Saratoga Springs, NY, Dec. 5, 2008--Inquiring handicapping minds want to know: A loyal reader and regular bettor recently asked if there were a proper proportion of place-to-win wagering.

“What would be the proper ratio? Some old-timers say it’s 2-to-1, 3-to-1, or even 4-to-1. Just wanted your opinion on which of those [made the most sense].”

I was looking for a fourth alternative: None of the above.

“How you play ultimately depends on your level of tolerance,” said Cary Fotias, professional horseplayer and founder of Equiform, the successful New York-based performance figures company.

“Every study I’ve ever done [indicates] that betting to win is the [best strategy],” Fotias continued. “If you can take the losing, that’s the way to go.”

Fotias also suggested that players keep a record of their bets which, as most professionals know, is a highly under-appreciated portion of a horseplayer’s betting methodology.

“[As far as your reader is concerned], he should recognize what kind of win bets he makes. If he regularly plays shorter-priced horses, then betting to place would make more sense.

“You never get paid [correctly] betting longshots to place. The worst bet in racing is betting longshots to show. It might feel right but it’s not. It’s a long term loser.

“Psychologically, you want to get something back. My [personal approach] is more like 70-30. But each situation is different. If I like a 4-1 shot and hate the 3-5 favorite, I might go 50-50.

“The only [situation] in which you might consider betting more to place than to win would be on short-priced horses, favorites. The longer the price, the more you should bet to win. When you’re right, you have to score.”

Interesting to note here that the concept of value--that of taking a contrarian approach--applies as much to wagering as it does to the handicapping process itself.

Personally, it’s rare when I make a win-place wager. When I do, as Cary suggested, it’s when I feel I can keep an odds-on favorite from finishing in the top two slots.

In an open race featuring a 2-1 or 5-2 favorite in which I make a win-place wager, I will try to optimize profits with a cold exacta in addition to the straight play.

I would never use more than two horses to complete an exacta, except in rare instances involving extreme longshots and beatable favorites. The cleaner the punch, the better the value.

Real world people are more risk averse than wired for winning and psychology plays a huge role in all this. The one thing that press box wagering--where cheering is not tolerated--has taught is to never get too high or too low. This is more easily said than done.

Winning bolsters confidence, obviously, but it’s wise not to develop a messiah complex. Certainly take advantage of situations when you think you’re in a zone, that whatever you play will win. But a score can sometimes make you sloppy, too loose with your betting dollars, forgetting how difficult it was to make big money in the first place.

The converse also is true. Losing takes you out of your best game, making you overly cautious. Each wager is an independent event. What happened in the races before an after does not affect the race at hand. But human nature dictates that it can.

How many times has it happened, after a particularly tough beat or real stupid decision, does the thought occur that this is not going to be your day, that you should fold the tent and go home.

And how many times do you follow that inclination? Conversely, how many times do you ignore those subconscious clues and wind up throwing good money after bad? If you’re honest, probably more times than you’d care to admit.

For me, multiple pools offer more than an opportunity to optimize profits. I use the exotics as many times defensively as I do offensively. But I’m aware how easy it is to “save” myself to death.

Repeat the mantra: The cleaner the punch, the better the value.

As Fotias said, each situation is different. There are times when a three, or four, or five-horse exacta box makes sense, such as in a 12-horse field of maiden claiming two-year-olds when you think it’s 50-50 that the 3-5 public’s choice will finish up the track.

While it sounds counter-intuitive, I often play top choices to finish second in the exacta and trifecta pools. I try to put myself in a position to get lucky should I suffer bad racing luck. There’s no better feeling than when your best bet finishes second and you make more money than if your horse had won.

“If I think a horse has a better-than-odds chance to win at, say, 4-1 but I think the even-money favorite’s going to be real tough, I’ll bet the 4-1 shot to win and box the exacta [rather than making a place bet],” added Fotias.

If only every betting situation were that simple.