Bar of Gold defeating Ami's Mesa in the 2017 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (Photo by Ting Shen/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup)

Bar of Gold defeating Ami’s Mesa in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (Photo by Ting Shen/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup)

The “all” button.

Sometimes, you’ll hear handicappers refer to the “all” button when they’re betting on a particularly tough race. For example, they might be playing a Pick 4 in which the last leg looks wide-open with a chance for a longshot winner, so rather than try to split hairs and bet on just a few horses, they’ll include the entire field on their ticket—hitting the “all” button to select every horse.

Although I’m generally not a huge fan of using every horse in a given race, there are a few situations where it can be a good strategy, particularly if you have a lot of confidence in one horse in a competitive race, as counter-intuitive as that might seem at first.

One example is the 2014 Kentucky Derby, in which the talented California Chrome looked like a clear standout off an impressive win in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Not surprisingly, he was the heavy 5-2 favorite in the wagering, making a win bet a rather unappealing choice. But shooting for a bigger score in exotic bets like the exacta loomed as a tricky challenge, since California Chrome’s eighteen rivals seemed evenly-matched and difficult to separate.

However, bettors that chose to use the “all” button and play California Chrome on top of an exacta with every other horse in second place wound up with a winning strategy. Although the payoff wouldn’t have been huge had a well-regarded runner finished second, the eventual return when 37-1 shot Commanding Curve ran second was $340.00 for $2—nearly ten times more than the total ticket cost of $36.

Such an exacta can also be played if you like a big longshot and believe that a clear favorite could finish out of the top two. In the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I), I had a lot of confidence that the 18-1 shot Ami’s Mesa was going to run a huge race in her debut on dirt. At that price, win and place bets were a logical choice, but since the heavy favorite Unique Bella seemed vulnerable at a short price, there was a chance to gain an even bigger score if Ami’s Mesa finished in the top two and Unique Bella did not.

Although I didn’t wind up playing the ticket (in retrospect, an unfortunate decision!), keying Ami’s Mesa with “all” in the exacta would have yielded impressive returns when she finished second by a nose behind the 66-1 shot Bar of Gold. A pair of $1 tickets, one playing Ami’s Mesa on top and the other in second place, would have cost a total of $26 and yielded a return of $1,030.20!