, but good enough to finish in the lowest rungs (3rd or 4th ).
X Very unlikely to finish in the money, or even in the lowest rungs of exotic bets.

Now let’s consider the type of wagers available, and divide them into two categories. Odds dependent (OD) and Who-Cares-About-odds (WCAO).  I chose this term because when I used to try to teach an old buddy about “value” wagers and odds, he would reply “Who cares about the odds … I just want the winner!”

For the purposes of this article, we are going to limit the discussion to Intra-race wagers and Doubles and leave more complex  Multi-race wagers (e.g. Pick-4, Pick-6) for another day.  Again, simplify.

Wager OD WCAO Comments
Win-Place-Show Yes No Even ‘A’ horses might be passed if their odds are less than fair.  ‘B’ horses might be considered for WPS if their odds represent good value.
Exacta Yes No A quick look at Exacta probable payouts can help to decide if certain combinations are being overbet. Often the top two favorites will fall into this category.
Trifecta No Yes Maybe “who cares” is a bit strong, but since you can’t see probable payouts for Trifectas and they involve more complex combinations than WPS or Exacta wagers, let’s not get hung up on what the actual odds are for the majority of these bets.
Superfecta No Yes Essentially the same comments as Trifecta wagers.
Doubles Yes No Similar to Exactas, the probable payouts for Daily Doubles are readily available.  Once again, combinations of heavily bet favorites are often overbet in the doubles pool.

Now,  let’s devise a strategy to manage the chaos that will inevitably unfold on race day.  Make a list of your playable races and to the right of them define your A-B-C designations by horse number.  Below is an example, keeping in mind the race and horse numbers are purely hypothetical for the purpose of illustration.  Note, within each category, horse numbers should be listed in order of preference from left to right.

Race No. A’s B’s C’s A-B Pattern
#2 6,4 7,2 9 AA-BB
#4 6,2,3 11,8 1,4 AAA-BB
#5 1 4,8,5 11,12 A-BBB
#7 8,10 2,6,5 AA-BBB
#8 5,3 8,9 2,10 AA-BB
#9 4,8,2,1 5 7 AAAA-B
#10 6 9,2 3,5,10 A-BB
#12 7,2,3 4 1,9 AAA-B

From the chart, you can see that I’ve decided that races #1, #3, and #6 are unplayable.  Any number of reasons might cause me to make this choice.  Listed below are possible reasons I might consider a race to be unplayable.

  • A maiden race with too many first-time-starters and no good trainer statistics or breeding angles to hang my hat on.
  • Any race where multiple horses are coming off long layoffs and their current form is just too much in question.
  • A turf race gets washed off and moved to a dirt surface, where too many runners have unknown dirt ability.
  • A race lands in my scheduled beer break time.  Sometimes it’s best to just plan for these in advance!

Continuing on. The A-B pattern is just a visual representation of the ‘A’ and ‘B’ horses you are making in a race.  For example, AA-BB simply means you have two ‘A’ horses and two ‘B’ horses.   After getting in the habit of doing this for awhile, you will begin to spot automatic plays that you prefer to make based upon the patterns.  When I see AAA-BB, I instinctively think: 5-horse Superfecta box (10-cent) combining all of my A-B horses for $12.  Some of my best hits over the years have been on Superfecta wagers from this simple pattern.

The actual wagers you come up with will vary based upon your own personal style, habits, and bankroll.  Utilizing two of the races (#5 and #7) from the imaginary races listed above, I will give you some samples just to get you thinking about the possibilities.

AB Pattern Wagers2

Sample of some possible WCAO Wagers

A presumption in the examples above is that the field sizes are moderate to large (10+ horses).  Wagers shown as samples here might not be cost effective in short fields.  Also, to learn more about the wagers listed above, click on the following links for articles that contain detailed explanations.

Now, back to the original intent … to simplify.  Here is where you focus on creating your WCAO wagers in advance of your OD wagers.  Sometimes I put all of the WCAO wagers in as soon as I have all the scratches and get them done before my first playable race even begins.  Other times I just put them in race-by-race, but I get them done early without worrying about the odds board.  This gives me the peace of mind to focus on the OD (odds dependent) wagers next … leading right up to post time.

