I’m making my first-ever trip to Churchill Downs this week for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 2-3. My coverage of this event goes beyond the beauty and pageantry of racing’s biggest event of the year. I’m a sports handicapper and analyst and provide some coverage for Twinspires and Churchill Downs on betting the races and sports. And like sports betting, finding value and betting it will provide more profit when playing the ponies.
The Breeders’ Cup consists of 14 races with prize pools from $1 to $6 million totaling more than $30 million. Full fields of 14 horses in all but one of the races provides the opportunity for more winners at bigger prices and odds. And this year, the expanded menu will include head-to-head matchups and increased betting opportunities which should prove to be very popular.
Future Stars Friday
A record 221 horses were pre-entered for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The final entrants, post positions and odds were determined on Monday. All of the races on the Breeders’ Cup card each year play a critical role in determining year-end champions in the respective divisions.
For the first time in Breeders’ Cup history, the championships will have all the 2-year-old races on opening day Nov. 2, dubbed “Future Stars Friday.” These five juvenile races are part of the expanded wagering menu that will include the “Future Stars Friday Pick 5,” where horse players can bet on the top-5 finishers in correct order for each race. A difficult wager to hit, the payoffs can be big and multi-million-dollar betting pools are nothing new to the Breeders’ Cup. The “Future Stars Friday Pick 5” will have a guaranteed pool of $1 million. There will be three additional Pick 5 wagering opportunities on Saturday, Nov. 3 when nine Breeders’ Cup races make up the biggest racing day of the year. The late Pick 5 on Saturday has a $2 million guaranteed prize pool and includes the $6 million Classic, which will have a carryover pool added if none of the first three Pick-5s produce a winner.
The Pick 5 is one of the most popular wagers in the country as it offers a $.50-cent minimum wager and a player-friendly 15% takeout, allowing more racing fans to take a shot at a bigger payday with less takeout. In addition, the Jackpot Super High 5 wager also with a $.50-cent minimum will be offered on every race on the Friday and Saturday cards, including the undercard races on Friday. If the bet goes unhit and there are no winning tickets, the carryover pool will continue to the next race, including into Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup card.
Head-to-Head wagering added
Sports bettors and racing fans familiar with head-to-head match-up wagering in golf, or wagers that have no point spread and are offered as an even-money proposition will certainly like having the head-to-head wagering option. For a $10 minimum wager with a 10% takeout rate, the Breeders’ Cup will select three head-to-head offerings Friday and four on Saturday. One will include the race favorite Accelerate in the $6 million Classic against a to-be-determined horse running in the race, perhaps one of the two Bob Baffert-trained colts West Coast or McKinzie. A bettor can simply bet on which horse will finish ahead of the other in a head-to-head match-up of a race.
Gambling on horse racing
The biggest gamble in horse racing is at the auctions, where people or groups of people and syndicates bid and buy horses hoping to score the next Triple Crown winner like Justify this year. But the odds are stacked against them and those racehorse owners or partners can spend millions on horses with a very low percentage of them ever running in a Triple Crown race of the Breeders’ Cup. Out of the 2,916 yearlings sold for $377 million at this year’s September yearling sale at Keeneland, an hour from Churchill Downs, 27 sold for at least $1 million.
“Lottery tickets are getting more expensive, and that’s basically what it is,” Baffert said. “… We all know at the end of the day, the percentage of them that’s going to be really good horses is pretty low. But it’s the dream, you know.”
And at the Breeders’ Cup, regular race fans can dream of a big score with less risk when wagering on the expanded Pick 5s or the exacta, trifecta, superfecta or Pick-6. Head-to-head match-up betting and win wagers will be popular for the horse players and fans, and add to the bottom line for the Breeders’ Cup. But the bottom line is to have fun, enjoy the entertainment and profit from the experience. A few winning wagers will help.