May 28, 2020

Monopoly money approach aided simple strategy for BCBC winner Anderson

Breeders' Cup patrons 2019 (Horsephotos.com)
Breeders' Cup patrons 2019 (Horsephotos.com)

Brisnet Betting Guide Exclusive by Peter Thomas Fornatale
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Last week, the Breeders’ Cup released all the plays from the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, which are now available on its website. The idea behind publishing the plays was initially to create transparency in the tournament after the controversy surrounding the 2017 event, but the plays do much more than that – they provide players an opportunity to learn not only about contest strategy but also about how to construct wagers in general.

Any discussion of the plays at the 2019 BCBC should begin with those of the winner, Brad Anderson. Anderson, a self-professed novice with only a few tournaments under his belt, played like a seasoned pro.

“I had gone back and done research on the past winners,” Anderson said, “and the strategy I thought that could work for me was to keep things as simple as possible.”

Anderson’s plays were very simple indeed.

For the most part, he didn’t get caught up in exactas and trifectas. On day one, he didn’t have any particularly strong opinions about any of the races and therefore limited his bets to satisfy the required minimum bets. 

He played most of his minimums or amounts just above, in the win pools, and even though he didn’t connect with his winning entry, he had plenty of money heading into day two on that entry and actually had amassed a small profit on his other entry by connecting on two small win bets.

“My research showed you needed to have a meaningful balance going to the last races,” he said. “I wanted to get added value to the horses I liked in the Classic and to do that I wanted to have some powder.”

This is an important idea. While many players just looked to preserve bankroll throughout the tournament to make one shot at the end on a cold number in an exacta or double or trifecta, Anderson wanted to be able to win by building his bankroll to a position that allowed him to make a much more simple and safe bet – ideally a win bet on the horse he liked best.  He stressed this idea, “I think Breeders’ Cup races are very difficult to handicap due to the size and depth of the fields. It’s awfully tough to pick just the winner of one of these races, and I really don’t like the idea of putting myself in a position where I need to also make a correct call on which horses will manage second or third.”

With that in mind, he came up with a three-pronged strategy:

  • bet minimums simply in an effort to generate some extra capital without being exposed to the heightened risk of an exacta or trifecta
  • take one all-in shot to vault the bankroll
  • and use that bankroll to push all-in again at the end with enough money to win the whole thing on a sensible play that wouldn’t require more than one thing to happen in order to prove successful.

With his winning entry, the middle step was executed via Covfefe in the Filly & Mare Sprint. He played her to win and also in doubles to all, pressing a few horses in the second leg. One of the horses he pressed was the eventual winner, longshot Belvoir Bay. This put him up over $27,000 and the plan was working to perfection.

With his second entry, the middle step was accomplished via three large Daily Doubles totaling just under $11,000 that played Bricks and Mortar over three moderate price shots in the Classic (Higher Power, Yoshida and War of Will).  Anderson was live to a triple figure payout if any of those horses won the Classic, and he likely would have been alive to a meaningful claim on the prize pool, as well. 

Interestingly, he has been quite self-critical following the tournament and admits that he probably spread himself a bit too thin with those three picks in the Classic given the fact that none of those payouts would have given him the top spot on the leaderboard.

Anderson initially planned to play McKinzie in the Classic with his entry that was higher up on the leaderboard, and for a while he thought that’s exactly what he’d do – until the Turf ran and the leader afterwards ended up with over $137,000.

That was more than the total Anderson was initially thinking he’d need and meant that now if he played McKinzie in the Classic with his remaining $25,900, he’d almost certainly be drawing dead for the win because McKinzie was well-backed at 5-2.

Most players in that spot would have looked to exactas with McKinzie on top. But Anderson stayed focused on playing the game within the game.

“I’m a competitive guy and I wanted to win,” he said. “The plan of keeping it simple had worked all weekend and I wanted to be disciplined and didn’t want to change that at the end. At that point it became a mathematical exercise for me, where I knew I needed to get north of $140 thousand. And that really made the decision for me.”

“I felt that McKinzie had approximately a 30 percent chance to win the Classic, but I believed there to be another horse in the race that had maybe a 25 percent chance to win,” he said.  “The odds on that horse provided me with far more value than McKinzie did based on my sense of the race, and the decision to switch off of McKinzie was solidified when I realized that McKinzie’s odds wouldn’t get me to where I needed to go.” 

Vino Rosso, the second most likely winner by Anderson’s handicapping, became the play, and delivered the victory. And just to give a measure of the kind of value that exists at the BCBC, if your average horseplayer bet $25,900 to win on Vino Rosso, he or she got back $145,040 or 9-2. Anderson got back $448,040 or 17-1. Now that’s value!

There are many lessons to be learned in scrolling through the plays.

One that stands out to me is that there is apparently a real skill in giving yourself a chance to win. I don’t want to name names here for fear of embarrassing anyone, but there were players pushing all-in at the end who, even if they hit their big pushes, still would not have had enough money to win the big prize. Personally, I don’t understand this. It’s a simple matter of risk and reward. If you’re going to take that much risk, you need to have a chance to win, given the top-heavy nature of the prize pool.

At the same time, I absolutely understand players taking a more measured approach to leave money on their bankrolls and take a shot to end up near the top or even to shoot for one of the seats to the National Horseplayers’ Championship at the lower rungs of the money.

As with any contest, it’s very difficult to evaluate the plays without knowing the game-plan/goals of the player in question coming into that event.  In this particular contest, given that the leader going into the last race had amassed an extremely impressive total of over $137,000, I suspect that many players conceded that the top spot would be out of reach to them.  That might help to explain why so many of their final plays gave them virtually no chance to win the tournament.

That said, I’ll never understand the one player in this tournament who was playing for a $1 million bonus and left plenty of money on his bankroll at the end.

Especially after looking at the specifics of his plays in the Classic, where he was all around the winning trifecta combination. When the reward is that out-sized – an extra million for the outright win – I feel very comfortable saying a more aggressive strategy was in order.

It amazes me how many players in the field – presumably many of whom qualified for the BCBC – are not playing to win in a contest where so much money is at the top.

This creates one of the great positive-expectation situations I’ve ever seen in gambling, let alone horse racing, and I think we’re going to see more and more advantage player types from different areas in the gambling sphere looking to compete in this contest in future years.

There’s one caveat though, when it comes to shooting for the big prize – if you’re not willing to treat your bankroll like Monopoly money, you are bringing a knife to a gun fight.