Late Scratches: The Squeeze Is On!

By Ray Wallin

It is a gorgeous sunny day at the track. It has been a profitable day so far. You just finished watching the horses get ready in the paddock and the post parade. You know you have this pick-4 with a guaranteed pool nailed, including some solid higher-odds horses. The minutes are ticking down as you start to turn from the rail to head into the grandstand to place the wager you came here for.

Suddenly, though, you hear it. The track announcer starts to speak: “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. There is a late scratch in the ninth race. Scratch the four, Oneofyourcontenders. Oneofyourcontenders has scratched. Post time in five minutes.”

You stop cold in your tracks. Rail Guy passes you and says, with a big grin, “Da squeeze is on baby,” as he waddles his way down towards the rail with a beer sloshing in one hand and program in the other.

Your “sure thing” pick-4 ticket just lost one of the horses you had in this race. At least they didn’t scratch your top choice, the one you know is going to win, right? How did this horse figure in your handicapping and pace scenarios? Now you are not so sure about your “sure thing”.


For once, Rail Guy is right. It is time to re-figure how you are going to bet the upcoming race. The “squeeze” is on!

What is the “squeeze”? Simply put, it is a situation where you have no choice but to do something right away.

In baseball, it is like a squeeze bunt. If you are the batter, the runner on third base is leaving with the pitch so you need to get your bat on the ball no matter what. If you are a fielder, you need to decide quickly what your play is going to be the moment the ball contacts the bat and hope that you are right.

Playing the races with a late scratch is no different. You don’t have a lot of time to react to the information that has presented itself to you. When people must make quick, rash decisions, there is an increased opportunity for error in the judgement. In the case of a late scratch, you need to look at your options and decide quickly what you want to do.

At this point, there are a couple things you can do:

#1 Skip the Race

If you are unsure about the race, it is okay to pass. As one of my seven pillars of handicapping says, if your confidence level is below 90 percent, you shouldn’t play the race.

Should your horse win anyway, you will go into full “Fernando-mode”. I have written about Fernando in the past. He was a regular that I met up at the Meadowlands years ago. If he didn’t place a wager and his play came in, he would exclaim “I just lost $1,500!”, with a few expletives for additional color. When, in fact, he had just not won $1,500. There is a difference. Regardless, if you are not confident in playing a race you should pass.

#2 Stay the Course, Less the Horse

Your bet is cheaper now with a few less combinations. Still, though, you are risking some portion of your bankroll on a bet that you may not be as confident with as before. You’ll be rolling the dice a bit without reassessing the race, but you’ll take a shot at it regardless.

#3 Call an Audible

Like “staying the course, less the horse”, except you may add another horse in place of the late scratch. Your wager will still be the same amount as you planned. You were on the fence about this one for the underneath in your exotics or had him as a minor player in the pace scenario, so why not elevate him into your play?

#4 Reevaluate

This may be tough given the time you are left with to reassess the pace of the race. If the late scratch had no real impact in your original pace then the race should still set up the same way.

Yet, if your critical pace horse scratches, you will need to do a quick overhaul and complete reassessment of pace. Depending on how you summarize your thoughts on pace analysis, this could be easy or a monumental task. What could go wrong when you have two minutes to refigure what you pained over for at least 15 minutes last night when you did your homework? The important thing to remember here is that if the race looks different now, you can’t stay hung up on your original contenders!

The best choice is to reevaluate the race. But that may not always be an option given the time until post.

Regardless of the path you take, there are two simple ways to avoid suffering an error in judgement. 

#5 Play Smaller

That’s right. Drop your wager size down a bit. After all, your hard-earned cash is on the line and if there is any doubt left in your mind, you should think about reducing your investment on this race. Instead of playing a $2 pick-4, drop down to a $1 pick-4. After all, you aren’t here to earn your living playing the races! A smaller wager is still an investment with less exposure if you are wrong and it will still stand to be profitable if you are right.

#6 Eliminate Riskier Wagers

Like calling an audible, you can choose to eliminate the riskier exotic wagers you had planned to play in the race. Perhaps you stick with your original win bet, but change your mind on the exacta or skip the trifecta where your horse was scratched.

Late scratches don’t happen very often, but, when they do, they seem to always follow Murphy’s Law. What can go wrong, will go wrong. They always seem to happen in a race where you think you have a play. Hopefully they won’t impact your plays but be ready to reevaluate the race or modify your wagering if they do!

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