Inside the Mind of a Bet

They may have put an aftermarket spoiler on a vintage red Ferrari, but when you crank it up, you can still feel and hear the engines rumble.

There are some racetracks that just have a magically electric atmosphere to them as soon as you enter the gates. Saratoga has that as soon as you approach the town from the South and pass the Mohawk River Bridge. It amplifies as you approach the grounds and see the familiar grand mansions, barns, and racetrack itself. I have yet to visit a racetrack that has the feel of Saratoga, and I have been to most all over the world.

Whether it is the history, the epic performances, the legendary upsets, the champions of our game, both human and equine who have competed there, or the big scores doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s a combination of all of that, or even something else.

When NYRA announced the Saratoga meet was again being extended I saw it as a problem as the racing has already been watered down some from what it was in the past. That’s really a racing problem and not an isolated Saratoga problem you just feel it more at the Spa. That’s because longtime Saratoga bettors, horsemen, and fans have become spoiled. The 24 racing days of the “August” place to be was unrivaled even by meets like Royal Ascot. Those days are forever gone, but the desire for almost anyone in the Sport of Kings to win at Saratoga turns even a maiden claiming race into a competitive all-out affair. Everyone, including bettors, seem to try just a little bit harder at Saratoga. It brings out our best.

Having cashed a pick 6 for over half a mil at Saratoga, and two others for 146k and 108k respectfully, I can’t help being optimistic about the meet and even more thrilled to be on the grounds. I spent the first 30 plus years of my life summering there, and it feels like home. It doesn’t hurt that the only horse I ever ran there as an owner, Ima Halo, won under Johnny V for trainer Peter Walder. The place is special.

It all comes down to making the right decisions when betting. Regardless of who you like, and what bets you are going to make you’ll face handicapping decisions, and wagering decisions. Which way you go, or whether you zig or zag will determine how things turn out for you.

On Travers day, my killer instinct was roaring. I knew there would be at least one real shot to take. I intended to take it. I liked Code of Honor in the Travers. How to bet him was the question. Since there is no longer a $2 pick 6, that was not an option. Regrettably for me. I will miss that bet, perhaps most of all.

I decided the Pick 5 was the way to go. I was concerned about the sequence starting with a 1-5 favorite, but at 7 furlongs I saw a chink in his armor. At 1-5 we want no chinks. I’d use him to make sure if he wins I am alive, but he was no single in my book. Not even close. When I discussed the race with my Brother John John, yes I have a brother John, and he saw the chink as well my confidence grew. He’s one of maybe two people on the planet whose opinion I value — the others mine.

My plan was to have the ticket multiple times. Anybody can hit a Pick 5 for 50 cents. I wanted to have it for $5 or $10 at least. When I structured my play, I decided to also single Elate. Obviously, I knew only two horses could win that race, Elate or Midnight Bisou. I do not think a realistic chance could have been made for any other horse in that race. I was “sure” Elate was sitting on a big race and forward move. I “thought” Midnight Bisou was possibly as well, but with money on the line, I’ll go with sure over thought as many times as I can.

I briefly thought about using both horses and splitting the ticket and have it for $5 instead of $10. I decided against that. Ah decisions, they will make or break you every time. It didn’t make sense at that point to use both horses even though that would lock up or buy the race. I thought if the 1-5 shot wins the first leg, and we get another short price in another leg, and Midnight Bisou and Elate will both be short, I’ll have no shot at a score. I had to go with one and Elate was the better option according to my handicapping.

I was concerned about Jose Ortiz over thinking the Abel Tasman race and Mike Smith incident from last year. I also thought the race at Oaklawn earlier this year might also be in his head. Hopefully, if that were the case, it would motivate him and not get him antsy or anything like that. As they were running and Jose was laying third in what most would view as a golden spot, I became worried when I saw him look back approaching the half-mile pole to see where Mike and Midnight Bisou were. Don’t worry about them, just ride your race, I thought. Jose was set on race riding however, and sometimes that works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. Against Mike Smith, the odds go against you drastically.

Yeah, I knew I was going to get nailed about mid-stretch. I also knew Code of Honor would win the Travers. You see enough of these things; sometimes you just know how the movie ends. The agony of defeat set in about the sixteenth pole although most who had Elate were still thinking she would make it. Man, that Midnight Bisou is relentless. John John structured his ticket very similar to mine. That photo cost us over 200k collectively.

Dinner and the company were excellent that night. Just about everyone who is anyone in racing was at the same restaurant. Many winners from the day, and past winners as well. Even Derby winners. Sure it stung but you’d never know it sitting next to me. See here is the key, once you take down some of these type of scores you learn you CAN do it. Then you learn you can do it again. At this point you know hey, it’s just a matter of time until you make the right decision.

Yes. Of course, I bet the Travers winner. Win. Exacta. Superfecta. This is one of those unenviable days where you win but walk out feeling like you lost. Only a true Racetracker can understand that..

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Jon Stettin

Since childhood, Jon has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. His years of experience have earned him a well respected spot in the industry as a handicapper. He now is a frequent contributor to AmWager as well as writing for his own site.

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