Gulfstream gimmick is irresistible at this point, but play it sensibly


In this photo provided by Gulfstream Park, Orb and jockey John R. Velazquez capture the Grade I Besilu Stables Florida Derby horse race at Gulfstream Park on March 30. (AP/AP)
Andrew Beyer
Columnist April 3, 2013

Horseplayers from coast to coast circled April 5 on their calendars many months ago. That is the final day of the racing season at Gulfstream Park, and the day that the track must pay out the money that has accumulated in its Pick Six jackpot. It will be a day of gambling frenzy.

The Hallandale, Fla., track offers a version of the Pick Six called the Rainbow Six, a 10-cent bet that pays off its big prize only when a single bettor holds a ticket with all six winners. Otherwise, a percentage of all the wagers goes into the jackpot pool.

Andrew Beyer has been The Washington Post’s horse racing columnist since 1978 and is considered one of the leading experts on the subject. View Archive

Nobody has held a unique perfect ticket since Feb. 22, and if nobody does so Thursday, approximately $2 million in the jackpot will be paid out Friday — an irresistible target. Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream’s president, said, “We’re expecting $6 to $8 million to be bet.” If the high end of his estimate is correct, Gulfstream will break the record of $7.59 million wagered on a Hollywood Park Pick Six in 2007.

I wrote earlier this winter that the Rainbow Six was a sucker bet, one that many fans played enthusiastically because they didn’t understand its mathematics. But the climactic jackpot is so attractive that any sensible horseplayer has to play. However, much of the public will continue to misunderstand the wager.

Racing fans like the Rainbow Six because the 10-cent unit lets them cover so many more possibilities than they could in a conventional $2 Pick Six. The wager seems fairer to the little guy. But, in fact, the 10-cent unit has permitted high rollers to wager five-figure sums and cover hundreds of thousands of combinations in the hope of hitting a succession of crazy long shots. That’s what happened Feb. 22, when the Rainbow Six paid $3.59 million to a single player in New Jersey. No little guy could win the whole pool against such competition.

On Friday, many handicappers will play large tickets, using as many horses as they can in the hope of catching longshots who will contribute to an astronomical payoff. But the payoff won’t be in six or seven digits, and it may not even be in five digits. The finale of the Rainbow Six will be no different from a day with a huge carryover in a conventional Pick Six, except that the betting unit is 1/20 the size of a Pick Six and the payoff will be 1/20 the size.

On the closing day of the 2011 season, when the Rainbow Six pool reached $5 million and most players were shooting for a bonanza, the winning combination paid an anticlimactic $3,279. Actually, that was a very generous reward for a logical sequence of results in which only one horse won at odds higher than 4 to 1. The $3,279 payoff was the equivalent of a $65,580 return for a $2 bet, and was probably double what one might have expected in a conventional Pick Six. The result offered great value because so many bettors put so many long shots on their tickets that logical horses were significantly underplayed.

So this is my recommended strategy for Friday: Bet as if this were a conventional Pick Six. Don’t play long shots willy-nilly just because this is a 10-cent bet. Take a stand with logical horses when it’s possible.

Here are my ideas on the challenging Rainbow Six races, all of them with full fields of 12 horses. The sequence begins on the eighth race of an 13-race card. Program numbers are in parentheses.

Eighth race: A majority of the 3-year-old fillies in this maiden race have never raced; faced with so many unknowns, bettors must cover quite a few possibilities. I’ll go five-deep. Fame and Fortune (2), Carnival Court (6) and Akron Moon (8) are all well-bred first-time starters from good stables. The best of those who have raced are Sweet N Discreet (10), a Todd Pletcher trainee, and Big Belief (11), whose last start was better than it looks on paper.

Ninth race: Like so many maiden-claiming races on the turf, this one is hard to decipher. Third Martini, the probable favorite, ran creditably in his last start but was aided by an easy trip. King Khalifa had a difficult trip in his only previous turf start. But it’s hard to muster much confidence in either, and this is a race in which to cover as many contenders as possible.

10th race: Jordan’s Image (10) overcame trouble to win at this level in his next-to-last start; he encountered even more trouble in his last start and couldn’t surmount it. He has the edge here, but the rival who beat him last time, Monroe Court (4) did so with a strong performance, and Positive Action (3) raced five-wide in the same field.

11th race: Most players will use many horses in this maiden race that includes five first-time starters. I’m taking a stand with Foganzo (5) and — in what may be a suicidal impulse — disregarding Pletcher’s first-time starter, Silver Lining John, even though the trainer dominates 3-year-old maiden races at Gulfstream. His colt has a mediocre pedigree and is hardly a typical Pletcher type. Foganzo raced once, broke two lengths behind the field and finished fourth, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 82 — good enough to win the majority of 3-year-old maiden races at Gulfstream.

12th race: Film Making (4) must to be included on a ticket, but he is a vulnerable favorite with a 1-for-19 career record. Crafty Unicorn (1), Diez (2) and Coexist (3) are the other contenders.

13th race: If My Pal Ariana (14) doesn’t draw in from the also-eligible list, this maiden grass race is inscrutable. Nora’s Song (4) will probably be the favorite, and she can win, but there are many long-priced entrants with a chance, including Giacomo’s Aria (5), Hope’s Dream (7) or Sortaria (12.) This is the spot for Rainbow Six players to put as many horses as possible on their ticket and root for a crazy long shot to win.

For more columns by Andrew Beyer, visit washingtonpost.com/beyer.

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