Book Review: Exotic Betting

Winning at the horse races is about two things. The first is handicapping the race — finding the questions, assessing uncertainty, and understanding the possibilities. The second is wagering — how to structure your bets to maximize your return given your handicapping of the race.  The mainstream handicapping literature on bet structuring is quite thin and one of its main entrants is our subject here, Steven Crist’s Exotic Betting.

At its core, Exotic Betting is  an introduction to exotic bet structuring. It is appropriate for the beginning to intermediate horseplayer. Crist discusses basic strategies for both within-race (exacta, trifecta, and superfecta) and multi-race (daily double, pick three, pick four, pick five, and pick six) wagers. For the most part, the strategies are sound and provide a good, launching pad for deeper thinking about the exotics. In particular, Crist mentions the single, most important piece of advice for the exotics bettor: Exotics can not be used as a means to profit from an overall lack of clarity. You simply can not use these bets as a replacement for difficult decision making. While you may occasionally reap the reward from this method, the bettor is typically not getting a return in accordance with the risk undertaken. And that is what exotic betting is about — finding ways to increase the return while managing risk — all based upon your opinion and analysis of the race.
Written on such a narrow topic, I would have preferred Crist to emphasize and detail strategies for maximizing potential return at appropriate levels of risk through the use of exotic wagering. Simply put, I wanted to read a discussion of when to add that extra horse to a trifecta or Pick 4 ticket. Unfortunately, Exotic Betting does not delve deeply into a fundamental dilemma of wagering.  For example, in devising his tickets for the Pick Four and Pick Six, he normally divides his horses into four groups – A’s (likely winners), B’s (horses that can win if the A’s fail), C’s (horses that could conceivably win, but are unlikely) and X’s (eliminations). Based on these classifications, he then creates tickets with various combinations of the non-eliminated horses to cover a vast range of possibilities. While Crist gives some examples of his “Chinese Menu” selection process (e.g. three from Group A with one from Group C), there is no discussion of the reasons why certain combinations are used. As a result, the reader is left wondering why he determined that potential financial rewards are best served by these combinations, and how to make these adjustments to their wagers. The same problem occurs in discussing the amounts to bet on certain combinations. In fashioning his tickets, Crist mentions that when he plays a Pick Four ticket with four A’s (the likeliest winners), he buys it four times to compensate for the lower payoff. Yet, much like the earlier discussion regarding the selection of combinations, no explanation is given on why or how these amounts were calculated. There is nothing worse than putting out capital at an undue amount of risk for the range and likelihoods of various returns, and, consequently, the horseplayer needs better tools to assess when he has either overplayed or underplayed their capital.

Exotic Betting is available used at Better World Books.