#Crown19 Thoughts

It's night two of the Crown at Woodbine/Mohawk Raceway Park (I think that's it).

Since two of the best people in harness racing - Ms. Fanning and Mr. Campbell - are involved in the Breeders' Crown, it is incumbent on me (and all people without hearts of coal) to publish some #Crown19 thoughts. As you know, millions dozens of people and thousands of Russian bots read this blog daily, so my reach to drive handle is formidable.

Let's go.

First pick 5 (15% juice, decent bet sometimes) -

Race 1 -

This overnight might be a tricky affair and I think going deep is the elixir. The evil deep state, or someone, was against me last time, because there is no other way I can describe the drive on my wager of Classic Pro. This horse is a project for the Lilly's who are tremendous at nursing back horses to good health. He has big time back class, will be a bomb price, and is very sharp. I'll use.

Race 2 - Mares Crown

Many will use Shartin as a single and there's a strong chance you'll be on to the next leg. However, after losing in Kentucky, the bloom is off the rose, and I'll try and beat her. One filly who is razor-sharp, better than ever, and will be longer than a #MAGA rally with Trump on full-crazy-riff is Kendall Seelster. I wagered on her at 1 trillion to one in the Milton, Sleepy Sylvain got her off 9th by a hundred, but she was absolutely on fire coming home. We have a driver switch and I think she can be heard from again. Others I'll look at are Caviart Ally and Youaremycandygirl, who seems to be learning how to race.

ITP as Hoosier Buddy
Race 3 - Mares Trot

Do we go deeper than the 80% or so expected win of Plunge and Manchego? Maybe if you have an Inside the Pylons bankroll, but for us normal people, it might be tough. I do like Custom Cantab as a bomb. She was not on the bit last time, and she usually is. If something wild happens I could see her storming home at big odds if she's back to being racy. The rail filly flashed some finish.

Race 4 - Filly Trot

Winndivie got the protypical Sears elimination drive last time, but overcame that nonsense to fire home faster than an Alberta oil worker made it to the voting station. She's my wager. When Doves Cry was flat last time, but you can't leave her out. Asiago and the Ice Dutchess are other obvious uses I suppose.

Race 5 - Filly Pace

Ubeaut will probably have to beat herself, correct? I mean I won at the track one time around last Christmas, and @gregreinhart tweeted something positive about one of the teams he cheers for last month, but I don't see it happening. It will allow us to go deep in the other legs, should we so choose.

Race 6 (start of the second pick 5, again at 15%)

The Open Pace is where we find PTP's Super-Secret #Crown19 Play, for Subscribers Only. OK, forget that last part.

Easy Lover Hanover has been nothing short of sensational of late. I know what you're saying: "This horse doesn't fit in here PTP, you're dumber than a bag of hammers". I won't argue with that, but I really think he has a chance to surprise.

Race 7 - Colt Trot

Greenshoe is a beast, and I think he just got syndicated for the GDP of Denmark. The forces of nature in racing (the breeders) all want him to crush. And he probably will. But I will use Gimpanzee, because that last drive was one for the ages, and the horse overcame more than a Parx horseplayer has to. We also have a tiny, weeny, small - and if I had a thesaurus handy, other words - shot to beat the Shoe. He has shipped from Lexington, and might not be as good.

If you want to go deep to beat Greenshoe, Don't Let Em has learned how to be a racehorse, and Soul Strong is crazy fast when he puts it all together. On the board, he'll be longer than the line for the penny slots when the races are over.

Race 8 - 3YO Colt Pace

One of the soundest, best gaited horse we'd ever want to see is Bettors Wish. And his connections are some of the best people this sport has to offer. I mean, they could tweet something negative about murderous communist oppressors, and the NBA wouldn't even mind.  I hope he wins, and he probably will. However, Dancin Lou will be my wager. Time after time, the sharpest horses win these end of year tilts, and although we don't see any reason to believe Bettors Wish is tired, this horse is a knife's edge. If the odds are good, I'm in.

If you like Southwind Ozzie, word is he's been scoping yukky (aka, horses I often wager) and they've fixed him up.

Race 9 - Open Trot

I love Bold Eagle came, and to see one of the greatest horses in harness racing history is a real bonus. Sadly, he won't be on my tickets.

I think Six Pack can get it done via the north end parking lot at a nice price, and he'll be a use for me. Atlanta apparently had the thumps in the International and could bounce back. Mission Accepted, Guardian Angel and even the very uneven Marion Maurader would be uses if I go deep. If Bold Eagle's odds are low, this race is a must play for me.

