Not long ago, I proposed to two race track pals that we drive to Delaware Park in order to bet a couple of rock-bottom claiming races. The four-hour round trip seemed a quite reasonable proposal when I explained, "I think we've got a very good shot at winning $100,000."
As things turned out, we missed hitting Delaware's new super-exotic wager, the Twin Trifecta, by the margin of a neck, and some other bettor walked away happily with a $149,448.60 payoff. But the very existence of such an exciting opportunity on a weekday card at a small track shows how much the sport has changed. Even lifelong horseplayers are finding that they must change their whole philosophy and style of betting to deal with new forms of betting like the Pick Six, the Twin Trifecta, the Jackpot, the Super Bet and others that haven't even been invented yet.
Racing purists used to decry any form of betting but the traditional win, place, show and daily double, but their numbers have dwindled because their best argument against exotic wagering proved to be spurious. The argument held that traditional, conservative forms of betting enabled more people to cash tickets and kept dollars in circulation; when a gimmick bet pays $100,000, the winner puts the money in the bank and everybody else at the track blows his bankroll. Theoretically, a proliferation of big-money exotic bets is supposed to hurt a track's business in the long run. But it hasn't happened that way. The more exotics a track offers, the more people bet.
The reason is that the chance to win a giant payoff will create many new big-money bettors even if it does bust out some smaller players. Exotic wagers may entice to race tracks a breed of gamblers who are attracted to lotteries; they may also prompt existing horseplayers to increase their level of action.
The most astute handicapper in California was, when I met him, a surprisingly modest bettor; he employed his expertise to buy and sell horses and engage in other peripheral activities. "How much money can you really make betting 3 to 1 shots to win?" he asked. But when the California tracks introduced the Pick Six with Jackpot, my friend changed his view of the game entirely; his syndicate regularly invests thousands of dollars a day in their frequently successful pursuit of five- and six-figure payoffs.
The popularity of these super-exotic bets is so great that almost all race tracks are trying to capitalize on them. To do it, however, a track needs the right type of wager to generate steady public enthusiasm. The Pick Six inspires this daily excitement in California, but almost nowhere else, as the Maryland tracks have found.
The reason is simple: Until the Pick Six has been missed for a few days and a jackpot has begun to build, it's a lousy bet. There is no reason for a rational bettor to play it otherwise, and Maryland bettors know it, so the pot at Bowie grows by only a few thousand dollars a day. What the tracks here need is a super-exotic wager worth playing every day. And that's the Twin Trifecta.
Initially popularized at Suffolk Downs and copied by Delaware, it works this way: Tickets cost $3, and bettors play the first half of the Twin Tri like a normal trifecta, attempting to pick the one-two-three order of finish in the race. A winner collects as if it were a normal trifecta, too -- almost. Only half of the money that would normally be dispersed to winners is paid out; a trifecta that usually would return $800 will pay $400 instead.
The rest of the money goes into the jackpot for the second half of the Twin Tri. When a bettor cashes a ticket after the first trifecta race, he also exchanges the ticket for whatever combination he wants to play in the second trifecta race. If he had a winning $18 ticket (actually six $3 tickets) he gets to play six combinations in the second half of the Twin Tri. This requires no further investment, and there is no separate, normal trifecta wagering on the race.
If nobody picks the second half of the Twin Trifecta, that 50 percent of the pool is carried over until the next day -- and on and on. Suffolk and Delaware both have found that bettors will play the Twin Tri, even if there is no carryover, because the return for picking the first half is a decent one. Picking both halves is tough to do, especially if a track can manage to assemble a couple of 12-horse fields, and the jackpot can quickly grow to astronomical levels.
Laurel and Pimlico should give it a try. Maryland bettors deserve to have some of the fun that other horseplayers are enjoying.