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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM


By the end of the 2005 Saratoga meet New York racing officials began to realize that if their Saratoga product was going to stem the tide of smaller fields and the inherent difficulty of filling enough races to complete the 36 days of racing they had expanded to and the 40 days they were considering for the future (which came to bear a few years later), they were going to have to find a way to get more horseman to enter more horses.

It is impossible to know if it was by committee that they shouted it or if one individual came up with the idea…but, EUREKA…the 5 ½ furlong turf sprint was added to the mix.

The main difficulty with running turf sprints at Saratoga is the layout of neither the Mellon Turf Course (a one mile oval) or the Inner Turf Course (a 7 furlong oval) suits itself to running a 6 furlong sprint. Up until the decision was made to card 5 ½ furlong turf races, logistically the shortest distance that one could be run at was 7 furlongs. Based on where the gate would have to be placed for a 6 furlong sprint the start would have needed to be run on a turn, something that is not possible. At least with 7 furlongs there is a bit of a straightaway out of the chute, but even those logistics are difficult so few of them are carded. Hence the 5 ½ furlong turf sprint that begins on the straightaway down the backstretch.

(What Kind Of Horses Run In These Sprints?)

What kind of horses might seem to be a very general question, but it is an important starting point because since the inception of the race the entrants collectively comprise a number of different challenges to a handicapper. For instance:

Does the race contain one or more definitive grass speed horses that have shown by running well in 6 furlong or 7 furlong turf sprints at Belmont or by showing sustainable pace setting, pressing or stalking speed at 5 and 5 ½ furlong turf races at locations such as Monmouth or Churchill Downs that they are a good fit at Saratoga?

Does the race contain (in the view of the handicapper) one or more horses that are shortening up after showing speed and fading in 7 furlong, mile or mile and a sixteenth grass races against rivals that have either failed to have an impact in turf races, are racing on turf for the first time after showing good tactical speed in dirt sprints or are returning from a layoff and using the race as a prep for a two turn grass race that they have shown a preference for.

On the other hand, are one or more trainers (a bit more so in maiden races than races for winners) hoping that a try in one of these turf sprints will turn around a runner that has failed to show anything either running longer on turf or dirt or sprinting on dirt?

There are many more handicapping considerations to be made as to the "intentions of the connections" but it is best to keep an open mind regarding how well meant many or most of the entrants are because of all the races run at the different distances over the different surfaces, evidence shows that in the 5 ½ furlong turf race there are two different results at work.

(The Favorite Or The Outsider)

We could have put a question mark after the above subhead, as in; would you be comfortable just betting the favorite in every turf sprint at Saratoga?

Actually, based on 5 ½ furlong turf sprint evidence over the last three years, the answer to all but a very few bettors would be NO to the FAVORITE and YES to the OUTSIDER.

First the figures for the last 3 years of 5 ½ furlong turf sprints:

NOTE: On average about 60 or so such races are carded each year. The discrepancy in the number of races catalogued below is due to how much rain was received each year and how many races were transferred from the turf to the main track. Last year was a particularly dry year at the Spa, one which they hope for every year.

2012 – 55 Races…22 Favorites…33 Outsiders
Average Winning Price For The 22 Favorites - $5.91
Average Winning Price For The 33 Non-Favorites - $19.51
Average Winning Non-Favorites Broke Down As Follows:
9 Second-Favorites…4 Third-Favorites…4 Fourth-Favorites…7 Fifth-Favorites…2 Sixth-Favorites…3 Seventh Favorites…3 Eight Favorites…1 Ninth-Favorite.

2011 – 40 Races…13 Favorites…27 Outsiders
Average Winning Price For The 13 Favorites - $6.23
Average Winning Price For The 27 Non-Favorites - $21.32
Average Winning Non-favorites Broke Down As Follows:
5 Second-Favorites…6 Third-Favorites…4 Fourth Favorites…1 Fifth Favorite…3 Sixth-Favorites…3 Seventh Favorites...4 Eighth-Favorites…1 Ninth-Favorite.