Race 10 (A Crown consolation of sorts) - 

I think a lot of people will use Fast n First and Cant Beach That, which is fine, but I'll lean on Hervey Hanover at a generous 8-1 morning line. He's sharp, and I don't think he loved the sticky track last time.

Good luck tonight everyone. And remember, all of the above picks were free. Please, no wagering.

Horses Run Around in a Circle

There was an interesting conversation on the twitter today after Ray Paulick tweeted a link to his piece about Woodbine deserving another Breeders' Cup. Most would think a world class venue like Woodbine's wouldn't cause much consternation in a topic of holding a world class event, but it does because Woodbine's "dirt" surface is tapeta.

The Breeders' Cup is for turf and "American dirt horses." Tradition kind of demands it, we hear.

Without getting into the usual (sometimes) nonsensical circular discussion about surfaces, the reliance on tradition or not wanting to change the game in many quarters, to me, can be lacking.

The backbone of a game is changed often; often by economics, and sometimes by the world evolving.

There are many football fans over a certain age who believe the game is not football anymore, because of the lack of hitting that defined the entire game.

But has the game's core changed? No, it was modified. It's still played on a rectangular field, the ball is thrown and caught, rushed with and spiked; you still get 6 for a TD, 3 for a FG. It's still watched, wagered on, and is growing. The game is fine. It's just evolving.

The core of the horse racing game, since forever and probably for forever, is pretty simple when we get right down to it: Who has the faster horse? Which of these horses racing in a circle or semi-circle will win? What will they pay if they win; what will I get as an owner if the horse wins?

What color the ground they raced on; if it's wet or dry, boggy or pristine; 87% sand and 12% beachball, doesn't really matter.

We always have to embrace change even if it flies into the face of tradition, because it can make the game better.

As an example, one of horse racing's great traditions (I kid, this one sucks) is unloading a lame horse on an unsuspecting owner, or racing a lame horse to get rid of it. Let's say there's a new technology that can cheaply bone scan a horse before it goes out to race, or before it's bought or sold, preventing fraud or breakdowns. Of course, that's not a threat to tradition, it's progress.

In this day and age we're pretty tribal, and horse racing seems to rely a lot on how things were done in the past, with change only happening when a lead shank is pried out of cold dead hands. I don't believe that's optimal.

Change can happen in horse racing, and when we enact it (hopefully with some proper analysis, although maybe that's a pipe dream), in my view we only really have to worry about the sport's true core being held constant: People buy horses, people train horses, people race horses and people bet on horses - Horses who run around in a circle.

Horse Racing Innovation, a Task None too Small

I read an interesting article by the Atlantic's Derek Thompson on Thomas Edison yesterday. The article, summarizing a book on the amazing man's life, touched on something we've been hearing about for some time - the incubation of innovation, or lack of it of late.

Back in the 1870's, Edison created a full blown lab for invention in Menlo Park. Working with others, invention (and innovation) was fostered through these unique interactions. The established business community, at times slower to move than its smaller counterparts, were critical of such a collaborative lab. The head of AT&T at the time said -

"It has never, is not now, and never will pay to keep an establishment of professional inventors."

Fortunately, that company acquiesced on that position, creating Bell Labs, which gave us the laser, transistor, and through others, rubber, nylon, the computer and the building blocks for the internet.

Lately, the corporate goals through innovation and invention have changed. Researchers at Duke University submitted a study that concludes these incubation labs have left most big businesses. Invention is left to others, like universities (or smaller companies), with businesses focusing on the end product.

I might be talking out of my hat, but that makes some sense qualitatively doesn't it? New, cutting edge ideas, like for example wunderkind Boyan Slat's Ocean Clean Up tech that is projected to solve the world's plastics problem by 2040 have popped up. This non-profit has been funded by Silicon Valley and individuals; a GE would not even touch it with a ten foot pole. There are countless other examples almost every day in the news.

When looking at horse racing, does anyone know what's put directly into research and development? I don't but I surmise it's very small. The innovation and invention is left to others, like back in 2002, with UK based Betfair. This disruption, however, was pretty short lived, frankly. When Betfair was bought out by super-large Paddy Power its appeared the innovation almost ceased - just as the researchers from Duke predicted it would.

When larger companies do not innovate, it's left to the Boyan Slats of the world. But in horse racing, that can't happen. We (and others like Superterrific and Crunk to name two) have talked about this for a long time. Have an idea about data? Equibase owns it. Have a great idea about wagering? It's constrained by the tote system and places like CDI and TSG control signals. How about something new, fun and vibrant with video? There's a place called Roberts that will shoot you down quicker than Dick Cheney on a hunting trip.

