WAGERING ON SMALL MUTUAL POOLS

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SMALL MUTUAL POOLS
By Dean Arnold

Finding value within small mutual pools is a facet of betting often ignored by horse players. Bet at small tracks, in weekday action, and during the winter months at even some of the bigger venues, and you’ll find pools far smaller than a typical Saturday in New York and Southern California. With plentiful simulcast offerings even for minor-league tracks, there are vast differences in track handle from day to day, and from venue to venue.

Small pool betting presents different challenges than the bigger pools. Odds can be easily swayed by a few big wagers, while even small-time action can sway the exotic pools. Consequently, exotics are more likely to pay far above or far below fair value, because there’s simply not enough wagering to balance out all the action to a point where the wagering interest falls into line with the relative chances of each possible combination. Finally, favorites are much more likely to be over bet, leaving longshots comparably underplayed and at higher-than-normal odds.

In the stock market, you’ll see that often the most volatile days on the trading floor are days when the volume of stocks exchanged is very light. Stock prices go up and down based on the price of each trade, not based on the volume of shares traded. The market tends to swing up and down more dramatically on light trading days simply because the lighter activity is easier to move on the floor. Bigger stock purchases and sales are harder to match up buyers and sellers, so the market has a harder time absorbing big trades at prices far from the current price of a stock.

The large up-and-down market swings make for great headlines, but the price moves only matter to those trying to buy or sell on a light trading day. And that volatility can create the opportunity for buyers to make their purchases a few clicks lower than they might otherwise, while sellers can unload their positions a few ticks higher than they otherwise could expect.

Likewise, there’s a similar opportunity for small pool wagering. Exotic pool probable (and actual) payouts can defy all logic due to the inefficient nature of a small number of players accounting for the bulk of the exotic play. A pool such as trifectas can pay far better than fair value in one race and far worse in the next. Even within the same race, one exotic pool can be overlaid while another pays out paltry sums. A heavy-handed exacta player can drive the prices way down in that pool whenever his or her combos come in – while the trifectas pay off much more generously without the same player’s betting support. And the lack of ‘will pay’ information can make these pools a surprise (good or bad) when the race is declared official.

On the brighter side, at a small venue, longshots that are overlooked can slip by, completely ignored at huge prices. Ample value is especially easy to come by when playing against the leading jockey and trainer at the meet. On the flip side, it is also more common in a small pool for a consensus favorite to get driven down in price. Even a favorite offering fair value in the waning minutes of wagering is much more vulnerable to a last-minute price plunge in a small pool. When a $2,000 win bet is placed at Del Mar, it may be less than 1/2 of one percent of the money in the pool. But the same $2,000 bet on a night race at Delta Downs may account for 10% of the pool. At Keeneland, this kind of action goes unnoticed. At Emerald Downs, it creates an odds-on favorite.

Requirements to play small mutual pools:
– Small pools lead to faster, more dramatic odds swings so don’t rely on early odds board readings to help you determine expected payoffs--watch the odds and wager late.
– Exotics can pay off better or worse depending on the action of a few big players. Be realistic when the payoffs disappoint, and expect the occasional gift to more than even things out.
– Longshots often pay with extra value, especially when they are not from top outfits -- this should be a focus area for hunting overlays.
– Never expect value on obvious favorites.

Be sure to check out Dean Arnold's handicapping book, A Bettor Way, on sale now through Amazon.

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