BETTING THE SYSTEM : Why Playing Third Horse Can Be No.1 Choice

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although "The Dwarf" was only 3 feet, 2 inches tall, to his race track pals he seemed as tall as they were, sometimes taller. No one ever called him The Dwarf; they called him Joey, which everyone thought was his real name.

Joey went to a junior college in the Los Angeles area and was good enough to win letters in football and basketball.

He graduated with an associate of arts degree. After college, although he majored in journalism, he made a living by acting in movies and television; he played the horses in his spare time.

Joey loved the ponies so much that he developed a system he could bet every day.

The system was simple. Joey would bet the third choice on the totalizator board. He didn't like to bet the "chalk" because the payoffs were so low, but the third choice was another matter. Most of the time they returned from $9 to $16 for every $2 wagered.

Another reason he liked the third choice was because it came up winning at least once almost every day of the meeting. The results, although less than spectacular, usually resulted in a small profit for straight betting.

Sometimes three or four of these horses would win.

The best days for Joey's system at Santa Anita race track in 1989 were from Feb. 11 to Feb. 24, when 25 winners returned a total of $280.50 for a profit of $82.50 for the $198 bet. In addition, the first 11 days of the season, Dec. 26 to Jan. 7, resulted in a profit of $14.80 as 18 horses put their noses on the finish line first.

One of the most profitable days was Feb. 11, when Joey won four races out of nine. It began with the first race, which lined up like this:

1--Bueno Amnistia: $31.10

2--Bargain Standard: $7.40

3--Star Ribot: $47.60

4--Manhattan King: $5.50

5--Tourismo: $6.40

6--Hidden Royalty: 10.80

7--Salamanques: 2.20

8--Bang Bang Bang: 10.30

9--Lucky Bear: 3.30

10--Bickerwithbob: 70.50

First choice in the betting was Salamanques. Lucky Bear was second. Third, the horse to bet, was Manhattan King. It was a mile race for 4-year-olds and up. Manhattan King, although outrun in the early going, rallied in the last quarter to win by three-quarters of a length. The horse paid $13 for every $2 bet.

Joey lost the second race. In the third, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies, Pointedly, from the No. 1 post position, started out sixth but quickly moved up to second by the quarter-pole. The horse fought for the lead nearing the stretch and pulled ahead easily in the final furlong to win by 6 1/2 lengths, paying $13.20.

After losing the next three races, Triteamtri, a 4-year-old, won easily for Joey in the seventh, winning the mile run by 10 lengths. System backers received $9.40. Sunny Blossom went to the front in the eighth and was never headed. The horse drew clear in the upper stretch and held off the second nag by half a length, also paying $9.40.

For the day, Joey bet a total $18 and won $45, for a nifty profit of $27.

Out of the 90-day race meeting, two winners a day romped home 27 times, three winning horses eight times and four winning horses two times. The highest price won was on Jan. 14, when a 10-1 shot came in and paid $22.20. The favorite was bet down to 30 cents for $1 and the second choice was $3.70 for $1. Joey's horse, Cherokee Colony, ignoring the heavy odds against it, turned into the stretch and went for the lead. At the finish, Cherokee Colony ended up in front by one-and-a-quarter lengths.

Joey's theory for betting the third choice is that returns on the favorite are too low when they do win and that the second choice doesn't win often enough to make betting on it worthwhile. Therefore, the third choice is best. "It's got to be a good one, since a lot of the bettors think enough of the nag to make it their choice, ahead of all but two of the other horses in the race," Joey says.

In addition, Joey will tell you that lots of times the two top choices in the betting are really "false" favorites and that the "smart" money usually goes on the third choice.

"The first two choices are bad bets," Joey says. "The public is usually wrong. Favorites win 30% of the time, and they lose 70% of the time. It doesn't make sense to back a favorite. You're going to lose more than you're going to win."

However, how one determines where the smart money goes is a good question. Joey will tell you that he can tell by observing the amount of money bet. For instance, if the third choice was the early morning favorite at 5-2 and finally goes off at 6-1, obviously it's an overlay, since the first two choices were bet down heavily.

"It's beautiful. The general public bets on the first two choices. They don't know anything," Joey explains. "It's the smart money that goes on the third choice."

Joey insists that the totalizator board never lies. "It always tells the truth. You only have to watch for it," he claims. Of course, the totalizator board never lies, but why should it? Although it never shows a profit, it never loses either.

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