2010 – 45 Races…15 Favorites…30 Outsiders
Average Winning Price For The 15 Favorites - $5.55
Average Winning Price For The 30 Non-Favorites - $19.05
Average Winning Non-favorites Broke Down As Follows:
10 Second-Favorites…5 Third-Favorites…7 Fourth Favorites…3 Fifth Favorite…4 Sixth-Favorites…0 Seventh Favorites...1 Eight-Favorites.

Of course from on pure energy level it is easy to say DON’T BET THE FAVORITE, even if you don’t bet the race. Only an actuarial would find delight in waiting by the teller’s window or sitting online waiting until the final minute before betting the post time favorite without even looking at the past performances. Now of course the actuarial would have made money in 2012 when 22 of the 55 races had winning favorites at an average mutual of $5.91. He’d have wagered $110.00 and gotten back $130.10, which is quite a nice R.O.I. of 18%.

In 2011 had he bet the favorite in all 40 of the races under study you would have won 13 of them at an average mutuel of $6.23 (well above the overall national average of between $5.50 and $5.70 paid in all races by all favorites) which means you’d have bet 40 times at $2 ($80) and gotten back $81.29. That R.O.I. amounts to about 1.5%.

In 2010 Ebenezer would have had a tough go at it as his 15 favorites at an average mutuel of $5.55 from 45 races would have meant a $90 investment for an $83.25 return. Add the three years together and the total results are $280 invested for a $294.64 return. Yes that is a positive return on investment of .052. So if you are happy betting thoroughbreds and getting that kind of return…read no further.

Hurley C.A.S.H. Racing Program

If on the other hand you are reading on, take a look at a bit of perspective as to betting the favorite every time and getting a positive R.O.I. of 5%.

For instance, had your followed the same "actuarial terms" last year, but instead of applying it to the favorite had instead done so with the Fifth-Favorite on every race you would have won 7 times out of 55 for a gross return of $146.00.That means your R.O.I. would have been a whopping 32.7%. And if you bet the Eighth-Favorite on all of the 49 races in which as many as 8 faced the starter you would have won only 3 times but collected a total of $135.40 for $98 wagered, which is an R.O.I. of 38.2%. But in 2011 the fifth-favorite won but once. However, that year the eighth-favorite was once again a cash-cow, winning 4 times and returning a total of $194.80 for the 38 wagers with 8 or more horses. That meant with $76.00 wagered the profit was $118.80 or about a 160% R.O.I. However, before you go setting up to play the eighth favorite in 2013 it is worth looking back to 2010 when just one eighth-favorite won or 2009 when only 2 likewise created a negative return.

That is why, small potatoes or big balloons notwithstanding, this article assumes that for the acute majority of bettors, such actuarial process is not only boring beyond reason, but also completely impractical because it demands that the wager is made right up against post time in each and every case.

So let’s move forward; and before you say YEAH BUT, it is duly noted that OF COURSE one has to pick the RIGHT NON-FAVORITE in order to cash in. But given that the bettor has a modicum of handicapping ability, let’s see exactly how successful one really has to be in order to make the numbers work.

Returning to the average NON-FAVORITE payoff of $19.85 (overall average for the three years in question) and repeating the assumption that the bettor is a decent enough handicapper to uncover a few of those longshots, what would the success ratio have to be?

Even at a minimum of 2-3 correct decisions out of 15 bets the R.O.I. is well beyond satisfactory.

15 Bets = $30…2 Winners at $19.85 each is $39.70…a profit of $9.70 which is an R.O.I. of 32.3%. 15 Bets = $30…3 Winners at $19.85 each is $59.55…you have almost doubled your money.

Before closing it is worth noting that the 5 ½ furlong turf sprint was used as an example for this approach because those races are generally full in both number of runners and value. Not all races at all distances or on all surfaces at Saratoga are as generous. These sprints averaged 9 horses per race with 16 featuring between 10 and 12 horses. Mile and mile and a sixteenth turf races also fit the bill so you might be well rewarded to digest what was just offered.

It does take a certain frame of mind to be willing to accept a number of "live" losers in order to find a solid R.O.I. but the contention here is that you’ll find that following the NON-FAVORITE is quite FAVORABLE.

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