Royal Delta, in last year's Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, would have been a good opportunity to single in a multi-race wager. She was razor sharp entering the race and defeated seven challengers - a fairly small field by Breeders' Cup standards - as the overwhelming 1.70-to-1 favorite. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
Betting multi-race wagers like the pick three, pick four, and pick six are not only some of the best wagers you can make at the track, they also are often the most fun. Having a live multi-race wager ticket through multiple legs is exciting. Having a live one on the final leg once you see the will-pays is about as fun as it gets at the racetrack. But how do you get enough horses on a multi-race ticket so that you can survive to the final leg? There are a lot of answers to that question, but only one that won’t put you in the poorhouse: you are going to have to single somewhere.
Putting multiple horses on each leg of a multi-race ticket (the “caveman” approach, as dubbed by the Daily Racing Form’s Steve Crist, the authority on multi-race wagers) can be very costly, and astronomically so the more legs there are to the sequence.
In order to limit the amount of money you’re going to need to spend to give yourself a chance to stay alive, you’re going to need to pick one or more legs to “single,” or just pick one horse to win. For every race you single, you essentially reduce the ticket by a leg. If you single one leg of the pick four, you’re spending money on the horses you pick in the other three legs, making it cost the same as a pick three.
Not many races are good candidates for singling, though. And the ones that are often are no secret, which means everyone else at the racetrack is singling it, too.
Still, when a single situation presents itself, take it.
ZENYATTA WAS OFTEN SINGLED BY HANDICAPPERS DURING HER CAREER
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Don’t single in large fields - this should be obvious. The more horses, the deeper you’re going to want to go on it. This means any race with 10 or more horses is absolutely not a single candidate. And races with eight or nine horses probably are borderline. Look for a race with six or seven horses. That’s the sweet spot.
Don’t single a longshot - again, a no-brainer. The ideal candidate for singling a horse is a race where your single horse is one that you feel extremely confident in it’s chances. This doesn’t mean that you only single the favorite, however. You just want to avoid singling horses with really long odds.
When singling favorites, lean towards odds-on. I often find myself singling a horse that is the second or third choice on the odds board over the favorite - not so much because I want to beat the favorite and get a bigger price, but because my handicapping often just works out that way. The horse that I feel strongly about ends up being the public’s second or third choice! There’s nothing to fear when your horse has respectable but not favorite status with the betting public. Trust your own handicapping judgment first and foremost.
However, the farther a favorite falls below even-money, the more likely I am to single that horse. Whenever a horse is worse than even money, that horse is the “odds-on” favorite. If the public is piling on in a dramatic way, perhaps it is time to take note and to line up with the rest of the racetrack behind a horse.
Pick in the dark - try to handicap the race before you look at the morning-line odds. See if you can identify a single horse based purely on field size and the strength of your confidence in the horse. THEN look at the odds on the toteboard. If the horse you felt strongest about is also a huge favorite in a race, then pat yourself on the back for identifying the stand-alone talent in the race and single. If the horse is at a longer price than you thought, go back and look again. Maybe you missed something.
Of course, if you go back and look again and still feel strongly, then GO FOR IT! Trust your gut first and foremost. But often I find when this situation comes up that I find a glaring piece of information that I missed the first time around.
Most importantly, make sure that in the races where you DO spread it around a bit that you get down on a couple of longshots. When your single hits, it often hits for everyone else at the track, too. You’re going to need to hit a bomb or two to separate yourself from the pack and cash a big one! An all-chalk pick four that includes an odds-on favorite in a small field can sometimes pay less than the cost of your ticket. That’s not a fun situation to be in. You need to beat the chalk eventually. The trick is to pick the races where you want the chalk to win and pick the ones where you think the favorite is phony.
And finally, go big in the last leg. The final leg of big multi-race sequences is often the toughest race to pick - a big field or a maiden race or both. Structure your ticket in a way that you can afford to go deep in the last leg. If you survive that far, you want to be covered in a lot of spots. It’s far better to die early on a multi-race ticket than to survive to the end only to have a single horse and watch him whiff. But maybe that’s just me.
Remember, the will pays get posted before the final leg, so you can see what you stand to win if one of your chosen horses comes in. Often this presents opportunities to hedge your bet. You can get additional money down on the horses you didn’t cover on your multi-race ticket so that you can guarantee a win no matter who wins the race. Some people say this is the coward’s way out. But try it and you might find that you see the horse race from an entirely new perspective. Not giving a damn who wins the race is a blissful state of mind. It allows the gambler to fully appreciate the subtle beauty of this wonderful game.
THE BREEDERS' CUP SPRINT OFTEN IN A GOOD RACE TO USE MULTIPLE HORSES
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire