For non-football fans, the title is a play on a famous press conference given by NFL coach Jim Mora after his Colts lost to the 49ers in a 2001 contest. After a full minute of a paintpeeling description of his inept offense, Mora reacts to a question about his team’s playoffs chance with his now-famous “PLAYOFFS? You’re talking PLAYOFFS? You kiddin’ me? I just hope this team can win another game!” This tirade was later made famous when used in a series of Coors commercials that used soundbites of NFL coaches. (Go to Google and type in “Jim Mora playoffs You Tube” to see his priceless reaction.)
I thought about Mora and his famous phrase after examining the fourth race at Meadowlands Racetrack last Thursday night, and the payoff prices on the superfecta and trifecta, which were alien territory for the handicapper/bettor who learned his basic lessons a decade or more ago.
There were 308,460 10-cent superfecta tickets sold on that race. “308,460 dime combinations” is already into spookyland for most people, but we have to think in those terms these days because the basic unit bet of a superfecta combination for the Jersey track is 10 cents, no matter what full total costs of bets our particular jurisdictions may require its bettors to reach its rulebook. So “308,460 dimes” is the same as saying that “$30,846 was bet on the superfecta.” After takeout and the fractionalization of breakage, there was $24,637.73 left for return to bettors.
How do I know that? Because the Meadowlands lists its superfecta payouts in 10 cent dominations, and that’s what the winner got -- the entire pool for a dime bet!
Which means that among the original 308,460 dime combinations on the race, only ONE said “10-1-9-5,” the winning numbers. A 300,000 to 1 shot hit at the harness races -- you know, those “jugheads” where the payoffs are no good? Everyone knew the Meadowlands was trumpeting its big fields and good payoffs, but 300,000 to 1?!? You kiddin’ me?
Some people will be wondering “Well, why didn’t he mention the odds of the horses that came in in that race?” Well, the fourth horse was 21-1; I was saving the top three for my trifecta examination.
To me, who thinks that value for relative odds is the key to winning at harness racing betting, trifecta betting was seldom a good wager: you contend with an often-higher takeout, and worst of all, you didn’t have any real idea what your payout was going to be. There are no “probable payoffs” I know of for trifectas, except for the “lead runner” (a Thoroughbred term) ticket screens on TV, which is only valuable if there is a deviation from the pattern of the win odds.
In the old days, a trifecta could be a good bet when you thought there was a “cold” exacta in a race, because the sport had taught the public about trifectas with a heavy emphasis on “boxing” the bet -- getting six combinations at $1 each, instead of buying the base $2 or $3 ticket. If you thought you had the top two down, value could be had in a trifecta by playing the cold two on top of many of the logical contenders -- because the “box bets” had to have horses outside the top two in a win position, which as far as our considered value were wasted bets, and the effort was often more rewarding than betting a cold exacta.
Once at Rosecroft, in the last days of the “Betman” concept carried over from Freestate, I thought 5-3 was a cold number in a race where I had the Betman duty, and that the 4 had no shot to make the top three. So in a seven horse field, I recommended 5 over 3 over 1/2/6/7 -- a $4 basic unit bet, and hoped the trifecta theory mentioned above would prevail. As luck would have it, the longest shot in the race came in third, and the trifecta paid $63.90 for $3, which was $21.30 for our $4 investment. The 5-3 exacta paid $6.20, so on a basic $4 bet we had a $21.30 payoff vs. a $12.40 payoff -- which is a 70 percent rise in profitability. If you had cashed for 70 percent more in the races you did cash, say, last year, you might have made a profit!
I mention this example in regards to this race at the Meadowlands and today’s relearning of old betting theories, because the first three horses were 33-1, 90-1, and 3-5, respectively. In the old days, this sort of finish was known as a “save the a---s of the box player” finish, because those playing straight numbers wouldn’t have the longshots up top, but a box would get you the longshots on top of your heavy favorite, and thus a “lucky” winning ticket, even if conventional wisdom, as in the Rosecroft example, would deem much of this wager bad value.
The 10-1 exacta paid $2,773.00, which was about right, and I thought the trifecta would pay about $6,000 since some of the backers of the 3-5 shot would have lucked into the winning number in their box tickets. But the trifecta, surprisingly to me, paid $17,693.40! Now here was some news to an “old-school” handicapper -- were/are trifecta boxes “out-of-vogue”? I bet 20 years ago the trifecta would have paid much less, because of the then-emphasis on boxing -- is there a betting trend in evolution here, where “boxing tri’s” has fallen out of favor?
So that’s how a handicapper/bettor saw Thursday’s fourth race at the Meadowlands, with one more thought -- at “racinos,” with our casino partners next to us always talking about astounding payoffs, why can’t we trumpet the fact that 300,000-1 shots DO come in at the harness races?
(POSTSCRIPT: To my best determination, Jim Mora is no longer in football. Unless some tricky lawyers in Denver already have voodoo on paper about Coors’s “rights” (to footage not their own), why doesn’t some enterprising track contact Mora and have him do a commercial about the good “PAYOFFS!” at your track? Just send me the 10 percent check for creative consulting -- that’d be about the right payoff.)
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