Between The Hedges: Getting a handle on handle
by NYRA Press Office
The following is the seventh edition of a bi-weekly series entitled Between The Hedges, discussing the business of betting with a focus on trending wagering topics and statistics. This week’s column is penned by Kenny Gordon, NYRA’s Senior Financial Analyst. Send your questions for Between The Hedges to [email protected].
Horseplayers can wager on as many as 77 different pools during nine-race cards at each of the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) tracks comprising Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
With so many options, a handicapper must decide on which wagers to focus on, negotiating a delicate balance between risk and reward in search of the best possible payout.
Over time, the betting public has settled on their favorite wagers at NYRA tracks. The most popular wagers at NYRA in 2020 - by average handle per pool – were the Empire 6 mandatory payout days [$2.8 million], the Early Pick 5 [$546K], the retail-only Late Pick 5 [$444K], and the Late Pick 4 [$429K].
The mandatory payout days of the Empire 6 ranged from $420K on an abbreviated carryover on February 23 to $6.1 million in Saratoga on August 9.
The Empire 6, a jackpot style wager offered at a $0.20 base, shifted to a daily mandatory payout in January 2021 and was replaced at the current Belmont Park spring/summer meet by a traditional Pick 6: a retail-only wager featuring a $1 base and 15 percent takeout with an opportunity for carryover days.
The success of multi-race wagers has garnered much attention. Twitter users post their plays and share their major scores, entire podcasts are dedicated to studying the sequences, and analysts on America's Day at the Races, the acclaimed national telecast produced by NYRA in partnership with FOX Sports, spend airtime discussing their tickets for the audience to follow along.
The multi-race wagers offer the best value on the wagering menu and allow fans the best chance to bet a little to win a lot. But these multi-race options represent only four out of the 77 wagers on a nine-race card. In 2020, the Empire 6 mandatory payout days, Early Pick 5, Late Pick 5, and Late Pick 4 only accounted for 15 percent of all handle.
So, what about the other wagers?
By total handle, the most popular NYRA wager is the exacta, which handled 22 percent of all wagers at NYRA in 2020. A close second was the win pool, which handled 21 percent of all wagers, while the trifecta pool finished third with 12 percent of all wagers.
Because of the sheer number of intra-race pools compared to multi-race pools, total intra-race handle exceeds multi-race pools. But the difference between the two is closing over the years.
While still popular, there have been noticeable drops in the exacta and trifecta pools as a percentage of total wagers. In 2016, intra-race pools comprised 76 percent of total handle. In 2020, that number was 71 percent. With more than $1.8 billion wagered on NYRA races in 2020, that reflects over $90 million of wagers shifted from intra-race to multi-race wagering.
What has caused the change?
Since 2016, the wagering menu has not changed except for the introduction of the Late Pick Five. First limited in the number of days offered, and only offered to customers of NYRA Bets, the pool eventually became a daily fixture open to the public starting in July 2019.
Additionally, the switch from a traditional $2 Pick Six to the $0.20 Empire 6 in August 2019 created mandatory payout carryover days that were more accessible to the average customer. These two new wagers gave bettors additional higher value opportunities on the back end of the card, which formerly was highlighted by the Late Pick 4. Clearly popular, bettors flocked to the new wagers.
The popularity of the Empire 6 and Late Pick 5 has impacted the handle on the Late Pick 4. Looking at the total percentage of NYRA handle since 2016, the Late Pick 4 is the only Pick N wager to lose significant market share in the NYRA wagering menu landscape. By comparison, the Early Pick 4 at the beginning of the race card has stayed consistent even as the Early Pick 5 grows in popularity.
INFOGRAPHIC: Percentage of Total NYRA Handle - by Year by Pool
The change to a $1 traditional Pick 6 should provide some differentiation in the later portion of the card, and NYRA is looking forward to analyzing how players respond. This Thursday’s card at Belmont will feature a Pick 6 carryover of more than $61,000.
An upcoming edition of Between The Hedges will offer a closer look at the $1 traditional Pick 6, which launched on Thursday’s Opening Day card at Belmont.
Bi-weekly stat pack
The bi-weekly stat pack provides a snapshot of who's hot over the past two weeks at NYRA tracks versus year-to-date, including Top Trainer by ROI; Top Jockey by ROI; and Top Jockey and Trainer Combination by wins.
Also featured in this report is listing of the highest mutuel payouts of the past two weeks versus year-to-date, as well as a look at NYRA's bi-weekly handle, including average field size; number of race days; and daily average handle.
The two-week period of April 10 through April 25 provides a closer look at those outfits that closed out the Aqueduct spring meet strong and kicked off the Belmont Park spring/summer meet in style. The Big A spring meet ended April 18 while the 48-day Belmont meet launched on Thursday, April 22.
Joel Rosario made a splash Sunday on his return to New York by winning with 3-of-6 mounts over a sloppy Belmont main track for an ROI of $3.75.
Jose Ortiz continued his good run, winning with 23 of his last 67 mounts for an ROI of $2.85. Ortiz, who led all riders at the Big A spring meet with 24 wins, teamed up with fellow Big A spring meet title winner Chad Brown to win with 4-of-8 starts over the relevant period for an ROI of $4.30.
Brown, a four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, has dominated the past two weeks with 13 wins from 35 starts for an ROI of $2.72. Also heating up is conditioner Orlando Noda, who has won six of his last 14 starts for an ROI of $3.26.
For a closer look at the bi-weekly stat pack, click this link.
The Big Ticket: A $252 Early Pick 5 investment returns $44,202.75
On April 16 at the Big A, a horseplayer invested $252 into the Early Pick 5 for a return of $44,202.75.