The obvious solution is to (oh god, don't go here PTP) take a slice of slot revenue, and create a Bell Labs for horse racing. But that too is handcuffed by the same shedrow shackles.

Perhaps the naysayers are correct - horse racing is here to harvest the revenue it has, until there is none left. But it sure would be nice if somehow, someway, the morass can be navigated to make something happen. This game, with thousands of bettable events, with millions of data points, in a world where a 16 year old kid can come with an idea to clean up oceans, can and should do better.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

The Business of Horse Racing's Zero Expectation

I saw a tweet last evening -
We've seen - since last spring - many tweets or articles or columns echoing much of the same from disparate areas of the public. It's certainly been rough.

Western society is generally pretty fair (if you don't use social media or political fringes as your yardstick). It tolerates quite a bit, quite frankly. We tolerate things that are bad for us because not being free to do them is considered worse. We tolerate automobile deaths, deaths by alcohol, guns, airplanes and many other things.

When it reaches a certain level it becomes more of a concern. But with all of those things that level is never zero.

Horse racing, in my view, is not in that same place.

Since the spring, to many, the "equine body count" is supposed to be zero. Even horse racing has talked about it - when Del Mar had no on track breakdowns during its last meet, it was trumpeted. That, I think, is shortsighted. Horse racing's zero expectation can never be met.

If this was deemed more of a problem several years ago and there was a plan to get it to an "acceptable" level, things would be better; the zero expectation would not exist. But, for whatever reason, it wasn't tackled with near the urgency it should have been.

I believe horse racing needs to do its best to flip the argument. The public and politicians realize horse racing is an athletic game with 1,000 pound animals carrying 100 pound jocks. They will accept a certain level of danger (and yes, death).

It's above my pay grade to offer a solution to a problem that has been ignored and gone on for so long. Plus, I'm a dude with a blog. But, showing improvement in the numbers and conditioning the public the number will never be zero could be wise. Playing the political expectation game might be all the sport has left.

Have a nice Wednesday folks.

California Racing Has Always Been an Island

By now everyone's read the Drape story about Triple Crown winner Justify receiving an alleged (no one has disputed it yet, so maybe they'll drop the alleged part soon) positive test for the drug scopolamine.

This drug is not new to horse racing, as over the years positives have resulted in trace amounts (through contamination) where trainers are held accountable. But, as the data has come in, it has been studied, and jurisdictions around the world have set limits on the amount of the drug that can, according to the science, be attributed to the environment.

In Louisiana, it's 75 ng/ml, Europe 30 ng/ml.

The International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities has the contamination limit at 60 ng/ml.

In Australia, it's 25 ng/ml. 

Justify's test, according to Drape, showed 300 ng/ml.

California seems - at least some protagonists do - to think 300 mg/ml can still be a contaminant.

This leads to a broader discussion about uniform rules on drugs and suspensions. Let's face it, that should've been done an epoch ago; uniform rules are directly proportional to fewer regulatory clown shows. But, for whatever reason, California racing does not seem to take heed. It does what it does.

I've always felt it's why the general public doesn't much understand horse racing.

To your average Joe or Jane, this reads fairly simple. It's a case of a 0.08 blood alcohol limit for drunk driving because everyone agrees that's proper. But in California, a guy who blew a 0.12 was let drive home because someone arbitrarily decided he's a big dude and he said he drank some mouthwash. It just doesn't compute.

Have a nice Thursday everyone.

Can We Beat the Computer Horse Betting Models? At Times, Sure We Can.

On a previous post I mentioned a book I read a couple of weeks ago called "Digital Marketing in an AI World" and promised a couple of thoughts on AI or big data models for horse racing.

If you're interested I'll share a few of those thoughts below.

First, I'm a believer in modeling for sports betting and racing, because with proper discipline, some smarts, and a malleable model we can make hay when the sun shines. Numbers remove bias, and they take away what we thought we knew, but really never knew out of a wager. A good model, even in horse racing's high rake environment, can work, and work pretty well.

When we analyze data in horse racing a few characteristics generally occur.

i) We learn pretty quickly how difficult the game is to beat. The angles we thought were great, aren't great at all (unless you like losing 15 or 20 cents of every dollar you bet). When you run a model on a subset of (statistically significant) data, the chances of it showing +EV are slim. When you parse or layer too much, you're chasing your tail with bad information.

ii) The horses a model may signal as plays are pure overlays, and some of these horses - on paper - will look gawd awful. We'll see an 0 for 11 horse, a bad jockey switch, terrible form - what we may call 'qualitative anti-angles' - that make us not want to wager on the animal (which is precisely why these wagers can approach 1.00 ROI).

iii) the price of the horse (or the bet type) is everything.

