Wanna Make A Bet On Horse Racing?

Jun 3, 2012
Originally published on June 3, 2012 10:37 am
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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE IS A BALL GAME")

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If life is a ball game, then Mike Pesca is WEEKEND EDITION's own personal bookie, taking our bets and luckily giving some advice under his breath. He is of course NPR's sports correspondent and he joins us now as he does each week.

Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Oh, yes. Thanks, Rachel, for bringing the IRS heat on me. thanks a lot.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So we alluded to this in our clever little intro but you've got betting on brain this week, I understand. How come?

PESCA: Well, last weekend, Memorial Day weekend, I said, let's take the kids to the park, meaning Belmont Park. It is the longest and biggest race track in North America and they loved it. They're 5 and 3. I had my little one bet on the 3 and my big one bet on the 5.

MARTIN: They made bets?

PESCA: Well, you know. They didn't make bets. Their dad did.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: They held the tickets. They had some ice cream. They watched the horses. It was a fun-filled event. Not a lot of people, you know, years ago, these tracks which had hold well over a hundred thousand people were full almost every weekend. It's very rare to see that these days except when you have a triple crown race occurring and that's what's going to be happening next Saturday.

MARTIN: Belmont Stakes, right?

PESCA: Belmont Stakes contested, the Triple Crown is on the line. I'll Have Another has won the Kentucky Derby. He's won the Preakness. He could win the Triple Crown. But he probably won't.

MARTIN: So betting and horseracing kind of go hand to hand. Even people who aren't big gamblers in their regular life, they go to a track and people want to place a bet. I mean, if I wanted to make the event a tad more interesting by placing a bet of some kind, what advice can you offer up to a track novice such as myself?

PESCA: I'm glad you asked. First of all, you know what the favorite is. The favorite is the horse most likely to win the race. But that doesn't mean the favorite is likely, even if they're the most likely. To be likely to win the race, you have to be what's called the odds-on favorite and in this race, I'll Have Another is the odds-on favorite.

Now, here's the problem. When a horse is the odds-on favorite, it makes it very hard to win money on the horse. People want to put their $2 bet down on the horse, but the more people who are betting on it, the worse the odds become for you. So what I'm saying here is that when you bet, you try to predict who will be the horse that wins, but since you or I and very few people know who'll be the horse that wins, please take my advice and look at value.

I would take the fact that I'll Have Another is such short odds, 3 to 5, use it as an opportunity to think of some bets that don't include I'll Have Another. Bet some exactas, which are two-horse combinations, to come in that exact order, that don't include I'll Have Another. Maybe take Union Rags, a very good horse, who didn't do well in the first two Triple Crown races, maybe bet on him in partnership with another horse at longer odds.

Because even if you do, psychologically I would say even it if you make all these bets that don't include I'll Have Another and you go to the track or watch it on TV and I'll Have Another does win, you won't be tearing up your sheets. You'll be reveling in the fact that you saw sporting history. So how often is it that your team loses, but you say, wow, I still saw something really cool?

MARTIN: Most of the time because my team usually loses.

PESCA: Yeah, right, but you also see something really cool, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK. So before we let you go, any other sports nugget you want to share with us?

PESCA: Well, when you think about horseracing, sometimes you think about boxing. These were the two most popular sports for many years of our country's history, boxing going through some tough times now. No one really knows any boxers. Maybe there's one, Manny Pacquiao, do you know him, Rachel?

MARTIN: Yeah, I do.

PESCA: I'll take you word for it. Prove it.

MARTIN: No, I said yes. He's the Filipino politician boxer guy.

PESCA: Yeah, and he sings a little. So Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, this is the fight everyone wants to see, but they just can't get together. It's either about blood testing or money. Yahoo Sports uncovered a document that in the late 2009, provided for a 50/50 split with an estimated $200 million in TV revenue that would've gotten these two fighters together.

It didn't work out. It fell apart. There was one awesome detail in this. Las Vegas' biggest stadium is 17,000 seats. They were going to build a 40,000 seat stadium just for this fight and the idea was to turn the fight into "a festival of boxing" to be like the sport's Superbowl. It's so sad the fight didn't happen, if you're a fan of the fights.

But if a fan of big temporary stadiums, that might not be a good idea, this would have been amazing, amazingly thing, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: We'll leave it there. Mike Pesca, thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.