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By Don Bielak

Betting on overlays is one of the oldest and most effective weapons in the battle for racetrack profits. An overlay occurs when a horse's odds are higher than it's actual chances of winning. For example, if a horse has a 1 in 3 chance of winning (represented by 2-1 odds), and his actual odds are 5-2 or more, it would be an overlay. The logic of betting on overlays should be obvious; anytime you get more for something than it is worth, you are sure to profit.

Although overlays can occur in any betting pool, the standard method of overlay betting involves win wagering. Place and show overlays exist at times but are more difficult to predict because odds are dependent on other horses that finish in the money. Your payoff for win, on the other hand, can be known by looking at the odds on the tote board.

The problem with this is that a great many racing fans prefer exacta wagering to any other type. Luckily, I have a method that combines overlays with exacta betting. In fact, some of the most generous exactas I have ever had were picked by this.

Here's how it works:

1. Handicap the race and identify the four most likely horses to win, regardless of their probable odds. Ignore all others.

2. Watch the odds board and, as close to post time as possible, determine which horse of the four has the highest odds.

3. Use the horse with the highest odds as the key horse. Make exacta boxes with each of the remaining three horses. (3 boxes in all). If more than one of the horses is tied for highest odds, key the horse that you have rated most likely to win.

You may be wondering why this method relies on win odds to determine the key horse when exacta payoffs are separate and unaffected by them. The reason is that we want to make our wagers as close to post time as we can, and it isn't always possible to determine the best exacta payoffs when we need to know them. It's much easier to determine the highest win odds of four horses than the best exacta payoff out of twelve. In the long run, the results are close enough to justify substituting the easiest way for the most accurate way.

You may also wonder why any horse should automatically qualify as an overlay simply because it is one of the four most likely to win. The reasoning is this: A good handicapper is likely to have a solid overlay in his first four choices because one or two of those choices are normally overbet. With rare exception, the public is able to identify the one or two best horses and use them as key horses. The wise thing to do is the opposite- key on a longer-priced horse with a good, but not necessarily the best, chance of winning.

How well does this method work? In the past I have been able to tab many exactas ranging from just under $1000.00 on down, with a great deal of exactas in the $50.00 to $100.00 range.

A few words of caution. You must remember that the success of this method hinges on your skill as a handicapper. I can't stress enough the need to identify the four horses most likely to win REGARDLESS of the probable odds. Don't fall into the trap of picking your contenders based on price - the odds will take care of itself. Also, you must realize that this is basically a longshot method. Accordingly, you cannot expect to hit three or four big exactas everyday. However, the prices should make any wait worthwhile.

There is an old saying, "A person can only hit what he aims at". If you are tired of getting the $15 and $20 exactas, give this method a try. It aims for the big ones.

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