Keen Ice upsetting American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes - Photo by Courtney Henney/Coglianese Photography

Keen Ice upsetting American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes – Photo by Courtney Henney/Coglianese Photography

In the sport of horse racing, there are two main types of “exotic” wagers separate from the tried-and-true win, place, and show bets that have existed for years.

The first group of exotic wagers, commonly referred to as “vertical exotics” or “single-race exotics,” involve predicting the order of finish in a single race. The second group of exotic wagers, often called “horizontal exotics” or “multi-race exotics,” involve picking the winners of two or more consecutive races. The Double, Pick 3, Pick 4, and Pick 6 are examples of multi-race exotic wagers.

One of my favorite strategies to utilize when playing multi-race wagers involves taking a stand against a popular opinion in a major race. If a horse is heavily favored in the win pool—say, starting at odds of 1.00-1 or less—chances are that they’re an even heavier favorite in the multi-race wagers, since many bettors will view them as a “free square” and use that horse alone on all of their tickets.

That’s a fine strategy if the horse does indeed win, but on the occasions when these heavy favorites suffer defeats, the payoffs in the multi-race wagers can be dramatically higher than you might otherwise expect.

A great example comes from the 2015 Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, which was the concluding leg of an all-stakes Pick 3 that also included the Forego Stakes (gr. I) and the Sword Dancer Stakes (gr. I). On paper, the sequence looked pretty simple—the talented sprinter Private Zone was a clear favorite in the Forego, the international traveler Flintshire looked unstoppable in the Sword Dancer, and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was expected to be an easy winner of the Travers.

At odds of 0.35-1, American Pharoah was the shortest-priced favorite in the sequence and a horse that most handicappers would emphasize in their wagers. But bettors willing to take a contrary approach could certainly make a case for the 16-1 shot Keen Ice, who had finished a strong second behind American Pharoah in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) just four weeks prior.

When race day came, the early results were as expected—Private Zone won the Forego at odds of 1.60-1 and Flintshire produced an explosive finish to prevail in the Sword Dancer at 1.00-1. But in the Travers, Keen Ice pulled off an unforgettable upset by rallying to edge American Pharoah in the final strides, completing a $2 Pick 3 that returned a hefty $439.00—nearly 2 ½ times higher than a win bet parlay on Private Zone, Flintshire, and Keen Ice.

As you can see, it can pay to take a contrary opinion when playing multi-race wagers!