For gamblers, this weekend's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita offer the most challenging but potentially the most lucrative betting opportunities of the year.
"It's high risk but also high reward," Daily Racing Form national correspondent Jay Privman said.
Last year, 10 of the 15 Breeders' Cup race winners paid $20.40 or more on a $2 bet, and there were four winners that returned $32.60 or higher.
Typically, in the Breeders' Cup large fields are stocked with Grade I or Group I winners and that leaves the opportunity for surprises, especially if racing luck isn't on the side of the favorite. In last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, Game On Dude went off at odds of 6-5 but didn't break well and ended up in seventh place, 15 lengths behind the winner, Fort Larned.
Adding to the handicapping challenge is projecting the form of 16 European-trained runners, some of which will be running on dirt for the first time. Handicappers also need to figure out if there's a any track bias favoring speed horses.
The exotic wagers are plentiful — two pick sixes, 10-cent superfectas, 50-cent trifectas, pick threes and pick fours, a Breeders' Cup Distaff/Classic daily double and two super-high-5 wagers.
"I bet with both fists," veteran trainer Wayne Lukas said. "It gives you a real good chance to use your handicapping skills and come out ahead."
There will be five Breeders' Cup races Friday and nine Saturday. Last year's Breeders' Cup handle at Santa Anita saw $37.3 million wagered on the first day and $77.3 million on the second day. Only the Kentucky Derby produces a larger betting pool.
"I like it because the obvious horses don't always win," said Tony Jimenez, a racing fan from West Covina. "They're there, but you have to find them. There's so much money to be made. You only need to hit one race."
Jimenez had his big payday during the 2011 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, when he said he invested $12 for a superfecta and won $4,200.
"It's the most challenging day because every race is filled with top-class horses, and it's not like you're handicapping a normal field and you can eliminate half the field because they're overmatched," said Jeff Siegel, an HRTV analyst. "The difference between the favorite and fifth choice is very slim."
Many of the horses have competed on different surfaces. Will European star Declaration Of War, a Group I winner on turf, be able to transfer his form to Santa Anita's dirt surface in the $5-million Classic? "If the Classic were run in Europe on grass, he'd be a short favorite," Siegel said. "He has to prove himself on dirt."
Adding to the handicapping intrigue is that eight horses that won championships at Santa Anita last year are returning. They have proved they like the track.
The pick six, in which bettors must select six consecutive race winners, is one of the toughest wagers. Six winning tickets returned $773,865.20 last year on the first day and six winning tickets returned $419,245.40 on the second day. "It's the kind of day it's hard stringing along a couple in a row, let alone six," handicapper Bob Ike said.
You need a bankroll, luck and good handicapping ability, Ike said.
"If you want to make a million dollars, they're not going to hand it over to you," Siegel said. "I honestly don't feel any one race has a total standout. There's no slam dunk. This year, more than any time else, top to bottom, they're wide open, and that's good for gambling."firstname.lastname@example.org