Last year, I debuted a weekly series entitled “The Dark Day Files” as a way to provide content on Tuesdays, which are, of course, the lone dark days of Saratoga’s summer meeting. The content seemed to go over well, so I’m back again for another go-round.
A necessary note before we start: If you have an idea for an installment of “The Dark Day Files,” don’t hesitate to reach out. You can tweet me at @AndrewChampagne, or get in touch by using the “contact” function this site provides.
This week, we’ll focus on the forgotten multi-race wager on the NYRA circuit. We all know about daily doubles, Pick Threes, Pick Fours, Pick Fives, and the Pick Six. However, one daily wager that can provide help in the everlasting pursuit of value at the racetrack has largely gone unnoticed. It’s not always a smart wager to play, but to this point in the Saratoga meeting, it’s provided strong returns on investment when hitting a certain criteria.
I’m referring to the Grand Slam, a four-race wager that usually ends in the card’s feature race. If you’re unfamiliar with the bet, here’s the gist: You must pick at least one horse to hit the board in the first three legs before picking the winner of the fourth and final leg. One can, of course, play multiple horses in each leg, and you can punch a ticket for as little as a dollar.
On the surface, it sounds gimmicky, and there are horseplayers I’ve dealt with who think it’s one of the worst wagers on the planet for various reasons. The Grand Slam isn’t a “hit this bet and retire” wager, nor will it ever be. Generally speaking, the ceiling is low with regard to potential payoffs (though that can be worked around given the possibility of one ticket having multiple combinations). In addition, I would recommend a cap of 18 combinations per ticket, as I’ve found that possible returns go way down following that point (with my recommended singling of a heavy favorite in the last leg, 18 combinations would be represented by using three horses in two of the earlier legs and two horses in the remaining one). However, in the right circumstances, you can use this bet to extract value from heavy favorites you wouldn’t otherwise want to touch at the betting window.
Say, for instance, you liked Monomoy Girl in Sunday’s Coaching Club American Oaks. If so, you weren’t alone, as the likely Champion 3-Year-Old Filly went wire-to-wire at the short price of 1/2. However, if you were alive to her in the Grand Slam, which ended in that race, you hit for $66.50 on every $2 combination. That works out to better than 32-1 odds, which made it one of the best plays available at the track for those who liked that horse and didn’t want to spend a mortgage payment on a multi-race exotic ticket.
The other driving factor for this bet is field size, especially in the first three legs. If the Grand Slam’s first three races include a race with five or six horses, chances are most tickets will be alive exiting that race, making it a less-enticing wager. However, if 30 horses contest those three races, the number of possible outcomes skyrockets. Add in a beatable favorite or two, or a bigger price sneaking into the exotics, and the potential payoff suddenly looks incredibly attractive.
Going back to the Sunday sequence, here were the odds of the top three finishers in each of the first three races.
Race #6: 5/2, 8-1, 3-1
Race #7: 8-1, 9/5, 5-1
Race #8: 7/2, 7-1, 9-1
There was not a single horse in the entire wager that hit the board at double-digit odds. Yes, there were several mid-priced horses that advanced tickets at 8-1 or so, and the favorite in the eighth race was off the board, but each race had at least one horse hit the board at odds of 7/2 or lower. If you used those horses, you were alive to two Grand Slam combinations (two runners in the sixth, one each in the seventh and eighth) going into the Coaching Club American Oaks, which, as mentioned, turned Monomoy Girl from a 1/2 shot into a horse that produced a 32-1 payoff.
This wasn’t a fluke occurrence, either. Saturday’s Grand Slam was anchored by Sistercharlie, who won the Diana at even-money. In the first three legs, field sizes were moderate (averaging eight horses per race), favorites went three for three, and no horse higher than 7-1 hit the board. However, the Grand Slam returned $22.20 for every successful $2 combination, thus turning Sistercharlie from an even-money favorite to a 10-1 shot. It’s far from a life-changing payoff, but I’ve yet to meet a horseplayer that would complain about multiplying a favorite’s odds by 10!
You won’t get rich playing the Grand Slam. Having said that, giving out ridiculously large tickets that require a Brinks truck to be hauled to the racetrack has never been my style. I’m here to help handicappers that may be on a tighter budget enjoy the game and potentially walk away with seed money for another day at the races, and there are days when the best way to do that is a wager that often slips through the cracks.