The ticket went as follows: 1-3,10-13/1-3,5-7/2,4,6/3,6/2,5
The opening race of the sequence, a maiden claiming race for state-bred fillies and mares, was rained off the turf in a field reduced to seven horses after scratches. Seahorse d’Oro [1A, $21.40] bested 10-1 shot Lemon Taffy by a half-length going a one-turn mile on a muddy Big A main track. Luis Rodriguez Castro had the call for Gregory DiPrima.
Race 2, a claiming mile over a track upgraded to good, saw No Lime [No. 7, $23.60] romp to a 7 1/2-length win in a field of six as the second longest shot on the board. Reylu Gutierrez guided the Oscar Barrera III trainee gate-to-wire for the win.
The third leg saw a field of five maiden claimers sprinting six furlongs with Yerosilverbiz [No. 4, $14] prevailing by a neck over post-time favorite Warfront Fighter [No. 6]. Kendrick Carmouche engineered the prominent trip for trainer Rob Atras.
The Pick 3 through the unlikely opening to the card returned $753 for $1 and this Early Pick 5 ticket was two by two through the final two legs in search of a big score.
In the penultimate leg, the Linda Rice-trained Scilly Cay [No. 6, $20.20] arrived in time for a neck score over Bronx Bomber [No. 2] to keep the ticket alive. With Jose Ortiz up, Scilly Cay made a four-wide move into the stretch and held on gamely.
To close out the ticket, the winning punter went against the 6-5 morning line and eventual 4-5 post-time favorite Malibu Pro [No. 3] and saw his two selections complete the exacta to secure the massive payday.
Although Malibu Pro held a 1 1/2-length lead at the stretch call, Vintage Hollywood [No. 2, $10.80], with Ortiz up for Orlando Noda, rallied from fourth to notch the half-length win over Whistling Birds [No. 5], who had drifted up to 10-1 from his 8-1 morning-line assessment. It was a further nose back to Supreme Aura [No. 7], who edged Malibu Pro to complete the trifecta.
A look back…a look ahead
Stakes action at the 48-day Belmont Park spring/summer meet kicked off on Friday with Bank On Shea’s gate-to-wire score in the $100,000 Affirmed Success, a six-furlong sprint on Big Sandy for New York-breds 4-years-old and up. Read the recap: https://www.nyra.com/belmont/news/bank-on-shea-kicks-off-belmont-park-spring/summer-stakes-with-affirmed-success-victory
Casa Creed captured Saturday’s $100,000 Elusive Quality, a seven-furlong turf sprint for 4-year-olds and up in a dramatic blanket finish. Read the recap: https://www.nyra.com/belmont/news/casa-creed-wins-blanket-finish-in-$100k-elusive-quality
There’s plenty to look forward to at Belmont Park this week, including a Pick 6 carryover of $61,085 on Thursday’s nine-race card. Thursday’s Pick 6 will begin in Race 4 with a post time of 2:33 p.m. Eastern. The sequence offers four turf races, including a 10-furlong $94,000 allowance optional-claiming event in Race 8. First post on Thursday’s nine-race card is 1 p.m.
The $100,000 License Fee, a six-furlong turf sprint for older fillies and mares was rescheduled from Sunday to Friday, April 30 due to inclement weather. Check out the advance: https://www.nyra.com/belmont/news/she%E2%80%99s-my-type-set-for-4-year-old-bow-in-friday%E2%80%99s-license-fee
Friday’s card, which kicks off at 12:20 p.m. Eastern, also includes the $100,000 Flat Out at 11 furlongs on the main track for older horses. View our preview here: https://www.nyra.com/belmont/news/rocketry-returns-to-action-in-$100k-flat-out
Saturday’s stakes action features a trio of graded events with the Grade 2, $200,000 Fort Marcy for older horses at nine furlongs on turf; the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay at 11 furlongs on turf for older fillies and mares; and the Grade 3, $200,000 Westchester at one mile on the mail track for older horses.
Sunday’s card is highlighted by the Grade 2, $200,000 Ruffian, a one-turn mile for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up.
For FREE TimeformUS analysis and selections for races from Aqueduct Racetrack, visit: https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/timeformus/.
FREE daily NYRA selections are available from analysts Andy Serling and Anthony Stabile. Watch Serling and Stabile discuss the card each live race day from The Big A on Talking Horses: https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/talking-horses.
Check out NYRA Notes for insights into recent races and the inside scoop on contenders for upcoming events with quotes from the connections: https://www.nyra.com/belmont/news/notes.
Belmont Park spring / summer meet Week 2 probables
Saturday, May 1
Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay
Probable: Always Shopping (Todd Pletcher), Antionette (Bill Mott), Magic Attitude (Arnaud Delacour), Mutamakina (Christophe Clement), My Sister Nat (Chad Brown), Orglandes (Chad Brown), Sorrel (Christophe Clement)
Grade 2, $200,000 Fort Marcy
Probable: Rockemperor (Chad Brown)
Possible: Cross Border (Mike Maker), Pixelate (Michael Stidham)
Grade 3, $200,000 Westchester
Probable: Basin (Todd Pletcher), Creed (Shug McGaughey), Mr. Buff (John Kimmel)
Possible: Bal Harbour (Gregg Sacco)
Sunday, May 2
Grade 2, $200,000 Ruffian
Probable: Gibberish (Saffie Joseph, Jr.), Lady Kate (Eddie Kenneally), Lake Avenue (Bill Mott), On the Town (Shug McGaughey), Our Super Freak (Cherie DeVaux), Water White (Rudy Rodriguez)
Possible: Portal Creek (Juan Carlos Guerrero)
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