On Track with Johnny D: Guaranteed Winner

A ‘guarantee’ is just hot air unless there’s also a level of commitment or risk attached to it. For example: The tout that released today’s failed ‘guaranteed’ winner happily will share tomorrow’s ‘guaranteed’ winner with disappointed clients at no additional expense. What has he lost in the exchange? Nothing. Where’s the commitment? Where’s the risk?

On the other hand, if a tout announces that he will reimburse clients all losing wagers if his ‘guaranteed’ play fails, then…well, that’s a guarantee worth chasing.

Politicians love making ‘guarantees.’ They call them ‘campaign promises’ and conveniently forget about them post election, term in and term out.

Athletes like to make ‘guarantees,’ too. Number one all-time is Joe Namath’s ’69 Miami poolside prediction three days before Super Bowl III when he guaranteed to reporters that his New York Jets would upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. They did 16-7 and the game wasn’t even that close. Joe Willie put his reputation on the line with that bold prediction. Before then many considered him Broadway Joe–more flash than substance. Afterwards, he was destined for the Hall of Fame.

A bit more than a decade ago, to help stimulate handle, racetracks began offering and promoting certain ‘guaranteed’ wagering pools. The tactic was inspired by the proven mutuel power of pick six carryover pools—as alluring to horseplayers as sirens to sailors. At first these guarantees were focused on certain pools on marquee days. For example, in 2008, Breeders’ Cup promised a $3 million Ultra Pick 6 pot—then the world’s largest guaranteed pool.

The actual total pool for the wager was $2,882,343 and Breeders’ Cup had to chip in to top it off at $3 million. But what’s strange about that shortfall is that before 2008 the Breeders’ Cup pick six pool had exceeded $3 million every year since it’s 2000 inception, and again in every subsequent year except for 2014, when the pooll fell short of a $2.5 million guarantee. So, even though Breeders’ Cup got caught ‘speeding’ in 2008 and again in 2014, their ‘guaranteed’ amounts were rooted in solid past performances.

That’s pretty much the case these days. Racetracks accurately estimate what they will handle with certain wagers and then comfortably market ‘guaranteed’ pools without fear of missing the target. It happens, but not very often.

First, from a horseplayer’s perspective, a clear distinction should be made between a carryover and a guarantee. They are about as similar as Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell—the former are both wagering pools and the latter both senators but that’s where the similarity ends. A carryover includes ‘dead’ money that previously had failed to conquer the wager in question. That money has no claim on today’s pool. It can’t win a share of the pot, but it can be won. On the other hand, a guaranteed pool contains no ‘dead’ money–unless wagering fails to reach the stated guaranteed amount. In that case the difference, contributed by the guarantor, would represent the only ‘dead’ money in the pool.

Instances of guaranteed pools failing to meet objectives are less and less common, so guaranteed pools rarely are a source of ‘dead’ money. Tracks are capable of estimating handle projections for particular wagers and understandably are conservative in establishing guarantees for those wagers. For example, Belmont Stakes weekend the track offered an assortment of Guaranteed Wagers. They are listed below with final pool totals in parenthesis:

Two-Day Daily Double Guaranteed Wagers

$100k New York Stakes – Metropolitan Handicap ($182k)

$300k Belmont Gold Cup – Belmont Stakes ($497k)

Friday Guaranteed Wagers

$100k Pick 6 ($323k)

$500k Late Pick 4 ($1.3 million)

Saturday Guaranteed Wagers

$500k Pick 5 ($1.2 million)

$250k Pick 3 ($418k)

$500k Pick 6 ($951k)

$1.5 Million Pick 4 ($3.7)

As you can see, none of the guarantees were particularly daring. In fact, several fell more than 50% short of final pool totals.

So, if racetracks are fairly certain they will hit projected ‘guarantee’ amounts, why do they bother promoting them? Don’t horseplayers see through flimsy guarantees well below actual pool totals? They do, but apparently, the marketing ploy works. Or at least tracks think it does. I must admit that even though I’m not impressed by the prospect of a guaranteed pool, because I realize that handle certainly will eclipse the mark, hearing about a substantial guaranteed number still lures me. Perhaps, at my age, it’s the reminder about the large pool that I most appreciate.

Last Saturday, wet weather forced Belmont races off the turn and caused many scratches. In response the track cancelled all ‘guaranteed’ pools. That’s OK by me. Those are extenuating circumstances and under such conditions tracks shouldn’t be forced to reach into their pockets to cover shortfalls.

Guaranteed or carryover pot. Know the difference and wager accordingly. Of course, cashing in either pool feels just as good!

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: Guaranteed Winner

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