I had cause to enter into a debate the other day with a friend who is a fanatical believer in insurance betting. By that I mean he ALWAYS backs a second, or third, horse to “save” on his stake on his top selection.

This chap long ago rejected any of the many arguments against this form of betting, and the reason is simple. He wins. Not much, mind you, but certainly enough to make his racing year a profitable one.

He’s not a professional punter and will never attempt to be one. He’s one of the millions of recreational punters who bet for fun, as a hobby, and who is happy if he can break even on the thing that gives him the greatest happiness in life outside his family.

This friend of mine likes to collect dividends. He is happy enough with a skinny profit on his $10 and $20 outlays. He’ll back two or three runners in a race, sometimes more in a big field, and if he clears a small profit then he’s content.

“I’d rather have three horses running to make me a small profit than one horse to make a big profit,” he explains. And that’s not bad reasoning.

To make such an attack work, you need to get (a) enough winners and (b) the right prices. Otherwise, it’s a slow descent into the red.

The US Today’s Racing Digest has the following advice:

There is no easy answer when it comes to the concept of “saving”. Money-management experts will tell you it’s not a good idea. They believe that a bet is a bet, even if it takes two, three or more races for the outcome to be known.

If the wager was made with confidence, it should be allowed to play itself out without increasing the investment. However, many handicappers can’t resist the temptation to protect what could be a major score by “purchasing” insurance.

All situations are different and all horseplayers are different. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself before making the final decision about a “saving” wager.

  1. How strong do you feel about the strength of your position going in? Look at your contender(s) and attempt to honestly estimate your chances of winning. If it’s better than 67 per cent, saving is not a good idea. Your position is strong. 

    If it’s between 33 per cent and 66 per cent, it’s moderate and you may wish to consider further investment. If it’s less than 33 per cent, saving is not a good idea because your position is weak to begin with and putting up more cash will only increase your exposure on the down side.
  2. How large is your initial investment? If it’s a small one, there is no reason to save. If it’s a moderate one, you may wish to consider it. If it’s a large one, saving becomes a definite option.
  3. Can you pretty much “lock up” an acceptable profit by further investment? Remember, you should not save in order to break even, even on a big play. What’s the point? Also, you should never put up more than you invested originally in this sort of situation.
  4. How strong are the betting favourites? If they are solid and you have them on your ticket, forget saving. If they are false or vulnerable and you consciously bet against them to begin with, stand by your guns.

    However, if you played against them just hoping to get lucky on a big hit, saving is not a bad idea. You may want to hook the favourites up with your pricy contenders in an exacta or quinella play in case one of your horses runs well but ends up second behind a short priced winner.
  5. Are there any logical longshots in the field that you liked but had to leave off your ticket? If not, saving makes no sense. However, if the favourites look weak and you simply couldn’t use all the good price possibilities, you may wish to consider saving with a win bet(s) on other live longshots depending on their value potential.

Strong-minded players may frown on saving because it shows weakness of mind and spirit, a lack of confidence.
However, all of us are not built of granite and failure to cash once in scoring position can initiate the kind of negative vibes that may start a killer losing streak.

As in real life, insurance can lead to the sort of peace of mind that makes future decisions easier to make on an intelligent level.

On the other hand, you don’t want to spend good money insuring junk. The worst case scenario is where you lose both the original play AND the “saver” and this outcome qualifies as a disaster, so this is not territory to enter into without significant thought.

If, like Hamlet, you can’t decide, then just say “no”. If, however, you have asked/answered the above questions to your satisfaction and confidently believe a “saver” is the right way to go, then don’t be shy. Handicapping is a game of decisions and as long as you can say afterwards that you made a good bet, then you did. Win or lose. US professional Barry Meadow has his firm views on betting two in a race.

He says in his best-seller Money Secrets At The Racetrack: “When you bet more than one horse in a race, you are guaranteed at least one losing bet, so you must subtract that losing wager before considering whether the bet is still an overlay.

“If one horse is 2/1 and another is 5/2, even if both are overlays, you’ll wind up with less than even money for your action.

“That’s why I insist on at least 3/1 for any horse that’s part of a two-horse overlay.”

Barry has a special Two-Horse Overlays Chart that will help you decide when to go for both runners if you use your own price assessments.


6/4 or under 3/1
8/5 or 9/5 7/2
2/1 4/1
5/2 9/2
3/1 or 7/2 6/1
4/1 7/1
9/2 8/1
5/1 9/1
6/1 10/1
Barry adds: “If only one horse meets these more difficult overlay requirements, then play that horse only. For example, let’s say a 6/5 shot on your assessed line is at 2/1 and a 4/1 shot is listed at 8/1. Skip the 2/1 shot and bet the 8/1 shot only.”

Barry, of course, is talking about horses you have chosen and which you have put your own “true” price on. But you can still use his chart as a guide.

If you have two horses you like and they are each at 3/1 you can bet both and make a profit. One unit on each means a bet of 2 units, a winner will return you 4 units, so you’ve made 100 per cent profit.

However, if one horse is, say, 6/4 and the other is 3/1, you could be in for a small profit only. You bet one unit on each, the 6/4 horse wins and your return is 2.5 units.

Your long-term problem is to back enough winners at the right prices to make it work. There will be lots of times when both your selections lose!

Weigh up, too, whether it would be better for you to have simply backed the main selection without worrying about the saver. It could well be that the saver bets wipe out a good profit.

Always remember that one of the two horses will lose. That means half your stake is lost immediately.

Most punters I know reckon you’ll be lucky to make 6 per cent over a year betting with savers. You may get a 100 per cent edge on one race but over 12 months, taking into account losses and much smaller edges, the whole thing spreads out to a small profit…or a loss.

Nothing is set in concrete in racing. Much depends on you, no matter how good the staking plan might seem. No plan or approach can work without winners.

By Alan Jacobs