What Racing Analysts Should Be, And Do

If I was King of Racing (stop the hate mail now), I'd think I'd implement some standards for our friends analyzing the races at each meet, every day. 

Let me say, I believe analysts do a good job, certainly for the most part, analyzing races. And frankly, I believe little has to be done to improve this aspect. People like Marcus Hersh cover a meet, follows it and does it well. David Aragona, Andy Serling; I mean the list is long. 

These people provide excellent information to folks getting ready to watch and wager on a card of racing. 

Where I'd change the "picks"crowd is in how it's reported, and what are given out as plays. 

I'd love to see, each day, every day, a spot play with an odds minimum. If Andy picks one or two horses a card, set minimum odds. This works twofold, in my view: i) it can be tracked over a season and ii) it gets players thinking about minimum odds. As well, I think it makes the analyst a better one. When they're thinking about profitability, the casual fan will as well. It also allows them to convey to the watcher their thoughts in coming up with a mathematically sound play. Teach a man to fish. 

They can also add a "most probable winner" or anything else they want. But fair odds are so important in sports gambling, we need to ensure it's a part of this game as well. 

Secondly, navigating a casual fan versus a seasoned one in broadcast is an age old debate, and I am the first to admit this can be a minefield. I think however, especially with the sport trying to attract more sophisticated sports gamblers, it needs a refresh. And it can be accomplished by speaking to both sets of bettors. 

The TVG crowd, in my view, should be making multiple pick 4 tickets to share. One can be a "stay alive ticket", which is dutifully explained as a sequence that might get you through the legs, but the ticket might not pay. The other ticket could be a lean on a horse they like, a ticket with less chance to win, but one that's mathematically sound. This ticket would be the one that shares the most insight into how the game is supposed to be played. 

Some might say tickets like this are difficult to share because analysts do not appear to have the skills to do so. In some cases I am sure that's correct, but it's already being done. In the Timeform US package, for example, David and Marcus share this insight with their tickets already. They'll often take multiple tickets in a pick 5, or 4 or even 3, with their price horses used heavily. If your analyst doesn't have the skills, find one who does. 

I agree much of this is difficult, and not intuitive. The sport of horse racing has lived with newspaper picks for so many many years. And the customer base - at least on the surface - seems to want "winners" so there is very little reason to pivot. But I think we're not looking below the surface. Give people more info, strategy and insight; talk up to them, not down. That's the market that might lead to more and more users, and more and more handle. 

Have a nice Wednesday everyone. 

Skiba's Bankroll Thoughts

Skiba's interview at Harness Racing Update is up, where he waxes on gambling and his $1M Draftkings win this Monday. If you haven't read it, I thought his answers were useful and interesting, so give it a look. 

One of his answers that I have been thinking about, relates to pivoting our serial bet play to extract value, and take advantage of mistakes players make. Skiba (if you're reading this blog you likely agree) notes that if you do look to take more stabs for the "right kind of hits" you will invariably cash fewer tickets. After all, we are not using the chalk "defensively", and we are not spreading each race. 

  • “Losing is never easy and if you play the game with the highest EV (expected value) approach you will undoubtedly go through losing streaks/swings. Cashing tickets is a rush and feeds your ego through bragging rights, so really you have opposing ideas which conflict over the short term and long term. Over the short term, you can cash more by including more horses in a horizontal sequence. However, in the long term, that strategy will result in a lower and likely negative EV. The importance of bankroll management and playing in pools where you can withstand the swings is key. If you have a $1,000 bankroll, playing the Pick 6 daily is going to drain your bankroll prior to giving you enough shots to take advantage of +EV play. (my emphasis)”
I think this is unbelivably important to us as players, especially those not playing professionally. 

Playing with confidence breeds more winning. And being confident means we are not worrying about bankroll. But, if we want to pivot our play to this (especially in pick 6's but also in pick 5's), confidence can be eroded easily because we're overbetting our bankrolls. 

Some might say "yes PTP, if only I had a $10,000 bankroll", but that is folly, in my view, because even with a $10,000 bankroll we tend to make the same mistakes we always make. 

To achieve any +ev tactical success in serial bets we should always be concerned about what percentage of bankroll we're using, and with that, Mike Maloney's (and Skiba's as a corrolary) words are very prescient - we don't have to start out playing pick 5's or 6's.

I've touched on this with previous posts, but I think it may bear repeating. Just this week I was playing 50 cent pick 4's and in leg three I did not like the even money shot. I felt he was more of a 2-1 shot. I did like two longer ones, the 2 and 7, who ended up 17-1 and 12-1 respectively. I liked a few of the chalk otherwise, so I simply took a small ticket using 2 and 7 in leg three. I was well aware I'd likely lose this ticket, but it was only $12. I was in the +EV mindset, and I didn't spread, or have to hit that ticket and $12 was not going to break my bankroll. 

We can dip our toes in the Skiba mindset, without sacrificing the principles of gambling when it relates to bankroll management. We probably already do this with daily doubles. Pick 3's are a fine test, as Maloney notes. You can single a chalk you like, with two bombs you love, with a second choice you like and it costs $2. If you're right you may cash $200. 

And of course, if we like a horse we can do something amazingly crazily wild, too - we can bet 'em straight! Go figure. 

Anyway, I enjoyed Skiba's answers. And for those wanting to get better at the game (including as he noted, himself as he always works to get better), we can employ some of these strategies and techniques without breaking our bankrolls. If our handicapping is good enough, that bankroll can grow, and we can expand our play with it. 

Have a nice weekend and good Travers Day everyone. 

The Bounce & Energy Distribution is Not Just for Handicapping Horses

I read a fascinating book recently: The Bascomb tome, The Perfect Mile, examined three runners and their quest to lower the mile race record below the long-thought impossible 4 minute barrier. What was most remarkable (and unexpected) to me was how often while reading it I thought about horses. 

