A mistake many gamblers make at the racetrack is to bet on the favorite regardless of how small the payout will be. These folks are known as “chalk eaters” or, more appropriately, “chalk-eating weasels.”
The right approach at the track is no different than choosing which stocks and bonds to invest in: buy what’s cheap and stay away from what’s expensive. If horse No. 2 is 10-1 while your analysis tells you a fairer price would be 5-1, bet him. If horse No. 3 is 2-1 and you’ve assessed his fair odds at 4-1, bet against him.
So while the first and second finishers in the Kentucky Derby look like the top two contenders in tomorrow’s Preakness Stakes, I can’t be a chalk-eating weasel and bet on either.
At estimated odds of 8-5, Bodemeister, the Derby runner-up, offers less than half the price I’d demand to wager on him. At 5-2, I’ll Have Another, the Derby winner, is closer to fair value, yet still seems rich. He was 15-1 when he won the Derby on May 5. Wagering on him at one-sixth those odds in the Preakness is like buying Apple Inc. at $533 today after passing the stock up a year ago at $336.
Here’s why both colts may be overvalued.
Bodemeister posted back-to-back brilliant performances over a three-week span, the latter being a grueling effort in the Derby in which he set a near-record early pace before surrendering the lead in the homestretch of the 1 1/4-mile (2 kilometer) race. Now he runs again two weeks later, about half the normal rest time for elite racehorses. The regression, or bounce, concerns that arose before the Derby only intensify. I can see him losing by 10 lengths as easily as I can see him winning by five.
I’ll Have Another was professional and efficient in his Derby victory. He was also the benefactor of a perfect trip, skirting all traffic in the 20-horse field as he galloped in mid-pack while watching the favorite Bodemeister tire himself out on the lead. I’d just use the Derby winner defensively in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, playing him in exacta combinations with longshots.
Picking which longshot is where it gets tricky.
I have little interest in any of the Derby also-rans showing up in Baltimore.
-- Went the Day Well (6-1) will be overbet because of all the talk about how early traffic problems compromised his chances in the Derby. I’m underwhelmed by the evidence. He got an ideal set-up in the race and wasn’t good enough to win.
New York’s Zetterholm
-- Creative Cause (6-1) was the horse I wanted in the Preakness until his trainer made the unorthodox move of flying him back to his home base in California after the Derby. The colt has now endured three cross-country flights in three weeks. Isn’t the shortest distance between Louisville and Baltimore a straight line?
-- Daddy Nose Best (12-1) looked overmatched in the Derby.
-- Optimizer (30-1) is a horse I can’t take seriously. His presence in the race just seems silly.
I’m equally indifferent to most of the rest. Cozzetti and Tiger Walk are winless this year, losing their six races by a combined 38 lengths. Pretension and Teeth of the Dog bore me.
And then there’s Zetterholm, a cheap New York-bred bay colt with a big white blaze splashed across his face.
I know, I know -- “Zetterwho?” you’re asking yourself. It’s true that Zetterholm (20-1) has beaten nothing but weak New York-bred rivals in reeling off three straight victories since February. And it’s true that he broke no stopwatches in posting those wins. Yet the effortless nature in which he ran down the leaders in those races suggests there’s upside to this colt. I’ll bet him in a bid to tap into that upside.
It’s a high-risk, high-reward play. Go light on the trade.
And if Zetterholm finds himself staggering 15 lengths behind as Bodemeister and I’ll Have Another duel again to the finish line, root for the Derby winner to repeat.
There’s nothing like the excitement of a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line. And there’s nothing like the speculative bubble created in wagering pools by Triple Crown fever.
(David Papadopoulos, the team leader for Latin America markets coverage at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and was runner-up in 2008 Eclipse Award voting for feature writing on the sport.)