What Are the Odds I'll Have Another Will Win Triple Crown?
When the championship thoroughbred I'll Have Another lines up in the starting gate for the running of the 144th Belmont Stakes tomorrow, June 9, he'll be staring down 34 years of failure. Since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978, 11 horses have entered the Belmont with a chance to do the same, achieving racing's highest honor by finishing first in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
None have succeeded.
With history on the line, the experts figure that I'll Have Another has only the chance of a coin flip standing between him and racing immortality.
Determining those odds remains more of an art than a science. Unlike casino games, which operate according to strict mathematical models, horse racing and other sports involve human (or equine) elements that defy prediction. The odds take into account a range of factors, including the previous performance of the competitors, inside information about the health of the participants, and even the betting patterns of the gamblers themselves, according to Erik Snowberg, a professor of economics at the California Institute of Technology who has studied betting in horse racing. [Which Kentucky Derby Winner Is the Biggest Stud?]
When paired with hype, superstition or personal preference, the influence of betting patterns can produce an odds line that does not reflect the actual chances of victory for a horse, team or player. To make a profit, professional gamblers look for odds generated from a mismatch between the betting patterns of uninformed bettors and the actual skill of the competitors.
"There are people who try to make a living betting on horse racing. There are people who genuinely have better information, and can utilize that information to make a profit," Snowberg told Life's Little Mysteries. "You can think of it as the same way people have models to predict the stock market. People have models to predict the outcome of horse races."
According to Snowberg's research, distorted odds in horse racing most commonly occur in the extremes. The high payouts from long shots, and the apparent easy money of sure things, lead gamblers to bet most heavily on extreme favorites or horses that really have no chance of winning. Those betting patterns then change the odds line, making long shots seem more likely and sure things seem riskier.
To catch a glimpse of how bettors' activity and hype can influence the odds, consider this: A week ago, I'll Have Another had a like of 3-2, meaning a $2 bet will pay out $3 in profit. Spurred by the media hyping a Triple Crown, and the belief that I'll Have Another is the best horse in the Belmont field, bettors have thrown in with the horse, pushing the line to 4-5. Now, a $5 bet will pay out only $4.
That line makes the horse a clear favorite to win, but far from a sure thing, Snowberg said. Based on the given betting odds, experts think the horse has a 40 to 50 percent chance of winning this year's race and taking the crown. Not a great shot, but that's why they run the races.
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