There was a minor upset in the Preakness Stakes, but for the most part, a cold and wet third Saturday in May at Pimlico Race Course turned out to be a chalk player's paradise.
Exaggerator handed Nyquist his first loss and ended thoughts of back-to-back Triple Crown winners, but he was such a solid second choice that it muted the mutuel payoffs.
In looking at the payoffs in the Preakness, when 17-1 shot Cherry Wine nosed out Nyquist for second, it gave a big boot to the vertical exotics in the race.
For example, had Nyquist, the odds-on 3-5 favorite, and 5-2 second-choice Exaggerator ($7.20) duplicated their 1-2 finish from the Kentucky Derby, the exacta would have returned roughly $6. Flip the result and put Exaggerator on top and the payoff "soared" into the neighborhood of $10.
Instead, with Cherry Wine getting the bob for the place spot, the exacta returned $88.40 for $2. That might sound like a small return with a 17-1 shot in the mix, but Cherry Wine was actually the fifth choice in the wagering, so handicappers did not have to ferret through that many contenders before latching on to him.
If someone came up with the wise idea of splitting Exaggerator and Nyquist in the trifecta by putting them in the first and third spots in their ticket, the reward moved forward to just $146.20 for $2.
Even the superfecta was tame. Third-choice Stradivari, the subject of an $80,000 win bet early Saturday afternoon that made him a shocking 3-5 favorite for a while, took fourth at 8-1 and sealed a $634 payoff for $2.
While the Kentucky Derby day undercard was a puzzler, the multi-race wagers on the Preakness card allowed gamblers with smaller bankrolls to make larger bets or longer sequence wagers because of a spate of favorites.
The Pick 6, for example, started out as a Pick 5 because of a victory by 2-5 favorite Lady Shipman in the first leg, the The Very One Stakes.
After that, Justin Squared looked pretty formidable at 4-5 odds in the next race -- the Chick Lang Stakes -- and he cruised to a victory that made it a Pick 4.
The favorite, Tiger Ride, flopped in the Gallorette, but the winner was Mizz Money who took plenty of action at 9-2 odds. Though she was the fourth choice, had her odds dropped .90-to-1 more, she would have been the second choice.
Another favorite popped up when American Freedom ($4.60) won the Sir Barton Stakes. As a sign of how people were not in the mood to chase longshots, the Bob Baffert-trained colt capped a $2 Pick 3 that paid just $58.20 for $2.
The penultimate race before the Preakness, the Dixie, went to third-choice Takeover Target ($9) at 7-2 odds, and gave a much-needed boost to the sequence.
That left it to Exaggerator to close out a Pick 6 Jackpot that paid $196.07 for a 20-cent wager.
While the Pick 6 is normally a Herculean challenge for players with limited funds, the 20-cent wager here gave the little guys a big chance to cash a ticket or two or three. Had someone singled the three big favorites, went four-deep in two races and backed both Nyquist and Exaggerator, an investment of just $6.40 (1 x 1 x 4 x 1 x 4 x 2) could have reeled in the $196.
Yeah, you can't pop open bottles of champagne for a hit like that, but given the meager investment, it was surely worth chasing.
The Pick 5, minus Lady Shipman, returned a nifty $1,642.20 for a $2 ticket and was well within reach with a $64 ticket (1x 4 x 1 x 4 x 2).
The Pick 4, minus Justin Squared, was less of a bargain as it checked in at $466.60 for 2 for the same $64 structure (4 x 1 x 4 x 2).
The Pick 3 was just $98.40 for $2, yet with a favorite kicking it off and third- and second-choices following, there was a perfect opportunity to step up and place much more than the 50-cent minimum wager on each bet.
Admittedly, it was a far cry from Derby Day, with a Pick 3 that paid more than $1,800, but the Preakness wasn't as much of a test of your handicapping skills as it was a challenge for your ability to wager efficiently and construct a solid risk/reward ratio.
Considering how there's about seven horses targeting the Belmont Stakes, that skill should also come in handy three weeks from now in New York.
For more stories like this check out America's Best Racing.