There are lots of ways to bet on horses. Win, place and each way are just the beginning: such bets involve a reliance on one horse winning or nearly winning, the outcome of which provides players with a (usually) known return.
I've long mixed up my 'singles' betting with more elaborate plays. Known as exotics in the States, such wagers tend to involve predicting a sequence of events: either the first two (or three or four) home in a race, or the winner (or a placed horse) in each of a number of consecutive races.
Incidentally, although this article will not explicitly cover bets such as fourfolds and accumulators with traditional fixed odds bookmakers, the principles can be applied and, where readers are able, best odds guarantees leveraged.
In this previous post - written ten years ago now - I outlined how to play, and win, the tote placepot. The principles outlined in that post remain true now and, of course, they extend to Colossus Bets place pools, Irish Tote placepots and indeed any multi-race place pool bet. Let's recap.
What are pool bets, and why are they of interest?
Pool bets involve all players' stakes being invested into a pot, from which winning players are paid a dividend after the pool owners have taken their commission. That means the objective is not only to find 'the right answer' but also for that correct answer to be less obvious than most players expect. It generally is.
Multi-race pool bets can offer an interest throughout the afternoon for a single ticket; and, if a few fancied runners under-perform, they can pay handsomely in relation to fixed odds equivalent wagers.
Let's consider an example of such a bet, in this case a placepot from Thursday's card at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. The gross pool - that is, the total bet into the pool - was £823,150.20. After takeout, the pool operator's advertised commission from which all costs are paid, of 27% the net pool was £600,881.40.
That pot would be divided between the number of remaining - and therefore winning - tickets after leg six, with the dividend declared to a £1 stake. Players can bet in multiples from 5p upwards.
In the first race that day, the favourite, Faugheen, ran third, with 4/1 Samcro winning. 361,390.13 units went forward to leg two.
In the second race, all four placed horses were towards the top of the market, including the unnamed favourite. 146,064.28 units went to leg three.
The third race, the Ryanair Chase, saw 2/1 second favourite Min beat 16/1 Saint Calvados with the 7/4 favourite in third. Most of the remaining pool money prior to the race, 114,468.48 units' worth of it, went forward to leg four, the Stayers' Hurdle.
In that fourth race, around 83,000 units (nearly three-quarters of the remaining pool) were invested in Paisley Park, who ran a clunker and was unplaced. This race was the kingmaker on the day, just 2,198.41 units (less than 2% of the running-on total) successfully predicting any of 50/1 Lisnagar Oscar, 20/1 Ronald Pump, or 33/1 Bacardys.
As the warm favourite won leg five, 854.56 units contested the final leg, the Mares' Novices' Hurdle. Here, the very well-backed second choice of the market, Concertista, beat stable mate and 9/1 chance Dolcita, with a 100/1 shot back in third.
From a total of 823,150 tickets, and a net pool of 600,881.40, there were just 235.01 left standing after the six races. Thus the dividend paid
600,881.4 / 235.01 = £2,556.83
Because of something called 'breakage', see TIF's explanation here if you're interested, the dividend is rounded down to the nearest 10p, meaning every winning £1 ticket was worth £2,556.80. A 5p winning line would be worth 5% of that amount, or £127.84.
Let's talk about the takeout
The commission a pool operator levies for hosting the pool is usually referred to as the 'takeout'. In multi-race bets, some people consider that the takeout - 27% in the example above - is too high. But it needs to be considered in the context of the number of legs in the bet, and the perceived difficulty of landing the bet. The first part is more easily quantified.
For example, if the place pool for a single race has a 20% deduction - which it currently does in UK (ouch!) - then a six race accumulator in the place pools would result in 73.8% of stakes being 'taken out'. Double, triple and even sextuple ouch!
The actual per leg takeout on the tote placepot is around 5.1%, or 0.051, compounded six times; which leaves a 'live stake' of [1.00 - 0.051=] 0.9496 which equals 0.73 (1.00-0.73 = 0.27, 27% takeout).
Takeout takeaway: You don't need to understand the maths, you just need to know that there is relative value in the placepot compared with single leg win or place pool bets.
How can this be value?
Pool bets are another market, along with fixed odds and exchanges, framed around the same product, horse racing. Thus, they do not always offer the best value.
If you want to back the favourite, doing it on the tote is probably not the best option (though UK tote are currently offering an SP guarantee match, which locks in some insurance for the majority of times when the tote dividend on a winning favourite will pay less than SP). Still, you'll generally get better value on an exchange than either the tote or a fixed odds bookmaker can offer.
But if you want to bet a longer-priced horse, it will normally be the case that exchanges or the tote offer better value than fixed odds bookies.
And if you want to play a sequence of win or place bets - let's call them a placepot or Win 6 - you may get better value with a pool operator.
If you only like fancied runners in the sequence, you will have no edge in a pool and are better off betting either a fixed odds multiple or parlaying your winnings in exchange markets.
