Plan Ahead: The Last Responsible Moment

By Ray Wallin

Horse racing – Photo

Whether you are a casual horseplayer or you make your living playing the races every horseplayer has the same struggle. It is a problem unique to horseplayers in a pari-mutuel pool. Sports gamblers don’t have this dilemma. All horseplayers struggle with when is the last responsible moment they can place a bet.

What do I mean by “last responsible moment” and how does that apply to you?

Last responsible moment is a term used in lean construction. It is a strategy of not making a premature decision, but instead delaying the decision and keeping important and reversible decisions available until you can’t wait any longer or else you will miss the opportunity or delay the process. While as horseplayers we will never delay the process, we alternatively will miss our opportunity to place a wager.

Sport gamblers lock into a line when they place a bet. For example, if you love the St. Louis Blues over the Ottawa Senators and take the money line at -175, your bet is on that line regardless if it changes for better or worse. When we bet into a pari-mutuel pool in horse racing our potential payout varies based on the final odds of our horse. Unlike that sports bettor, your windfall will change down to the second the horses are all loading into the gate.

The challenge for many of us is trying to project what the horse will actually go off at versus our fair or value odds. I may love a horse in the race and set my value odds at 2-1 which means I will play the horse at odds of 2-1 or higher. With five minutes to post he is holding at 7-2 which makes him an overlay and playable. The bet goes through with a minute to post and then you see the toteboard refresh and show him at 8-5, which is under your value odds and makes him an underlay. You can be rest assured that as the late money is pouring in the odds will change again.

Physical Barriers

There are some physical barriers at the track, OTB, or casino that makes it hard to get your bet placed in the moments before the race goes off.

How many teller windows and self-bet terminals are open?

I can remember some late nights in the Borgata racebook in Atlantic City. There would be about 50 to 60 horseplayers wandering in and out and only two live tellers and six working self-bet terminals open. That wasn’t bad considering most folks were there to get a drink ticket, but on a Saturday at 2 p.m. that place is packed with 200 or more horseplayers and they would have a total of three tellers and the same six self-bet terminals. Extra time was definitely needed to get your bet in on time.

How long are the lines?

This is a function of how many teller windows and self-bet terminals are open. For me, I am quicker at a self-bet terminal since I don’t have to read it off to the teller and have them slowly punch the numbers. Conversely, I have seen some guys set up shop at a self-bet terminal like they are the only person at the track who is trying to place a wager. Anytime the beer and program get set down on the ledge and he steps back to watch the monitor, you know you aren’t getting a shot on that terminal.

The Human Element

This is the hardest one to judge. You are going to need to handicap the people that are in line ahead of you. If you have been around the track you have surely encountered some of human roadblocks.

There is the lady in front of you that is placing her $2 show bet and slowly counting out the wager from her change purse. She may have placed the bet with nothing but nickels.

Not to be outdone is the guy who looks like he is a man on a mission until he actually reaches the window. At first he leans in to place a bet, only to step back and look the monitors the same way a college quarterback gets under center only to take a step back and look to the sideline for a play call. There is no way to judge how indecisive this guy is going to be at the windows.

Lastly, you are heading to the windows to place your bet when an out of breath Rail Guy catches up to you and grabs your ear. You try to be polite as you watch the tote board tick down to two minutes to post. He has no intention of playing this race since he doesn’t like “dat bum on the five hoss” and is still complaining about the stewards taking his horse down in the last race. There is no reasoning with Rail Guy and you can’t get a word in edgewise.

Regardless, getting stuck behind either person or stuck with Rail Guy is a sure way to miss getting your bet placed.

Playing From Home

You may think that playing from home is easier, but it is also subject to its own set of issues getting bets placed as close to the racing going off as possible. You may have eliminated the lines and human element, but you have accounted for technologic issues.

Feed Delay

Some tracks offer free live video feed. Some betting platforms offer live video either for free or based on how much you wager. Yet there may be a slight delay between what you see and what is happening. If you are not careful, you will get shut out without knowing that your race is off.

Call Tech Support

I don’t have much nice to say about Comcast. As a matter of fact I resent the fact that I don’t have many other reliable choices where I live. Nothing beats going to place a bet only to find out your Wi-Fi is down. There isn’t anything you can do about it other than use your phone if you have a betting app.


You may be glued to your computer ready for the race you want to play, but your kids are fighting or Fluffy needs to go back outside to not pee for the fifth time in the last fifteen minutes. Life happens and it rarely takes as long as we think it will.

How Can You Predict How Line Will Move?

At the end of the day you have to try to predict how the line will move. There is no hard and fast method. If you play smaller tracks it may be harder to figure since even a $100 bet can move the line on a weeknight at Yonkers or Mountaineer. If you ask 100 horseplayers what they think you will get 101 different ideas. In some cases the early money dropped on a small pool will hold to the end and sometimes it means nothing. I wish there was an “easy button” for this, but there isn’t.

In summary, there are a lot of factors for you to assess to figure out when is the last responsible moment for you to place a bet. Each track, OTB, or casino will be different despite horseplayers being alike all over. You need to leave yourself the amount of time that you feel comfortable with and accept that the odds you bet on may not be the odds you get once the race goes off, or in the case of Gulfstream Park the odds that will change while the race is running. Do your best to avoid the obstacles and don’t be afraid to tell Rail Guy that you “have to go see a man about a horse.” I am sure he’ll find you again before the next race.