How I Made Over $1,000 Betting on Harness Racing

The following is based on a true story, because it is a true story.

I turned 18 back in July, so, needless to say, I do not have much time left. So, I decided bet my future rent money on the ponies, as it seemed like the thing to do.

The following is not totally meant to be an act of red-boarding, although I am in part writing this piece to document for future generations the greatness that once was Ray Cotolo. How I was able to snag these payoffs — on harness racing of all sports — is what prompted me to write this piece (along with the idea of “courageous betting”).

My father, Frank Cotolo, has an ongoing series in Hoof Beats where he talks about courageous betting — which, basically, is an umbrella term for defining the value of bets and thus the value of pursuing said bets. By this principle, we are forced to evaluate the value of both a horse in a race and the race as a whole to gauge an amount, if any, we should wager.

Under the philosophy of courageous betting, we pass races that we either lack confidence in or are disinterested in due to the potential returns offered and we play the races where a certain outcome appears valuable enough to garner an investment. Curating bets is vital to both constructing one’s own definition of value, as well as playing the races that offer the best potential return with the best probability.

The first of these wagers was during the World Driving Championship at Mohawk Racetrack.

Burnin Money, sent off the even-money favorite, was making a big drop in class, a move which should always warrant further investigation (is the horse regressing, in too tough, etc.?).

Meanwhile, the second choice, Mystery Bet, was entering the race off a strong effort at this class level and appeared to be the horse in the best form in the field. While 5/2 was not a price that appealed to me, I thought that, leaving the favorite out of the win spot, he could inflate the exotic payouts.

I opted to play a trifecta, especially because an eleven-horse field would likely provide a higher-than-usual payoff. Using a $.20 base wager, I placed Mystery Bet on top of three horses:

She was drawing better, and had the speed necessary to put her into a stalking spot that could potentially suction her into the top three. She was 70-1.

She showed speed two starts prior against tougher horses and then left the following start against this group from post 10. While she didn’t show the stamina to wire the field, she could be in the right place at the right time to hit the board. She was 14-1.

He had fast final quarters and could finish second at best. Even if he hit the ticket, a bomb for third could provide a decent return. He was even-money.

And along with those three, I included two others in the third spot:

Rallied to finish third against this group last out but hung doing so — I used in the event of a similar setup where he was the best of the rest. He was 9/2.

This horse was a sneaky longshot coming into this race — making a first-over move two starts ago and being competitive off a rail trip in his most recent start. If he sat the rail the whole way and got room late, he could at least get third. He was 70-1.

A total investment of $2.40, the race goes and Mystery Bet, nearly six-wide at the top of the stretch, flew down the center of the track to catch pacesetter Windsong Magic, with Musical Spell sneaking up the rail to finish third and Burnin Money just missing the ticket to get fourth. It was the most perfect, as well as the luckiest, setup that could’ve occurred.

With the top three being 5/2, 14-1, and 70-1, the $.20 trifecta returned $309.54. I managed to make a cheap ticket since I committed to using one horse on top, the second choice, and knew that the favorite was not as strong as the board was reading. While I didn’t take a total stand against the favorite, the outcome of the race better demonstrates the potential payoff of having that level of courage.

The rest of my courageous wagers came on a Sunday afternoon at Tioga Downs. I didn’t turn on the races until they were parading for race eight on a nine-race card, with the nightcap being the $163,000 Roll With Joe, which I had handicapped the day before for the HANA Harness Handicapping Contest.

Off a win in the Empire Breeders Classic elimination, Tequila Monday was the odds-on favorite in the $257,850 final. However, seeing as she had been beaten in two of her last three starts, I questioned the strength of her favoritism and decided to look around to see if there were any contenders being dismissed.

Sent off at 17-1, Obvious Blue Chip appeared to be sharp entering the race. Kicking home in :27 to finish third, all she needed was a good trip and she seemed like she could beat the heavy favorite. She also had a sharp mile in against the top mares at Mohawk four starts back, so I basically threw out her two starts on a half-mile in the NYSS. I put my $2 on her and watched her sit a second-over trip and tip wide into the stretch, kicking away to win and return $57.50.

Now, having handicapped the Roll With Joe the day before, I knew my outside contender was Dealt A Winner, since he is notoriously good off a trip and appeared to be entering the race live according to his first-over challenge in the $325,000 Dan Patch stakes.

The race was wide open.

Boston Red Rocks, winless in 12 starts this season, was the morning line favorite, while Wakizashi Hanover, who has managed only to win in overnight events this season, was sent off the actual favorite. With tactical speed, Dealt A Winner could work out a covered trip and, supplemented by a fast pace most likely to be set with speedsters like Rockin Ron in the mix, could fly past his rivals a la Cane Pace 2015.

Dealt A Winner was sent off the longest choice on the board at 30-1. I had $2 to win on him along with a $1 Daily Double I started with Obvious Blue Chip. I didn’t single Dealt A Winner in the second leg, because I would’ve been the only ticket that used him, so alongside I added Shamballa, who I assumed would improve off a decent qualifier and the double was returning $210, which, in layman’s terms, me “likeyed.”

The most picturesque setup occurred before my eyes. Dealt A Winner positioned himself second over while Rockin Ron set the pace, likely to falter in the final stages. Turning for home, Dealt A Winner tipped off his cover and sprinted clear of the field, giving me both $72.50 to win and the lone ticket to take down the entire daily double pool, returning $1,003.50.

Yes, all of these outcomes did involve levels of luck seen only by those that often mistake it for “divine intervention”. But Horse Racing God certainly was with me that day, I think, granting me the luck necessary for the outcomes I envisioned to occur. My stands against the most likely winners took courage — an understanding of the favorites in play and the contenders outside of them. I saw a long shot that, in my mind, was more likely to win than the betting public thought; thus, I placed my marbles in contention and walked out with a toy store.

I, the cunning and observant squirrel, hid my nuts in the ground and sprouted, in return, a tree of infinite nuts. I, the contemporary stock broker, invested my first-born son and in return got a set of octoplets along with eight wives, a five-million dollar estate and a champagne brewery the size of a Super K-Mart.

Sure, I may be a bit grandiose in illustrating my genius, and yes, I’m totally neglecting the luck necessary to hit these kind of scores. Still, I am confident that, while the investment I’m making has a low probability of paying off, the likelihood I am right is much higher than what the public thinks — which is what value betting is all about.

This article also neglects the mutlitude of lossess that preceded these scores; hitting that trifecta basically broke me even after a long losing streak. Courageous betting circulates over big scores making up for many small losses, and, because of the nature of the ideology, can payoff in returns like I received above.

All it takes is confidence in your opinion, and, of course, a little bit of luck.

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