The Tote Board Was Screaming

October 20, 2014

Saratoga Jon's Dad Window
The mutual window where Jonathan’s Dad worked for many years. Jon practically grew up hanging around that window as a young boy and teenager.

There are many handicappers and players who think they know how to read and understand the tote board that really don’t. There are times when the tote board can offer valuable clues that you can incorporate into your handicapping and decision making. It’s not something you can live and die by but it is a tool when properly understood that can offer some valuable insight. The key is to know when those scenarios arise and what to actually look for.

I’ll give two examples of what I mean starting with the more recent. About a year or so ago there was a maiden special weight race at Gulfstream on a Saturday that had some people on Twitter talking. I was watching the conversation and was somewhat surprised that nobody was zeroing in on what I was. Todd Pletcher had one of his typical fast working well bred colts in there that was favored at 9-5. Kiaran Mclaughlin had a second time starter coming off a decent debut race but getting Lasix for the first time in there as well. That as we know is always a strong angle that attracts plenty of mutual support. There were five other entrants in the race for a total of seven. One of them was trained by a Calder trainer with not nearly the reputation or stock as the two aforementioned New York names. This particular horse was the fourth choice at post time at 7-1. The board was screaming to bet him and I heard it and listened. The horse cruised to victory sitting just off the Pletcher horse but disposed of him turning for home and held off the second choice Mclaughlin horse easily.

I had no intention of betting that race going in. It was a pass or watch for me. Handicapping I thought it was either the Pletcher horse easily as a heavy favorite or anyone could do it. Nonetheless I was dialed in and caught something I thought would pay off and it did. You always have to be paying attention, this isn’t a social gathering I always say. After the race I tweeted the tote board was screaming to bet the 4, the 7-1 winner. I was immediately met with rebuttals to that pointing out Pletcher and Mclaughlin were taking all the money and implying I was wrong. I wasn’t. I also received a tweet from a well-known handicapper and somewhat public figure stating not to be a wise guy, but how was the tote board screaming to bet the 4 over those other horses. I explained: Pletcher was dead on the board, yes a horse can be dead on the board at 9-5. Pletcher’s horse was regally bred, we were at Gulfstream Park where he does an awful lot of damage, the horse was working 59’s like they were going out of style and if he could run he would have been even money or 4-5 in that small field. I expanded. Mclaughlin was also not bet right at 7-2 second choice. Had he been really live, would have been bet heavily into the Pletcher or in this case as the Pletcher turned out to be dead he would have gone favored or co favored off the strong angle. The third choice was simply not fast enough and the others were hopeless, just not Gulfstream maiden special types.

Again the tote board was screaming bet the 4, bet the 4, you just had to be listening. What surprised me though was that even seasoned players did not have a grasp of the tote board system and how it can help you and what it says. A horse at 9-5 that should be 4-5 is dead on the board or not bet right. A horse that should be maybe 12 or 15-1 as the 4 should have been is live. This is never truer than in a maiden special weight contest with a few first time starters. While I don’t make my own morning line or encourage others to do it, I do know what horses should go off at post time.

The second example goes back a few years but is worth mentioning. I was at Saratoga for the meet back in the day when Jerry Bailey and Bill Mott were like money in the bank. I had a losing day going into the last race and wanted to bail myself out. It wasn’t going to be easy as it was a non-winners of a race other than at the Spa, on the grass at a mile and a quarter. Those are never really easy although I love them. I thought this one would be particularly tough to bail out in as Mott and Bailey had the favorite, and judging from the double, pick 3 and pick 4 will pays he was very solid. He was off a lengthy lay off, but with Bill Mott that almost has no bearing. How could I bail out with this horse winning was how I was looking at it. I then noticed on the tote board he was 7-2. What! I thought. Well, it was the last race and sometimes the board is a bit off, if not crazy, as you have people looking to “get out” or “bail out” as I was and indicated before. I watched and expected Mott would be close to 6-5 by post time just as he looked to be in the form, on the sheets, and in the exotic will pays. He wasn’t, and closed at 2-1. He was dead on the tote board. I made a last second win bet on a 16-1 shot who finished second after what I thought was not the best of rides and did not bail out. Oh well, I at least was in the fight whereas the Mott horse was up the track.