But if you have an eye for an interesting outsider - and, as a Gold subscriber, you are far better placed to see such horses than the vast majority of bettors - then multi-race sequences are for you!
Remember, the objective is not just to be right; but to be right when the vast majority of others are at least partially wrong.
Basic Staking: how players get it wrong
The nature of multi-race betting means that optimal staking is almost as important as picking the right horses. Again, I've written about this before but it's plenty important enough to reiterate here.
Smart pickers of horses often confound their own attempts to take down big pots by either under- or over-staking. A six-leg sequence involves the player selecting one or more horses per leg, the total number of 'bets' on the ticket being a multiple of the number of picks per leg.
Thus, a player picking one horse per race will have 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 = 1 bet. He or she will also have a very small chance of correctly predicting the required outcome unless he or she is either very lucky or most of the fancied horses make the frame/win. The former is not what this mini-course is about, the latter is generally self-defeating in the long-term.
This, then, is not an optimal way to bet such sequences.
A very common approach is to select two horses per race in a permutation (or perm for short). Twice as much coverage per race gives a better chance of finding the right answer, but it also invites the user to invest far more cash in a somewhat arbitrary manner. We can write the calculation for the number of bets by using 'to the power of six' (representing the six legs in the wager). Thus:
2 horses per leg = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 26 = 64
3 horses per leg = 36 = 729
4 horses per leg = 46 = 4096
and so on.
As you can see, this quickly becomes expensive. Moreover, it is deeply sub-optimal. We won't necessarily feel we need the same amount of coverage in an eight horse race with an odds on favourite as we will with a twenty-runner sprint handicap, so staking them the same doesn't make a lot of sense. Again, such players are aiming to get lucky rather than playing smart.
A way to whittle the number of perms in one's bet is by deploying 'bankers', horses which must do whatever is required - win, or place - as a solo selection. Adding a 'single', as they're known in America, to a six-leg sequence can make a lot of difference to the number of bets. Such an entry makes a 'to the power of six' bet a 'to the power of five' one, as follows:
2 horses per leg with one banker = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 1 = 25 = 32 bets
3 horses per leg with one banker = 35 = 243 bets
4 horses per leg with one banker = 45 = 1024 bets
and so on.
Using two bankers ratchets up the risk of a losing play but also dramatically further reduces the numbers of units staked:
2 horses per leg with two bankers = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 1 x 1 = 24 = 16 bets
3 horses per leg with two bankers = 34 = 81 bets
4 horses per leg with two bankers = 44 = 256 bets
and so on.
So, for instance, a ticket with two bankers and four selections in the other four legs would amount to 256 bets, whereas four horses per leg through a six-leg sequence would be 4096 bets. At 10p a line, that's the difference between £25.60 and £409.60!
Any single ticket perm, where all selections are staked to the same value (e.g. 10p's in the example above), is known in the trade as a 'caveman' ticket. This is because it still doesn't properly reflect, in staking terms, how we feel about our selected horses and can be considered unsophisticated or a blunt instrument.
Advanced Staking: How to get it right
So if those approaches are varying degrees of how not to stake multi-race bets, how should we do it?
The answer is a strategy known as 'ABCX' which has long been used but was first expounded in print - to my knowledge at least - in a book by Steve Crist, the US writer and punter, called 'Exotic Betting'. It's quite hard to get hold of nowadays, especially this side of the pond, but is well worth about £25 if you'd like to get seriously into multi-race (or multi-horse in a race, i.e. exacta, trifecta, etc) bets. Crist writes fluidly and with familiarity, so it's an easy read in the main, though some sections are necessarily a little on the technical side.
The ABCX approach requires players to assign a wagering value to each horse in each race, like so:
A Horses: Top level contenders, likely winners, or horses which you think are significantly over-priced while retaining a decent win/place chance. In this latter group, a 50/1 shot you think should be 20/1 need not apply; but a 20/1 shot you make 5/1 is fair game (notwithstanding that such a disparity normally means you've made a mistake).
B Horses: Solid options, most likely to take advantage of any slip ups by the A brigade. Generally implying less ability and/or betting value than A's.
C Horses: Outside chances, horses who probably won't win but retain some sort of merit. Often it is a better play to allow these horses to beat you, or to bet them as win singles for small change to cover stakes.
X Horses: Horses that either lack the ability, or the race setup, to win (or place if playing a place wager), and which are thus excluded from consideration.
This approach works a lot better for multi-race win bets than for placepots and the like. In the latter bet types, it is usually sensible to focus solely on A's and B's, with C picks going in to the same discard pile as X's. The exception to that rule of thumb would be days like the Cheltenham Festival where the pools and the field sizes are huge: the only sensibly staked way to catch one of the placers in the Stayers' Hurdle would be on a C ticket!
Once this hierarchy has been established, a means of framing the selections into a bet - or bets - is required. I have used multiple tickets to optimize my staking for more than a decade and if you are not doing likewise, you are losing money, simple as that.