The teams we read so much about are doing much of the above religiously. Can we beat them? In my view, Fred's book tells us one way how.

Self driving cars are in the news, sometimes for terrible reasons. When an accident occurs, it sheds light on the problems with AI, and in-turn, some of racing's computer modeling.

This AI works on a three-step process - perceive, plan and execute. In Tempe, Arizona last year, this was on display, and not in a good way.

A woman was walking her bicycle across a four lane highway after dark and was struck and killed by a self driving car. The car's LIDAR perceived a human with a bicycle, but in the planning stage it computed it could not be a human with a bicycle because it's a 4 lane highway at night. In the execution stage the AI asked "what should we do?" and the answer was, "keep going."

Fred writes: "Machine learning systems can make mistakes, and it's possible to outflank the competition by capitalizing on them."

In racing, in my view, we see this often.

Several years ago I remember playing the Woodbine polytrack for the first day of the meet. Like other computer modelers I knew the poly is fast, and horses who make the lead are great bets. At times, even with bad trainers or riders, you could make a score. But, at least one modeler was slow to the draw.

At Woodbine, the fifth race had a horse who my model said would make the lead, and horses who made the lead were 4 for 4* already. It was a green light. But one bot, run on a model, didn't agree. Whether it was working with late pace numbers, didn't have a built-in bias, or what I do not know, but it just kept fading the animal. It was 6-1 on the board 14-1 on the exchange, then 16-1, then 17-1. I kept putting up cash, wondering what in the hell price this model was working on. It took the offers up to 25-1. The horse won easily and paid $18.

The above is not as isolated occurrence.

What other mistakes do we see?

In my view - lame horses. If you're an old school horse watcher, you can take these models to school, using the model itself - perceive, plan, execute. Did the horse look like this last time? No, then execute, because that model betting $1,400 on its nose likely has no clue.

I have seen horses head to the gate lame who were gate scratched that the models were on. They're losing money, so we have to be the one to beat them.

Overall, I am certainly no expert, but I love modeling and models, for horse racing or otherwise. They work. But, it doesn't mean they can't be exploited. Those are a couple of areas I think they can be had.

Have a really nice Friday everyone.

* My top pace figure (with a slight speed track modification) went 10 for 10 that day. It was a rare Let It Ride type day that keeps a lot of us coming back. 

The Tantalizing Touts

@bvalvsracing tweeted out a nice article last week about the touts. It talks a great deal about entertainment content versus hard-edged +EV predictions. Namely, it pays to tout for entertainment purposes, because it's sexier. That's why we see a lot of content presented like this -

“The wrong team is favored and I love this team as a home underdog. They are coming off extra rest and the defense has been impenetrable so far this season. I will be taking them on the money line and expect them to win the game.”

You and I know the obvious - that information is already considered in the line, so it's kind of useless. But if that team performs well, then this tout is off to the races.

Meanwhile, for the +EV dude or gal, they're off in the tout wilderness with their analysis.

“Due to many factors and variables within the model, we have the home team priced at -9.75 with a current edge over the market price of x%, being our biggest edge even after regression back to the market price. Also, I see variations in price/spread from -6.5 -120 to -7 +105 and a few other prices across the screen so it will also depend on how much you value 7 in today’s NFL and what outs you have among other considerations.”


Horse racing represents this phenomenon a lot.

"Chad Brown wins with shippers from overseas in routes."

Thanks, that's why the horse is 6-5.

However, unlike in sports betting - where you do see the second kind of content - in horse racing there is very little. The HANA Horseplayer Magazine had some, you'll find a little on twitter now and again. But it's pretty much a dearth.

I think there are a couple of reasons for it - i) most profitable players keep their oddslines and angles a secret, and ii) there is almost no market for this analysis in horse racing; math players aren't trying to beat 20% juice in horse racing in some six horse field scattered almost minute by minute on any given day.

Another point that struck me while reading the article. The tantalizing touts, with angles, and all the rest can make hay in sports, because if they are not horrible people will win enough over a season to keep firing. You only have to beat 4.8% (or lower if you line shop) takeout. I think that's why we see so many of them. It's difficult to break even over a season (no offense to them, they are just doing their jobs) playing TVG host pick 4 tickets.

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.


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