You know the feeling. You like the 5 at a generous 5/1, but the favoured 4 could be tough and the 8 has a longshot look, too. So instead of simply betting $40 to win on the 5, you take the same money and wind up using all three horses in various combinations – just in case.

You bet $10 to win on 5, and $5 to win on 8. Then some exactas in case the 4 wins, and a couple with the 8 on top as well, as well as a 5-4 and a 5-8. And a trifecta box, too.

And when the 5 does win at $12.40 and the others run out, you collect exactly $62 for your $40 worth of bets. You’ve managed to turn a 5/1 shot into a 1/2 shot. Had you simply bet the horse you liked to win for the same $40, you would have gotten back $248.

Of course it’s possible that one of your savers might have won and returned you some money if the 5 missed, and that might have been a psychological plus (“I didn’t win, but at least I got something back”). But what was your upside here, anyway? If the 5 didn’t win, all you’d have gotten back would be small money.

And that’s the trouble with savers. They don’t really “save” anything. Mostly what they do is reduce your profits when you do happen to be right about a race.

Most of the time, we’re wrong about a race. Maybe we have the right contenders, but they don’t finish the way we’d like. Or our pick turns out to be not as swift as we thought. Or we took a shot on a long-priced horse and he runs well, but not well enough.

So, usually we wind up with nothing. After a couple of hours of this, especially if we’ve lost a photo or been beaten by the one horse we feared, there’s the temptation to try to get something – anything – back.
Because most of the time we’ll be wrong, it’s imperative that when we are right we’ll be suitably rewarded. Getting our money back with a marginal profit, betting $40 keying a 5/1 and winding up with only $62 when he wins, won’t do it.

When you’re betting savers, throwing horses in who might get there, mostly what you’re doing is reducing the odds. When you bet two horses to win, you’re guaranteed at least one losing bet. This doesn’t mean that you can’t sometimes bet two horses in a race, but if you’ve got a pair of 5/2 shots the most you’ll get back is $7.80 for every $4 you bet, or less than even money. At these rates, you can’t afford to be wrong often.

The same is true when you start betting baseballs and boxes. If you box 3-8-9, you need to ask two questions: Is each of the six combinations just as likely as the others, and is the same overlay offered on each of the six? That’s rarely true. So why are you betting that way?

Occasionally, you’ll be alive in a pick 3 and be tempted to save with a horse you fear. Let’s say you’ve put $60 into a pick 3 (all-up) and are alive for returns of $361 with the 1 (who’s 2/1) and $398 with the 2 (who’s 3-1). If either horse wins (#1 should win 26 per cent of the time and #2 about 20 per cent), you’ll realise a better than 5/1 return on your investment and score a profit of more than $300.

But let’s say that instead of sticking with your two picks in the final leg, you decide to save with the 3, 4 and 5, each of whom is hovering around 6/1. So you take some of that $300 – maybe $90 of it – and bet $30 to win on each of these other three. Now your possible results are as follows:

NO SAVERS            
#1?? + $301+ $211
#2?? + $338+ $248
#3?? ( - $60)+ $ 60
#4 ( - $60)+ $ 60
#5?? ( - $60)+ $ 60
#6?? ( - $60)(-$150)
#7?? ( - $60)(-$150)
#8?? ( - $60)(-$150)

One of those 6/1 shots will win about 33 per cent of the time, and one of the other three longshots that you didn’t use about 21 per cent of the time.

So, here’s your overall expectation for every 100 such plays:


26 x $361= ?? $10,108
20 x $398= ?? $7,960
54 x 0=??? 0
Total=??? $18,068
Total Bet=??? $6,000
ROI=??? + 201 %


26 x $361= ?? $10,108
20 x $398= ?? $7,960
33 x $210=??? $6,930
21 x 0=   0
Total=??? $24,998
Total Bet=??? $15,000
ROI=??? + 63%
By making a bet that has a negative expectation (you get back $210 on a $90 bet that wins only one third of the time), you drastically reduce your ROI. Sure, you gain peace of mind – but there’s a cost attached.

Every bet stands on its own. Betting overlays makes you money. Betting underlays costs you money. You can’t “save” a bet.

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By Barry Meadow