Damien Whitchurch interviews The Optimist on one of the master's favourite bets: the ABfield trifecta and its offspring.

Damien Whitchurch: This is going to be interesting for me, as although I have followed your writing for years, I have never given a lot of time to the AB angle that you like so much. If you'd care to explain it first, then we'll go into the pluses and minuses.

The Optimist: Frankly, it's been my best source of revenue this past year, and since I started using it some seven years back, I have never had a really bad run.

DW: What's a bad run?

TO: Fair question. I mean my bank has never been threatened. Of course, I can have long runs of outs, because I am, basically, saying that I can pick the quinella. As to your first question, the plan is simple: pick the first two, set them up to run 1-2 or 2-1, and place the rest of the field in third spot. It can be used for any sort of exotic betting, but it seems for me to be best applied to trifectas.

DW: Any recent examples?

TO: Yes, I got Drama Amour and Chiming Lass up in Brisbane last weekend, paying $1885 for my $1.50 AB. I outlaid $45, and Grouse Lane, a last-start winner and a winner of eight of his 25 starts, obligingly ran third.

Furthermore, all three were considered in the pre-post markets, and all three had excellent form surrounding them. I managed to go the wrong way win-wise, as I did believe Drama Amour was almost a special, but Chiming Lass,
who got the edge on her at the 200 and held on by a nostril, now has five wins from her last six runs, and they have been in Sydney and Brisbane.

To add to this, I managed to find a trifecta at Canterbury midweek which paid me $1659 for $48, three units on the AB trifecta of 24/24/F. Now, here the favourite was gilt-edged to run well, a northern mare called Flamingo, and picked by every paper to win. Fiestas, who beat her home, was the only laststart winner, had won nine from 32, was a good thing for a place on the slow track, and started at nearly double figures.

The remarkable thing was the third horse, Shelter, highly regarded in the reliable Herald prepost midweek market at 4/1. She started at 40/1!

Earlier that same day there was a gift AB with Boldly (I think he was my best of the month for Page 13) and Ultra Smug. I got as close as I could to a $50 bet with $3.50 on the AB. It came in and paid almost $60, which meant $209 for the $49, or 13/4 for a 5/4 certainty and the short-priced second favourite.

DW: Easy pickings? I gather you bet as close as you can get to a $50 wager?

TO: No to the first part, and yes to the second. I try to regard the bet as equal to what I will outlay on one of my action bets (i.e. $50), so you are right there. But no to the first part of what you said. I never make the mistake of regarding these bets as easy. They look good when I spout them out like we have just been doing, but this has been a hell of a good week. I can go ages and miss out. It's worst of all when I get a series of seconds and thirds, or firsts and thirds.

DW: So why not take three horses?

TO: Yes, well, I have done that on occasions, but only in big races where the odds are going to be worth the money. As you know, I got a big Melbourne Cup result that way, but I only made the bet because I couldn't lose that year. Last year I mucked it up, and I have come out badly in a couple of big events this year. The best for me was the Adelaide Cup, where I committed myself to Sheer Kingston and sought out the next best two-miler. It
turned out to be Skybeau and I collected well when they ran one-two. Come to think of it, Skybeau's been good to me, hasn't he?

DW: Yes, that third in the '96 Cup must have been a thrill.

TO: Indeed. But when you take more than two for an AB-field, you end up outlaying big money. For example, ABC trebles your bet straight off. So if you are having an AB on a field of 12, the cost is $20 for a dollar. Add C and the cost spirals to $60. Add D, and you double it again to $120. E means $200. Big bikkies.

In a Melbourne Cup, or say a Goodwood or a Newmarket, you could be looking at over $400 for an ABCDE-field trifecta. You'd better have a decent bank behind you!

DW: What sort of run of cuts is normal for you?

TO: It can be very long. I have gone 50 without a hit, but meanwhile my other betting is carrying me along. Some of the AB bets are supported by win bets and various other investments.

DW: Such as?

TO: Well, win betting speaks for itself, and things are looking up this year after a poor 1998 for me. I often insure my win bets, though, obviously through AB-field trifecta bets, but also through quinellas and doubles where applicable.

DW: I was going to get to this. I can't see how a $1 or even $3 bet, on an AB-field trifecta, can beat a $50 AB quinella bet. I can see it now and then, but what if the favourite runs third?

TO: It's a good point and I can't say I disagree. I know what works for me, though. As to the favourite, I often have it in my AB anyway. You see, it's that third hole that usually makes my dividend. I mentioned Flamingo before. Favourite. Boldly was 5/4 favourite. Drama Amour was 7/1 in a very wide market. I don't steer off favourites but, of course, if they are not part of my AB, then I hope like heck they won't run third!

DW: Okay, but what about $50 quinellas?

TO: Yes, it can backfire on me. I have had occasions where my trifecta pays $800 for my 50 or so dollars, and the quinella pays $50 or $60. I curse a bit, but that's racing. I am always prepared to accept an anticipated good profit and shrug my shoulders about that sort of thing. Interstate trifectas might also pay far better, or much worse, than mine. I can't control that sort of result.

But I'll tell you what, Damien.

When the quinella pays more than it ought in relation to the trifecta field bet, is when the favourite runs third. I agree, that is NOT what I want to see in my ABs. If I include the favourite in my AB, then I want a 100/1 runner to fill the third spot. If I leave the favourite out, I sure don't look forward to seeing the thing hold on for third.

Come to think of it, that's the worst thing that can happen to a bet like the AB: you have maybe a great AB in, and the favourite runs third with a longshot fourth.

DW: What about taking both the quinella and trifecta? Say $20 on the quinella and $30 maximum on the AB?

TO: Why not? Sometimes I do, but my more likely bet for a saver is to quinella a box of, perhaps, four horses for $8 each. That way I am still in the hunt if I get the AB wrong. I have managed some nice returns that way, especially when I am omitting the favourite from my AB. I add it in the quinella with whatever is my next selection. When it still doesn't win or run second, but two of my other three score the quinella, I sometimes do very well. Of course, when three of them run 1,2,3, I sometimes wish I'd had $2 on the box trifecta.

DW: How about the argument that a serious investor, especially someone like you, should stagger your bets? I mean, the chances are not equal, yet you are betting as if they are.

TO: I have thought long and hard about that. All the arguments for sanity in betting seem to say that a boxed bet is NOT the way to travel. My response to that argument is that I can often be confident about identifying the first and perhaps the second placegetter, but if you look at any set of tips on any day, at any track, you will see that the tipsters rarely manage to get all three places.

And you will also see that the very horse that makes the big trifecta isn't even picked by anyone! So, if I can identify two that I reckon are the best chances, I know damn well that finding that third one is, usually, going to be the old needle in a haystack challenge.

DW: So you make, let's agree, 29 losing bets on a $30 ticket. And of those 29, probably 12 or 14 haven't a chance in Hades of getting into the placings.

TO: Hey, whoa there, Damien! That is my very point. They are the horses that will make the pot boil. If you, and all your mates, believe that a certain horse DOES have a big chance of filling a minor placing, I have to hope it WILL NOT run third. I accept that I don't know what will, I just hope yours won't. True, statistically I might be better off having $3 on, say, AB/AB/ABCDE, and 50 cents on a single AB-field bet. But one big collect can send all that sort of thinking for six.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Damien Whitchurch