Small Field Strategies

Of course, most of us were looking forward to the Jockey Club Gold Cup card at Belmont only to be disappointed in the field sizes, especially in the stake races. The Gold Cup drew just 5 horses. Sure we all prefer big fields laden with value and competitive runners. More often than not in today’s game that just is not the case. We need strategies and adjustments to deal with small fields from a betting standpoint.

Depending on your style on betting this may or may not significantly alter how you approach a wager. For me it doesn’t change how I play, it just impacts payouts. I adjust more based on that than field size.

In multi race wagers, I look for a single or two. With small fields that does not change and at times even makes isolating a horse or two to single easier. It certainly takes away from the time of work one needs to put in. As they say, time can be money. Regardless of field size, I will look for my singles. I’ll also try and avoid them being the favorite or everybody’s single. A small field won’t change this approach for me.

My exacta strategy will also stay intact in a small field. I’ll play one way, cold and not reverse. I might play a second exacta with the same horse on top, usually for a lesser amount, but I do this the same way no matter how many horses are going to post. The payoffs take a hit, but my approach stays the same.

I’ll discuss how I compensate for the payoffs.

What I do change in small fields is triple and superfecta play. I just say no. I don’t find it pays. That leaves some extra money to go into the bets I do make. I can increase the amount I play multi race wagers for, as well as the exactas. Hopefully, or at least some of the time this is enough to offset or absorb the difference in payouts. We have to play the hand we are dealt. Short fields must be reckoned with.

If you have a fair share of short fields in a sequence you can try and go short in the races you don’t single. This will also allow you to increase your wagers. Fewer horses to cover means more money to place on the ones you feel you need.

Money management and ticket structure are so crucial. If dealing with small fields is something you’ll face often you need a strategy that applies to that scenario. A lot of players will pass a card of small fields in favor of a card someplace else with larger fields. That may work for them. I don’t do it. I like to stick to the meets and circuits I play and where I’m comfortable. In the long run, I find that works better, at least for me.

A lot of times I find if you get away from the favorite in a small field the win price is not that bad. Sure you may not get that 15 or 20-1 we all love, but you can surely find a solid horse at 3,4,5 to 1 or more. There is nothing wrong with that.

If you like to stick to certain meets as I do you have to be prepared to make lemonade out of lemons. We don’t like small fields, but we have to deal with them.

I don’t view the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a bad betting affair. To the contrary, I am looking forward to it. I think there will be some talented runners going off in the 3 and 4-1 range. I can live with that. A win bet and cold exacta at that price are fine. There are fewer horses to beat you. Lemonade.

A single at that price can work out just fine as well. You can make money and create value in any field size. You may have to play it smart and be right. On the bright side, I don’t think we will have this issue to deal with on Breeders’ Cup weekend. Stay tuned.

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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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