Jackpot Hi-5 mania at Woodbine

by Brett Sturman

For the second time since December, Woodbine Racetrack is set issue a mandatory payout on Saturday for its popular Jackpot Hi-5 wager. The wager has increased greatly in popularity in recent years and is expected to close with over $2 million in the Hi-5 pool once new money on Saturday is added to the current carryover of over $578,000.

The Hi-5 is offered at Woodbine in the final race each night and entails a person correctly selecting the first five horses in order of finish. But the main difference between the Jackpot Hi-5 and a standard pentafecta is that the Jackpot Hi-5 is paid out in full only if there is a single winning ticket. If there are either multiple winning tickets or no winning tickets, a portion of the pool or the entire pool will carry over to the next racing card.

The bet has soared in popularity because in theory a person with a limited bankroll can walk away with a ton of cash. Offered in 20 cent base wager increments, a smaller player can afford enough combinations that give them a realistic chance to be competitive in selecting the first five horses in order of finish as opposed them having little to no chance at all if the base wager were $1 or $2.

Average handle for the Woodbine Jackpot Hi-5 remains far more popular than the same wager offered at other tracks. At the Meadowlands for example, nightly handle on the final race superfecta (selecting on the first four horses in order of finish) easily beats their Hi-5 handle more often than not, but at Woodbine it’s just the opposite with the Hi-5 dominating the superfecta in terms of handle.

The popularity of the wager seems to speak for itself, but the bet also has its share of detractors from the more serious horseplayers.

Most dissent to the wager comes from the issue of takeout. Woodbine advertises a “low 15 per cent takeout”, but that number can be misleading. Of all money wagered into the bet on a given night, 50 per cent of the pool automatically is added to the jackpot provided there are multiple winning tickets (if there are no winning tickets, 100 per cent of the pool is added to the jackpot). What it means is that when the 15 per cent standard takeout is applied to the 50 per cent of the pool that goes to the jackpot, the effective takeout rate balloons to a 57.5 per cent takeout rate (15 per cent of 50 per cent is 7.5 per cent, and then that 7.5 per cent is added to the 50 per cent remaining to be divided out to the multiple winners).

Since the start of a new wager in January following the Dec. 23 mandatory payout, it’s no coincidence that the jackpot has never been paid out. In a 10-horse field there are 30,240 possible winning combinations (10x9x8x7x6), but with a 20 cent wager and let’s say an average of $50,000 of new handle each night, the public is playing 250,000 different combinations each night. Based on that, all remotely reasonable winning combinations are going to be hit by more than one person.

Pompano Park offers a Jackpot Hi-5 in their concluding race each night similar to Woodbine, but the main difference between the two tracks is that the handle of the Hi-5 at Pompano is less than what Woodbine does. In this case, it works towards the horseplayers’ advantage because it decreases the chances of having multiple winners if naturally there are fewer people playing. Just this past Wednesday at Pompano, the Jackpot Hi-5 was hit and a winner walked away with $70,000 off a total wager of $2.40 in a race where the winning horse went off at a reasonable 4-1 odds.

Back to Woodbine, while the takeout statistics and overall miniscule odds of being a sole jackpot winner deter the more serious and high rolling type customers from the bet, it doesn’t have even close to the same impact to the novice players. In fact, the bet structure seems to attract even more money from the lower volume bettors who appear undeterred from the 57.5% effective takeout rate.

On mandatory payout nights such as Saturday, the typical effective takeout rate becomes moot. Because the bet must be paid out and there is no more carryover to be had, the bet will carry a total takeout rate of 15 per cent. With the guaranteed low takeout rate and a massive carryover, the bet will produce one of the most unique opportunities for a bettor in harness racing and anyone – whether it be a big time player or a 10 cent bettor – will be gunning for a piece of the prize.

When all bets are in for the Saturday nightcap, the race is bound to result in a rare and super bettor-friendly negative takeout scenario. In this instance, even when the track takes 15 per cent of the new money bet on Saturday, it won’t be enough to offset the existing carryover and at least part of the $578,231 will essentially become free money that will be paid out to winners of the bet Saturday on top of what the ticket would pay normally.

Woodbine had a near identical setup for the wager back on Dec. 23, where a $548,396 carryover resulted in over $2 million in brand new money in its last mandatory payout. It’s possible that $2 million in new money will be wagered once again on Saturday and if there were to be a single winner it would result in one of the largest payouts in either thoroughbred or harness racing in North America.

Even if there are multiple winners, as I expect there will be, those people will be getting paid out far more than they would if not for the half-million dollar carryover created by the jackpot bet over the last two months. Bettors everywhere should be, and will be playing on Saturday.

Woodbine, Saturday March 11

Race 10 Jackpot Hi-5: It’s another 12-horse field for the Jackpot Hi-5 mandatory payout and let’s hope this race provides more action than the Dec. 23 version of the race when most horses that night never had a chance due to a non-existent cover flow in the oversized field. THE REV actually won that mandatory jackpot race from December and he’s in a position with this group that a repeat is possible. He’s faced better than most of these in recent weeks and it’s okay that he lost touch a bit last week in that race won on the front end by JJs Delivery who would crush these anyway; will be firing early. MACH ON THE BEACH had some sneaky pace when free last out and is another that drops. Typically I’d be swayed away by post 10 in a field like this, but coming from Moreau with an aggressive emerging driver I think we’ll be seeing speed; good enough to beat these and certain looms for a share. DIALAMARA lands the role of lukewarm morning line favoritsm but hasn’t done much since pouncing three back off a blistering pace against lesser; seems in line to hit the ticket though in some fashion. CHAMPAGNE PHIL was used a couple of times last out through early fractions of :25:3 and :54:2 last out; he rates well against most of these on paper for trainer Nixon who is a decent 13 for 48. BANK SHOT HANOVER goes first start off the claim for Puddy after being trained previously by Allard; I wouldn’t be shocked with a overachieving performance at likely double digit odds. ERLE DALE N is a classy type that’s been having a bit of trouble when hiked to this level in recent weeks; his best would give him a chance at the top prize if he fires. CASIMIR OVERDRIVE is another fresh claim although I’d prefer #12 as the better claim to compete in this spot. SINGLE WHITE SOCK aims high but hasn’t missed the board in his last four starts. HALF A BILLION can close if the race sets up for him; DARCEE N goes for a barn running well these days.

$0.20 Hi-5: 9-10 / 9-10-12 / 5-8-9-10-12 / 5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12 / All $96