The good news is that, while the mechanics I'm about to share are somewhat convoluted, I had a tool built to do all the grunt work - which you can access for free in Part 2 of this two-part report. 🙂
Staking multiple tickets using ABCX
As I say, the heavy lifting will be done by a tool, details of which I'll share in the concluding part. But it is instructive to be aware of the maths of ABCX. The way I almost always use my A, B and C picks is as follows:
- All A's: 4x unit stake
- All A's except for one B pick: 2x unit stake
- Mostly A's with two B picks: 1x unit stake
- All A's except for one C pick: 1x unit stake
Let's take a recent example from a Win 6 - predict all six winners - at Clonmel. This was actually a rare occasion when I went 3x on the 'All A' ticket as I didn't feel strongly I was playing with value in my corner. In truth, given it was the last day of racing in UK or Ireland for most of four weeks at least, I wanted the action... ahem.
My ABCX (the X's not shown) looked like this:
As you can see, I had two A's in leg 1, three A's in leg 2, nine horses spread across A, B and C in leg three (as well as unnamed favourite), three on A and three on C (plus unnamed fav) in leg 4, a banker A in leg 5, and five A's with two B's in leg 6.
In terms of the actual picks, I moved the 279F group in leg 4 from B to C to reduce stakes, and I took a contrarian view in the last race where 7/11 were the first two in the betting: I didn't especially like them but I didn't want to let them beat me completely either. The 136810 group of A's represented the next five in the market. That was a bold play which paid off this time.
In leg five, #3 was the 4/6 favourite in a short field of chasers, the smart horse Bachasson.
The image above shows my picks in the ticket builder tool. What it doesn't show is the part-permutation tickets the tool created for me, or the associated stake values. So let's introduce those now.
At the top of this image, there is a series of check boxes where a user may decide which combinations of selections he/she wants to play. In this case, and indeed most cases, I have selected all of those possible options.
Beneath each ticket is a further trio of check boxes where users may amplify stakes. As you can see, ticket 1 has a 3x amplification (would normally be 4x for me), tickets 2 and 3 are 2x unit stake, and tickets 4-6 are 1x normal stakes.
The ticket breakdown is:
Ticket 1: AAAAAA - 3x stake
Ticket 2: AABAAA - 2x stake
Ticket 3: AAAAAB - 2x stake
Ticket 4: AACAAA - 1x stake
Ticket 5: AAACAA - 1x stake
Ticket 6: AABAAB - 1x stake
The total amount wagered across these tickets was £214.80.
Ignoring the absolute cost and its relation to your own level of staking, consider that cost against a full perm 'caveman ticket' of
2 x 3 x 10 x 7 x 1 x 7 = 2940 bets, at 10p = £294.00
But it is not the £80 (approximately 25%) saving in absolute cost that is the smartest component here. Rather, it is the fact that my stronger fancies - and the more likely sequences of winners - are amplified to more than 10p.
We'll cover the use of unnamed favourites later. For now, suffice it to say that this is a means of a) keeping more tickets alive, and b) playing up the merit of the favourite. I use this tactic a lot in multi-race tickets and will discuss it in more detail anon.
It takes less than three minutes for me to place six tickets as per the above. Sometimes, I have as many as 20-25 tickets and it takes 12-15 minutes. That, clearly, is more time than it takes to place a single caveman ticket; but my extra effort is frequently repaid in the return.
The winning sequence at Clonmel looked like this:
Leg 1: #3, 6/4 favourite, an A selection
Leg 2: #13, 7/1 (drifted from 7/2), an A selection
Leg 3: #6, 9/4 favourite, an A and a B (FAV) selection
Leg 4: #7, 9/1, a C selection
Leg 5: #3, 4/6 favourite, an A banker
Leg 6: #1, 15/2, an A selection
There were three shortish winning favourites in the six-race sequence, and the winner of leg 2 was a strange price, given it had been strong in the market all morning at around 3/1, 7/2. It bolted up by 17 lengths!
The dividend, to a £2 stake, paid £10,710.85. My 5% unit was worth £620.21 including consolations for four- and five-out-of-six.
You can hopefully make out in the above that there was only 0.05 winning units. That, of course, was my ticket shown above, which means there will be a £10,000 or so rollover to the next Irish race meeting, whenever that may be.
The six tickets paid out as follows:
Ticket 1: £80.43 consolations
Ticket 2: £57.42 consolations
Ticket 3: £3.80 consolations
Ticket 4: £3.81 consolations
Ticket 5: £620.21 winning ticket, plus consolations
Ticket 6: £1.90 consolations
Total payout: £767.57
Total profit: £552.77
Approximate odds: 5/2
There is an important note in the totals above. The approximate payout on this bet was 5/2. Not 100/1 or 1000/1 or another big number.
With the safety net of consolation dividends, I am happy to stake more, relatively, in search of a bigger absolute (i.e. monetary) return.
This is another subject to which I'll return in Part 2, along with when to play, using unnamed favourites, taking insurance, the value of the early markets, syndicates/cash out features and, of course, the ticket builder. That second part can be read here.