Regarding the above examples, you might have noticed that I put in some Exacta and Double wagers, despite labeling them as OD (Odds Dependent) type of wagers above.  This is an example of an adaptation I might make on “Event” days in order to simplify my OD wagers.  For example, I might just go ahead and make the AA-AA crisscross doubles early and be done with them.  On busy days it’s easy to get distracted and either forget to look or look once and loose sight of them later.  This has happened to me many times.

In the Race #5 example above, where I made an Exacta box with the three ‘B’ horses in the A-BBB pattern, I highly recommend treating this as a WCAO wager if you expect your ‘B’ horses to go off at square prices and the ‘A’ horse to be overbet.

All of the above efforts were done in the interest of simplifying your Odds Dependent (OD) wagers.  Ideally, you would save your Win-Place-Show wagers until the latest possible time. One technique I use to help me quickly identify my possible WPS wagers in the final minutes before post time is to write the odds directly below my A-B-C program numbers.  For example:

ABC with Live Odds

In the above example, it becomes easy to spot two horses of particular interest.  #7 is my top selection and is twice the odds of my other ‘A’ horse, #2.  Also, #3 is my 4th choice, but is going off at 16-1 odds … a square price for a horse good enough to be labeled as a ‘B’.

In addition to Win-Place-Show wagers, you might want to hold off on some of your Exacta or Double wagers until you can see the probable payout amounts.  Depending on the odds, you might choose to employ a strategy of Weighted Wagers rather than simply boxing or playing your Doubles for equal amounts.  Click here to read a prior article that explains the concept of Weighted Wagers.


The main goal should not only be to survive, but to THRIVE on these crazy days.  It just takes some discipline and planning.  Here is a recap of the steps I have described above.

  1. Get your handicapping done early, well in advance of your first playable race.
  2. Identify the races you consider playable.
  3. Label your A-B-C horses in the races you consider playable.
  4. Construct your WCAO wagers based upon A-B patterns.
  5. Make your WCAO wagers as early as possible.  Putting in a 10-cent Superfecta Part-Wheel minutes before post is stressful (for you and the people behind you in line).
  6. Mark down the live odds, adjacent to your A-B-C selections.
  7. Check the probable payouts for your expected Exacta and Double wagers and make Weighted Wagers if appropriate.
  8. Make your Win-Place-Show wagers (ideally minutes before post time).
  9. Watch the race.
  10. Cash your winning tickets.
  11. Sip a cold beer.
  12. Turn the page and repeat steps.


Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit

7 comments on “The ABC’s of Surviving Belmont Stakes Day – Wagering Strategies

  1. I treat the big days like a party! Here are my tips:
    Arrange for a ride to and from the track.
    Start drinking before noon.
    Bet double or triple your normal handle.
    Bet every race. It’s what we do.
    Go in with the mindset that you’re probably going to lose your whole bankroll and any wins is a bonus.
    You have to play the Pick 4 on these days because the pools are full from minor players and if a favorite or two gets beat the payouts are often very generous.
    Related to the above map out the Pick 4 ticket by noon and put it in before your 3rd beer … you’ll be too drunk to put it in correctly later in the day.
    Get up next day and regret all your stupid decision making.
    And, no matter how much you lose, when asked how you did … reply “I almost broke even.”

  2. I like Vince’s plan sounds like he hangs out with my group, I am still sour wicked strong got beat, cost me in several multiple ways.

  3. I actually saved this article last year and reviewed it yesterday. Thanks for the great advice. Its always a good idea to have a plan and be prepared even if you are watching at home.

  4. Neal, missed you in Albany..drats! hopefully you”ll have another talk ,soon ?..losing my shirt here, but its all good..i read all of your stuff, but i make the same mistakes, over n over..hope that your are doing well..thanks once more for all of your clear and conscious posts !

    walter vizszarsky on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *