Avoiding Underlays


by Derek Simon

In my last podcast, I prattled on a bit about underlays. What is an underlay you ask? Well, at least in horseracing circles — it may mean something completely different in, say, pro golf circles — an underlay, or “false favorite,” is a horse with odds that are lower than its expected chance of winning. Of course, as a gambler, I shun such steeds like they’re Tiger Woods at an event hosted by Focus on the Family (my final Tiger joke, I promise).

So, how does one spot an underlay? Obviously, low odds are the first requirement, but price alone is not enough to make me “just say no” to an otherwise worthwhile betting choice — nor was price a concern for Tig… no, a promise is a promise.

Anyway, here are some “negatives” to look for when searching for phony favorites:

1. Finishing in the money (third or better), yet posting a speed figure south of today’s par. In my database of random thoroughbred races run from 2003 to 2009, 2,072 non-coupled favorites displayed this trait. Of these, 673 won (32.5 percent), producing a return on investment (ROI) of -21.3 percent. Overall, favorites chalked up a 35.7 percent winning average and a -15.6 percent ROI.

2. Fewer than three starts over the past two years (this year and last). Number of non-coupled favorites: 870; Winners: 291 (33.4 percent); ROI: -23.0 percent.

3. A win rate of less than 10 percent over the past two years (non-maiden races only). Number of non-coupled favorites: 521; Winners: 172 (33.0 percent); ROI: -19.4 percent.

Other favorites to avoid include those trying a distance over a quarter of a mile longer than they attempted in their latest start (-21.2 percent ROI) and those coming back from a layoff of 60 days or more in races offering a purse of less than $25,000 (-20.8 percent ROI).

Lock-less in Puerto Rico

Last week, I claimed that my search for a pari-mutuel lock was over after I’d spotted a beast by the name of Concierto Alegre entered in the ninth race at Camarero Race Track on Friday. Well, like many a Bigfoot hunter, it seems my optimism was premature.

The race was canceled. Hence, my quest for a “dead cert” continues… shhh, I think I hear something at Aqueduct.

Bambera Wins Again

Speaking of Camarero Race Track, on Sunday, super filly Bambera claimed her 13th victory of 2009 — as many wins as Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta combined — with a convincing 4 ½-length score over Vivian Record (another filly) in the $290,000 Clasico Caribe Stakes, otherwise known as the Caribbean Derby.

Bambera has now won 16 (of 18) races and nearly a million dollars in her incredible career. Still, I was not overly impressed by her latest cakewalk, which earned an early speed ration (ESR) of -3 (moderate-soft) and a late speed ration (LSR) of -9 (fair). Based on Rachel Alexandra’s Woodward win, which produced and identical -8 ESR and LSR, Bambera will need to do some improving should her connections wish to test the reigning U.S. sophomore queen sometime next year.

Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds

I’ve noted before how much I like race cards comprised of stakes events for state-breds. Not only are such programs good for the local breeding industry, but they represent a fun puzzle for handicappers to decipher — or at least attempt to.

Saturday’s Louisiana Champions Day at Fair Grounds Race Course is no exception, as 11 of the 12 scheduled contests are add-money events for Louisiana-breds.

What’s more, there is a great all-stakes Pick-4 to close out Saturday’s card. Below is a short preview of those races:

Race 9
DESERT WHEAT (2/1 on the morning line) beat five of these in his latest, when he came from well off the pace to win the Mr. Sulu Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths, and I expect a similar good effort in this event. I’d also keep an eye on the 1/1A entry (5/1) of SNUG and HALLWAY, as well as monster longshot Royal and Flashy (30/1).

Race 10
There’s a lot of early speed types in this six-furlong affair, making me partial to YARE (5/1) and MASTER LINK (5/2), two horses that hooked up on Nov. 15 and finished first (at 7-1) and third (at 1-5), respectively.

Race 11
Clearly, STAR GUITAR (4/5) is the one to beat, as he possesses the best overall speed and pace figures — by a large margin. But TAKIN’ THE BULLET (6/1) deserves some consideration as well, particularly since the three-year-old son of Red Bullet could find himself lonely on the early lead.

Race 12
Morning-line favorites FLASHY WISE CAT (3/1) and FOREIGN PRODUCTION (4/1) look like the ones to beat but, outside of that duo, this race appears wide open, so look for value.

Who Do YOU Like?

Looking for extra cabbage for Christmas, coins for Kwanzaa or hard cash for Hanukkah? If so, try playing the Fall Showdown contest at WhoDoYouLike.com, a Web site designed to keep “tweeting” handicappers up to date on all the important racing-related news.

The Showdown contest rewards players with the longest show-bet winning streak and is easy to enter and even easier to win… actually, that’s not true: it’s easier to enter than it is to win. Sorry, I got a little overenthusiatic.

Anyway, visit http://www.whodoyoulike.com/ContestMultiNew.aspx for all the contest details.


Currently a full-time freelance business/sports writer, Derek has been published by Motley Fool, Newsmax, Dulcinea Media, iStockAnalyst, Beacon Equity Research and a host of other online and offline venues.

The opinions of Youbet Update writers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Youbet.com or its subsidiaries.

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