<
>

Favorite Triple Crown lessons

As it relates to risk (and what doesn't?) one thing the Triple Crown series proved is not all public handicappers know what to do with the best horse in a race. The goal of horse race handicapping is to pick winners. Oftentimes the best horse in a top-level race is the favorite.

Many handicappers who act as if they know exactly what they're doing went 0-3 on American Pharoah.

Public handicappers probably don't like favorites because they don't want to be associated with the railbirds or the commoners. A hundred bucks also seems beneath many of them. Whereas a return of 60 to 100 percent would seem like a good investment to many, putting a lot of money on a favorite to win is a huge risk. That's because you can't shut down the wager halfway around, like a stock or bond play, and lose just a little something. Any win bet is high risk. If you're wrong, it's all gone -- there's no stop order at the quarter pole for bailouts.

When the best horse in a race is the favorite, effective handicapping becomes harder. If the favorite looks strong, you can't discount the race and throw darts at the rest of the nags on the page. You can't invent reasons -- such as, "He hasn't beaten anybody." -- not to bet on the good one. You can't blame horses for winning. People were looking for Belmont "value" in Materiality, a flop from Florida and the race's trendy horse who reinforced the angle that early trouble in a previous race is not always reason for bets in the next one. Who knows, Materiality's early trouble in Kentucky might have actually knocked it forward. The real "value" in the Belmont Stakes was the bet featuring the two best horses in the race, those that easily ran 1-2. A $50 wager on the chalk exacta would have cleared $190. Sometimes, what favorites tell you is: Bet me and bet more.

Handicappers love to beat the favorites -- no news there. Beating a favorite means outsmarting the masses. It makes you think you're wiser. But the desire to show off shouldn't cause a person to repeatedly overlook a truly great horse. A good handicapper, after trying to beat Pharoah twice, might have said, "I've seen enough. I'm with you."

All favorites are different. At the major tracks, first-time starters at maiden special weight that are bet down to nothing are often as close to sure things as you will find. That's because the people betting big money know all there is to know about the horse. Their gigantic wagers become your inside info. Backing a cheap claiming favorite is like a game of Keno. The same thing seldom happens twice running in the boondocks. Betting more than five bucks on a favorite in a low-dollar claiming race means you've had one too many beers.

It's sound handicapping technique to fear the favorites in the sticks.

Pick horses, not prices. Let the long shots find you.

Here's the problem some public pickers have with letting one of the most talented horses to come along in 37 years get the best of them three straight times. If you can't pick the important winners, why should anybody believe anything else you have to say? You have to win them back.