Free Website Handicapping Newsletter > Effective Spot Plays Offer Value & Big 4 Plus 1
Effective Spot Plays Offer Value & Big 4 Plus 1

Oct 14, 2013

Originally we had planned to post an essay on Money Management, as Part II of the last newsletter dated published October 1st, which discussed how current odds can play a crucial role in making money from handicapping thoroughbred horse racing. We are exercising a little editorial license and will postpone the Money Management article to a later date. Instead, we will examine a couple of recent selections I gave out as part of our daily selection service that hinged on using one of our spot plays, namely the “Big 4 Plus 1”. We will discuss a couple of reasons why you ought to consider using spot plays in your own handicapping and then take a look at the two selections.

A well designed spot play method often can be the right tool for your handicapping job. An effective spot play should allow you to work within a certain framework to thus give you instant focus to help you find, within a minute or two, strong selections for the type of racing conditions for which it was designed. Using such a spot play, you can quickly handicap cards from a few tracks. And as we have often said, you should have an arsenal of spot plays so that you are prepared to handicap most every type of race. For this essay, as noted, we will make reference to our Big 4 Plus 1 method which I had developed mainly to handicap maiden claiming, restricted claiming and regular claiming races.

The main reason for highlighting the Big 4 Plus 1 is that I had not been using it on a regular basis over the past couple of months, but a few emails and calls from other handicappers appeared ‘out of the blue,’ as it were, and spurred me into using it more regularly for certain types of claiming races. One of the emails I received is posted on the website. If you haven’t yet read the email, here it is:

"Hey Jon, how are you, my friend? I hope you had a great summer. I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how your Big 4 method performed at Del Mar. I hit 58% of show bets (only playing Auto plays) for a ROI of +27%! Not too shabby! Only 3 winners, paying $47.20, $4.00, $17.60, but a small ROI of +10%. But man, anyone who can have the discipline to be a conservative show bettor can do very well with the Big 4. I'm gonna test it at the upcoming fall/winter meets. Talk to ya later!"

On October 2nd, among the selections I gave out in our daily service were two from Delaware Park: Forgotten Knot, 2nd race; and Offlee Clever, 9th race, both of which I spotted in a matter of seconds by using the Big 4 Plus 1. Once you know for what to look, if a spot play is designed to fit a certain niche or type of selection, and the handicapping factors that comprise the spot play are effective at isolating contenders with a definite chance to win or finish in-the-money today, that is more than enough to ask. And, if you have several effective spot plays, each designed for certain types of races, then on days when you may be a bit pressed for time, you can quickly, easily and effectively find well meant selections. Even on the days when you are not short of time, you may still want to use those effective spot play methods you have at your disposal.

Let’s get to the specifics and discuss the two Big 4 Plus 1 selections at Delaware Park.

Race 2 at Delaware on October 2, 2013 was a claiming race, slated for a distance of 1 mile and 70 yards. The field was small, (only six entries), and in less than a minute I had used the Big 4 to handicap the field and latched on to Forgotten Knot, morning line of 8-1, as my selection. Sometimes I do not give a wager recommendation as the odds can fluctuate wildly, (many long shots, 8-1 ml, 10-1 ml, go off at 5/2, 3-1, perhaps as low as even money, although sometimes these horses go the other way, and their odds go higher, but as our pastor often says, “that is another sermon”).

At any rate, on this day I did offer a recommendation, specifically win/show leveraged to show, meaning, for example, that for every $2 to win, back it up with $8 or $10 to show. You could also include the post time favorite for a small exacta. As post time neared, Knot’s odds remained close to his morning line of 8-1. As the bell rang and the gate sprang open, Knot went off as the second highest odds in the field, 7-1. Knot ran a dogged, determined race, but was beaten by ½ a length at the wire by the favorite, Dinny Dinosaur, off at 5/2. Knot returned excellent place ($6.20) and show ($3.60) mutuels. He also completed a $27 exacta with the favorite, pretty good payoffs all the way around in such a small, six horse field.

Later on, in the finale, 9th race at Delaware, another entry, Offlee Clever, caught my eye immediately, as I could tell at a glance he was a possible Big 4 selection. By keeping a sharp lookout for one of the Big 4 Plus 1 screens, once you get used to looking for them, you’d be surprised how quickly and easily you can isolate a possible Big 4 selection. After looking over the field and spotting one of the Big 4 contender screens, it only took another minute or so to look over the field and arrive at my final decision, namely that Offlee Clever was not just a possible Big 4 selection but was a definite one!

The contender screens for the Big 4 are easily recognizable, and if you spot one of them, it is easy enough to take a moment, handicap the horse and decide if indeed it will pass muster and become a Big 4 selection. The field for Race 9 was just slightly bigger than Race 2 with only 7 horses going to compete. Offlee Clever looked to be a very solid selection, and better yet, his morning line odds were pegged at 6-1!

I decided to pass on any exotic wagers and stuck with a straightforward wager of win/show, leveraged in a ratio so that for every $1 wagered to win, $5 went to show. Other handicappers with whom I regularly stay in touch prefer either win/place, ($1-$3-$0 ratio, or even $1-$3-$6), and others prefer place only, or show only. There are pros and cons to nearly every one. If you wager win/place, the “pro” part of the equation is the fact that if the horse finishes at least 2nd, you will get a higher payoff nearly every time compared to show. On the other hand, show offers a better chance to collect compared to place, and while the payoffs to show might be a little lower compared to place, especially in a smaller field, (7 or fewer horses), it can be a bit more of a ‘grind’ to earn a profit. There are no right or wrong answers on how to wager, just what best fits your playing personality. If a runout of 4 or 5 in a row makes you a little nervous, you might want to go with show and the slightly lower payoffs. I strongly recommend that you keep excellent records, no matter how you wager, and if you find that enough of your selections are coming in at least 2nd to earn a decent profit for you, you could consider changing your approach to place wagers.

Let’s see what happened to Offlee Clever. Clever ran a very strong race, was always close to the lead, but ended up 2nd best to Hewitts, the eventual winner. Clever went off at just a shade under his morning line of 6-1, (5.80-1), and paid a very nice $5.80 place, but his $3 show mutuel was a bit disappointing, (for me). It was a bit low because odds-on favorite, Stonecoldsteamer, held on to 3rd place, which of course cut into the show mutuels a bit. The exacta of Hewitts, (off at just over 7/2 odds) and Offlee Clever returned a generous $51.20.

Now of course spot plays are not the ‘be all and end all’ in handicapping. But a well-designed and effective spot play can offer you a great deal of value not just in finding well meant contenders but also in the amount of time you save as it will help you to quickly eliminate much of the field. As noted, I developed the Big 4 to mainly handicap maiden claiming, restricted claiming and regular claiming races. If these are the races you like to handicap, we strongly encourage you to investigate the Big 4 Plus 1. You may find it by visiting this link.

If you are reading this on our website instead of in an email, you will have to copy and paste the above link into your browser window.

As always, I’m here most every day, except Sunday mornings and some Sunday afternoons, for any questions or comments. Please give me a call at 401-921-5158 or an email at

Thank you! Jon

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