Photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire.
Last year the New York State Racing Fan Advisory Council attended racetracks all over New York and met with fans to survey their opinions about horse racing and the industry in the state. They held public, town-hall style meetings and even manned tables at the track in an effort to get viewpoints from as wide a variety of race fans as possible. At the end of the year they issued a report to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board with their findings and recommendations.
The report has a lot of stuff in it about the experience fans have while at the racetrack: long lines, lack of wi-fi, inability to resell tickets, or lack of twilight racing in the summer months. When it came to gambling, however, the racing fans of New York only had one real complaint for the council – why can’t we bet more Grand Slams? And the council agrees with them. One of the recommendations they make in the report is that New York implement a rolling Grand Slam.
The Grand Slam is a bet offered here at New York tracks once a day, usually with the second-to-last race on the card as the final race of the sequence. You have to pick a horse to hit the board (finish first, second, OR third) in the first three races, then pick the winner cold in the fourth and final race. It is a lot easier to win than the far more popular pick 4, but the payoffs are also much, much lower.
The lower payouts are due to two factors. First, the pools in this bet are a lot smaller than the pools in the pick 4. There’s a lot less money for winners to split up. Second, because everyone with a ticket with any of the top three horses in the first legs is paid, there are a lot more winning tickets chopping up the pool.
I know people who think this bet is a huge sucker play and others who swear they never miss a chance to play it. I think the reason for the bet is to get more casual players interested in multi-race wagers – bets that depend on the outcome of multiple races rather than the finishers in one specific race. The pick 4 and the pick 6 are popular because of large six- and sometimes seven-figure pools but are very hard to beat without large investments. The Grand Slam gives a $1 player a lot more ways to be in action through four races. A less intimidating bet than the similar pick 4, the Grand Slam is a gateway drug to the big show.
I love playing the pick 3, 4, and 6 so much that I rarely play anything else these days.
MULTI-RACE WAGERS USUALLY PROVIDE A HEALTHY RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Like a complete degenerate, once I cashed my first four-figure pick 4 ticket I was never again excited about a $150 exacta. Not to mention I find it far easier to handicap a horse to win a race than to try to predict the exact order that multiple horses competing for first will eventually finish in a race. I can, however, see one upside to playing the Grand Slam.
If there’s a horse in the last leg of the Grand Slam that I’m confident will win, and I’m worried that everyone else at the track knows it too and won’t let it out of the gate at any kind of a decent price, then I could see betting a Grand Slam with that horse and a handful of bomb longshots (or at least just less-chalky horses) and hope I can snag something better than the win price. It won’t always be possible. I’ve heard plenty of stories of Grand Slams paying out less than a $2 win ticket on the final leg pays. To me, that seems like quite a long walk to just get the high hat in the feature.
For those horseplayers who told the Advisory Council they need more chances each day to play this bet, however, I would suggest the following – parlay.
Essentially, the Grand Slam requires you to keep up a successful show parlay through three races then let it ride on a win bet in the fourth. Except you don’t get the parlay money, you get your share of the Grand Slam pool instead. This could be a boon or it could be a bust, depending on how the chalk horses made out in each leg.
Take the Feb. 10 Grand Slam at Aqueduct for example. It paid $66 on a $2 ticket. Not bad considering at $2 win ticket on Here’s Zealicious in the 8th race would have paid you $12. But let’s assume instead of playing the Grand Slam you just parlayed (bet $2 to show then invested your total winnings into a show bet on the next race and so on and so forth) your winnings instead. If you had picked the lowest-odds horses in each leg and also had the winner cold in the 8th, you’d have made yourself only about $30, so a little less than half your Grand Slam takeout. But come on, you deserve it. Why don’t you live a little and bet something other than the stone-cold favorite for once you gutless munch? Now if you had the longest-price horse in each of the first three legs, you went in to the 8th race with about ten bucks to bet on Here’s Zealicious, which would have nabbed you $120, almost double the Grand Slam payout. And now you feel like a real sucker, don’t you?
The point isn’t that parlaying your bets is better than betting the Grand Slam. Sometimes it will be and sometimes it won’t be. (I think most of the time it will be, but it isn’t like I have a spreadsheet or anything to back that up, so let’s just go with my middling position here.) My point is that all you junkies who convinced the Advisory Council you need more ways to play the Grand Slam basically already have a way to play it on every single four-race combination on the card, give or take a little dead money in the pot.