I am often asked which of the popular exotic forms of betting is the best for a punter. Of course to a large extent it depends on your punting personality, along with your betting bank, and to perhaps an even larger extent your nerve.

There is no point in betting at all, if you don’t acknowledge from the very outset that sometimes things will go wrong, and that they will go wrong more often when you are indulging in exotic investments.

The payoff is that one good exotic return will quite often be significantly more than equal to seven, eight, or even 10 single bets totalling the same outlay.

For example, if you had $10 on each of 10 horses to win, and you invested $100 on one combined first 4 bet which proved to be successful, the likelihood is that two or three of those 10 individual investments would win for you and perhaps on a good run you would get $300 back.

I don’t need to tell you that first 4s are quite capable of paying many thousands of dollars, and that even ordinary ones usually pay a few hundred, let’s say $500, which is considerably better than $300. However, this is pure hypothesis because I have only given us one chance of cracking a first 4.

If we have $100 to invest on that one exotic, we can combine five selections in a race for a return of 83.3 per cent of the $1 dividend; but even then as you can see we have started to cut into the basic dividend paid by the exotic bet. And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that it still has to win!

So if money isn’t a problem and your nerve is strong, the first 4 is certainly an opportunity to make an enormous amount of money very quickly.

But unfortunately it is also an opportunity, and this is the more likely outcome, to steadily lose and (worst of all) keep on going very close without clicking.

I know of one large punter who invests six figures every Saturday on the exotics and makes a profit, in fact a quite substantial profit. The sticky bit here is that he is looking to make up to 10 per cent (a very good return, particularly these days) after all expenses, and so he has no qualms about spreading his bets over a vast multitude of horses in four of five races during the afternoon. He is also in the happy position of having an enormous betting bank.

After all, it is his business and he treats it like one. If he were to lose his entire 150,000 or 200,000 for the weekend, I’m not suggesting for a moment that he would be a happy little Vegemite, but (and here is where you hold tightly onto your hat) it would represent about 5 per cent of his annual betting capital of $3,000,000. That would be a particularly bad result for him, and because of the spread of his exotic bets it would be very unusual.

On the other hand, he does not anticipate being able to win a huge first 4 on anything like a regular basis. He has told me that it would be a most unusual situation if he bet on the box combination, and so it follows that he will get losers.

His preferred method is the standout, in races where he believes he can identify two or even three horses which will win, or at least run in the first two. He doesn’t mind who knows that he builds his first 4 selections around these two or three horses in which he has the utmost confidence. You have to have the money to do that, and you have to be able to come back next week if you lose it all and do exactly the same thing again. That is where having the bank and holding your nerve play reasonably equal roles.

We have spoken in the past about something which the late Dick Mitchell, that very fine American racing journalist, designated “the comfort zone”. Well, my comfort zone would start sending out very loud alarm signals, a long way before I got into that kind of betting range, and I’ll bet yours would too!

This isn’t the end of the story, but it is for you and me. I would be very doubtful that any of my readers could sleep comfortably if they were investing large money on risky conveyances. It just isn’t the way that you and I invest our money, if I know anything at all about you. And so I put to you the first proposition, which is that if you want to have a small first 4 wager and regard it as your weekend lotto adventure, it seems to make a whole lot of sense.

Well, it does to me anyway, because if you strike one now and again there’s an enormous thrill involved and usually quite a bit of money; the catch is to keep the whole thing in check and maintain a very close watch on exactly how much you are outlaying on what is essentially a glorified “intelligent lottery ticket”.

It isn’t this for our big betting friend up there, because of his modest expectations. But I know that 10 per cent profit on turnover is not what you will be hoping for when you invest on a first 4. Nor will I.

There are two other things to mention before we shut the door on this concept. Remember I haven’t said don’t do it, I’ve said keep it in check. But there is something else that you really need to keep at the top of your mind. If you boxed the minimal allowable number of horses in a trifecta, and that is three, it would cost you $6.

But to box the minimal number in a first 4 you will pay four times as much. Interestingly, if you box four horses in a trifecta, it will cost you exactly the same as boxing four in a first 4, but any increase in the number of horses will do amazing things and create huge differences.

For example, boxing six horses will cost you $120 for the trifecta and $360 for the big boy, or if you really wanted to get into the big time, boxing nine horses would be just over $500 for the trifecta and a bit over $3,000 for the first 4. See what I mean? The first 4 is now costing you six times as much,  and it will only get worse as you add horses.

The second thing to mention is the point I made much earlier, that the professionals rarely box: they stand out selections. When you think about it, that $3,000+ bet that we mentioned above is actually 3,024 individual bets. Any pro will tell you that in all likelihood around 2,000 of the combinations have very little chance because they identify their winners from amongst the ranks that the pros don’t believe can win.

Let’s leave it there and look at the trifecta. Ever since it first appeared I’ve loved this form of investment. It has always seemed to me to represent a perfectly reasonable way of making money on a regular basis, so long as you keep your head. You will have gathered by now that my personal preference, just like our pro above, is for the standout style of bet, and I’m prepared on many occasions (particularly in big races) to acknowledge that anything can run third.

In a race of, say, 16 starters, you can realistically throw the field in for third as part of a serious trifecta attack on the race. If you fancied two chances above the rest to win, and maybe you acknowledged that you would have to add another two for the second placing, you could come up with an interesting combination (2 x 4 x 16) which would set you back $41 for a 50 cent unit outlay.

If that maths is bothering you, you have to deduct one of the numbers from the second placing (4 becomes 3) and two numbers from the third placing (16 becomes 14) because two of your horses are already listed for all three places and another two of them are listed for both second and third.

Coming down to earth even more, a standout bet is my real favourite, and as regular readers will know I’m very fond of the investment I  many years back called “the AB Trifecta”. 

This simply means that we seek out races where we can come down to two outstanding possibilities, and we link them AB/AB (to run both first and second) with the field to run third. In a field of 16 this will cost $28 for the dollar or $14 for the half. Even in the Melbourne Cup or the Doncaster, with maximum fields of 24, we will still get away with an investment of $44 or $22. It is both reasonable and within most people’s budget range.

Of course, you will have a situation where the favourite runs third and the trifecta is disappointing, but there will equally be times when longshots get into that minor placing, and I can tell you that’s a lovely feeling.

The quinella. How does it match up? There will be occasions when taking a quinella for the equivalent value of an AB trifecta would have proved more rewarding, but I’ve reached the position where, over the years, I don’t believe there is any long-term comparison to be made. It’s no competition.

I’ve had too many situations where, having managed to find first and second, I’ve had delightful returns when the wrong horse (for everybody else, that is) runs a surprising third. These days, the quinella is over-populated by smaller punters whose combined investment really adds up, and the horses in the range that I’m most interested in, that is to say around $4.50 to $12 or maybe a little bit more, don’t often pay huge quinellas anymore.

But give me a $12 winner and a $4.50 runner-up, and couple them with a $51 third placing, and I’ll show you a darn good trifecta! The quinella might pay $40 or $50 but the trifecta will pay several thousand.

So on balance, I am pretty well convinced that the trifecta is the exotic bet for the average player. And I’m also pretty well convinced that my way of playing them (wait until you find a race where you are reasonably sure you can identify two horses with significantly stronger chances than anything else, and at acceptable prices), will make money.

Needless to say, you need patience and you need to continue to trust your own judgement, or the judgement of your advisory sources.

But for me, it’s the trifecta all the way.

By The Optimist

PRACTICAL PUNTING – FEBRUARY 2009

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