Often one of the best betting opportunities is to avoid betting on an over-hyped horse. Examples would be Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup and Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. Both were formidable rivals and yet most veteran handicappers agree they were overbet. Yet passing over an overbet horse certainly gives the bettor an advantage, but it still doesn’t pick the winner.
There is no question that Zenyatta was one of truly great mares of all time, and comparisons to Ruffian, Winning Colors, Personal Ensign, Go for Wand, and Bayakoa are not without merit. However, such was the degree to which her reputation preceded her going into the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic that any reasonable handicapper would say that no matter what her chances, she would be taking more money than was justified. Certainly a great deal of casual money was bet by spectators that were just looking for some fun, and in the absence of any real handicapping, casual bettors tend to go with name brand value – that is they tend to go with whichever horse gets the most media coverage.
Any reasonable assessment of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic field would suggest that the eventual winner Blame, ought to have been a bit shorter price than the 5-1 odds he went off at. Zenyatta went off at even money come post time. This means that about three times the betting money wagered on Blame was placed on Zenyatta, suggesting that she had about three times the likelihood of winning. Blame was a multiple Grade 1 winner and had and had even won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster and the Grade 2 Clark Handicap the previous fall, both of which were run at Churchill Downs, which would seem to give him a horse for course advantage.
The ultimate result as history has shown, was that Zenyatta came up a head short to Blame at the wire. It is easy to say after the fact, but Blame really was a logical value bet at 5-1 that day. Basically, if you can isolate that race where a horse that is given excessive media attention is running (a Kentucky Derby winner, for example), and you can find a reasonable alternative to that hyped horse, that is a formula for success.
Once the general public and the media get involved in the world of horse racing, the betting opportunities really do open up, as it did in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. By any reasonable measure, Smarty Jones was the best of a mediocre group, and didn’t stack up with the great horses of history. And yet the media built him up as the next superhorse – one that was invincible. Any reasonable analysis should indicate that at best he should have been even money, which indicates a 50% chance to win. He actually went off at odds of 1-5, which means that five of every six dollars bet were placed on Smarty Jones. In other words, the betting public felt there was an 83 percent chance that Smarty Jones would win. The smart bet in this race would have been to bet all the other horses in the race, or perhaps pick four or five other logical alternatives to Smarty Jones and bet them.