I was walking out of the track in the procession and noticed a well-known jockey agent and an up and coming trainer walking out together right next to my friend and I. The agent had and still does represent some top riders. It was impossible not to hear their conversation and I imagine it was just as hard for them not to hear ours. I commented to my friend had the 6 won, I would have bailed out and then some with the win bet and the superfecta. My friend commented back I thought you liked Mott’s horse. I did I told him, but after I was knocked out of the pick 4 where I singled him, I saw he was ice cold on the board and decided to go elsewhere. I noticed the agent smirk at what I had said and whisper something to the trainer. He then looked at me, who he recognized as a familiar face and said what are you talking about Mott was dead on the board, he was the 2-1 favorite and then he kind of laughed. Some days I would have said nothing, but this one was different. Maybe it was the whisper, the laugh, the losing day or all the horseman around. I am not sure but I did answer. I told him no wonder you guys can’t buy a winner up here, you don’t even know what a dead horse on the board looks like. Mott and Bailey with a standout on paper open 7-2 and close a weak 2-1 where they should have been even money from the start. That’s as dead as you can get and how he ran showed it. Sucker bet if I ever saw one.

In both those cases the board helped. It’s knowing what to look for and how to read it. Certain trainers and certain angles take a lot of money especially at certain tracks. When they don’t, pay attention as there is usually a reason. I won’t say the money never lies, but it doesn’t happen often. Additionally in certain situations when the money shows strong, like with layoffs or maidens, it is usually a sign of good intentions. Use those edges in your calculations when you have them. When connections who don’t normally take a lot of money suddenly do against some that normally do, it’s a good idea to pay attention.

One of the emptiest feelings in the game is when you are alive in a pick 3, 4, 5, or 6 to a single and the horse opens dead on the board. On the other hand if the single is the third or fourth choice in the exotics but opens 8-5 I usually smile.

Back in the day there were groups of people who consistently beat the game doing exactly this. Charters they were called and many didn’t have a racing form. They did have a pad and pen however. Before simulcasting ruled the day, the tracks had several monitors that showed the progressing will pay exacta and double prices in advance and in real time. The charters would stand under these monitors and write everyone down. If the 4-6 straight exacta combination was going down every flash they would know it and would bet combinations taking large amounts of money. If the 7-9 double was going down each flash as well they’d see that too. If a horse was say 8-1 on the board but more like 5-1 in the exactas and doubles they would see that as well. They would structure their bets accordingly and did well. A friend asked me once if I ever charted or would chart, no way I said, they’re just following me and guys like me anyway.

Beholder was the latest star defection from this year’s Breeders’ Cup which has already lost some big names like Wise Dan, Game on Dude, Will Take Charge, Mucho Macho Man and Princess of Sylmar. I thought it was odd when Beholder was announced for the upcoming sale and because of that I can’t say I was shocked when she defected. I would have loved to see her go for a third straight Breeders’ Cup and as many of you will recall she was one of my best bets and singles last year. The beauty of the Breeders’ Cup for the player is defections don’t take away from the competitiveness of the racing or the multitude of life changing score opportunities. This year looks to be more wide open than ever and Breeders’ Cup fever will be spreading like wildflower now.

Next week we are planning a very special Past the Wire with a very special guest for the Breeders’ Cup. You will not want to miss it.

High 5

If you don’t have the special Roberts Racing Package from Dish Network and you are a racing fan, player or horseman, you are really missing out. You get the live feed from just about every track you can think of or ever heard of, many in HD. If you can’t sleep, somebody is almost always racing somewhere. It’s like one of those things you don’t know how you ever did without. Dish is high tech today and offers everything else you would expect and you can even watch any track from your phone, tablet, PC, or laptop. They also carry TVG and HRTV.

Low 5

I love any racing coverage and anything that promotes our game but it has to be done right. I have a pet peeve about people who are supposed to be knowledgeable that portray things inaccurately. Like when a bettor says they had an exacta ice cold but they boxed it or reversed it. That’s luke warm, not cold. Cold is 4-6, only 4-6 and nothing but 4-6. If you also had 6-4 or 4 and anything else it wasn’t cold. Or when a jockey agent or professional handicapper doesn’t know a horse is dead on the board or the board is screaming someone is live. With that, just who are the pros on TVG’s “play with the pros”? Is it the guest, some unknown entity? I love TVG and HRTV and their coverage but commentators aren’t pros. Pros beat the game and derive the majority if not all of their income from it.

Horse to Watch

Spider Roll broke from a wide post in his turf debut. After not getting away clean, he dropped even further back and did not seem to like or level off on the turf. Despite that, he did get his footing the last eighth and should be tough back on the main.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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