The book began with Britain's Roger Bannister's failure at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Bannister began training on his own for the seminal racing event, and shunned most help. This was not a Shakespearean flaw, he was extremely bright and nuanced with training, but a wrench just before the Olympics was thrown into the mix. The IOC added a semi-final race, so he'd have to race three times instead of two. He had specifically trained for two races, not three. 

In the final, Bannister paced himself perfectly and was sitting 5th with about 150 metres to go - the spot he usually kicked to the finish in an all-out sprint - and expected, like most watchers, gold. But when he tried to kick he had no legs. There was no muscle response and he finished in 4th, not even medaling. 

Upon reflection, Bannister concluded that he simply bounced. He needed two or three days to recover and with the extra race that was impossible. He did not have the stamina to race three legs. 

In the future he'd do things differently. In the absence of recovery time he had to train harder; to build up stamina to protect from the bounce. 

In Thoroughbred racing the bounce is real, even though the excuse might be used way too often to explain a poor performance. In that sport, however, trainers seem to have chosen to increase recovery time, rather than building up stamina. This is no bueno for the sport, because field size and frequency of racing is so important to handle. In harness racing, on week to week schedules, I do believe the modern trainer protects from bounces by training. A top trainer in the sport - Ron Burke - is known to train his horses hard, and they rarely bounce. You'll often see two year olds in certain barns falter because of a lack of foundation - asking for speed before stamina. 

Meanwhile, Bannister learned something else pretty quickly in his quest - energy distribution. He wrote, "I simply can not go as fast if I race at 58 lap, followed by a 1:02, followed by a 58. I need to concentrate on my cadence at 1:00 per lap to use my kick".  

Bannister focused on even energy and relaxation - he even wanted to feel the tips of his fingers completely relaxed while running. 

Reading that is like a hammer to the head for us handicappers, right?

Distributing energy evenly is what makes a turf horse fire home; watching them relax from start to finish often results in career best figures. It makes a harness horse race some of their best times, despite perhaps a lack of fast fractions early, which is counterintuitive. I don't think this is used enough by us as handicappers when evaluating a horse's chances, quite frankly. That turf miler who went 23-25-23 is not going to fire a near optimal race. When I see that happen I do pay special attention if he or she flattens, hoping for a higher price next time. 

The physiology and science behind a man trying to run a four minute mile or a horse trying to run or pace or trot one might seem like apples and oranges, but it really isn't. There's an optimal way to maximize result when pushing a body to extreme speed. Humans who race get it, and so do many top trainers. Us handicappers should always be aware of it too. 

Have a nice Monday everyone.  

What Will the Betting Landscape Look Like in Ten Years?

Cryptocurrency is again in the news, as the politicians are examing its regulation. This, to a lot of people, is troubling, as regulating something relatively brand new with so many unknowns can end up pretty dreadful. This warriness is due to something called Amara's Law, which states that the effects of something new and innovative (usually a technology) are overstated in the short-term, and understated in the long. Generally, early on we have no clue on what something is or might be, so tinkering with it is no bueno. 

With sports betting - which has began with a lot of regulation already - perhaps the short term will be the long term, and Amara's Law will not apply. After all, how can racing companies, established gambling entities (already with some form of regulatory capture) and others massively change when their paths are already narrowly scoped?

If that is the case, I still believe there is room for some change, and for consumers these could be positive. I'll take a crack at a couple PTPstramus predictions. Proceed with caution. 

First, remember the World Sports Exchange? It was established in the late 1990's and it was fabulous for bettors. You could trade positions in virtually anything, and it was the precursor of Trade Sports and Betfair. Currently there is very little offered in the US in this vein. It's all fixed odds and the like. 

The popularity of Predictit.org in New Zealand (especially during elections), makes me think there is room for a site like this, and I suspect it can flourish. 

Second, with investment, I wonder about the pari-mutuel pools. There is room for something using that existing infrastructure, in my view. 

Just this year I liked Hot Rod Charlie for a futures bet. I, like many of you, wait for the pools to lineup in a positively expected way before pulling the trigger. A couple of weeks after Hot Rod bottomed out at around 10 or 15-1, some Baffert horse ran off the screen, and Hot Rod closed at 55-1. 

This seems archaic with today's technology, where almost everything is updated in real time. 

Derby pools and others could be set up better, with likely investment. There's a chance, if regulation is not too cumbersome, Derby exacta and tri pools could be wagered in near real time, along with win pools. This could be done for all major races. 

In addition, the pari-mutuel pools, I would think, could be spun-off to other sports. As we saw with Olympics betting, there is more than just betting a winner. A Masters exacta and trifecta pool does not smack of too much incredulity does it? Currently one can bet straight forecasts at some books, but again, it lacks any real time feel, and the juice feels like betting a horse race in Turkey. 

I think the above two thoughts are, even in a highly regulated environment, likely at some point, no? They seem doable, and I think there would be a market for them in the US and Canada. 

Innovation and change, depending on the environment (or despite of it) is notoriously difficult to predict. Rack and pinion technology was discovered in 1810 with an enterprising man trying to move a container up a hill faster than his draft horses could. This didn't make its way into a car until the 1970's. What today's betting landscape, in North America it might be the similar. Sure there's a roadmap - in the UK and Australia companies have been working the space for 25 years with modern tech - but with such a massive market in the US, its vibrant seed and series one capital markets, it makes one wonder what's possible. 

Have a nice day everyone. 

Meadowlands Full Card Analysis by PTP

If it rains (check Chip Reinhart's twitter feed) these may all lose. Hold it, they may all lose anyway. Wager at your own risk! 

R1 Del Miller

2 is probably best but she was running in so she wasn't right last time, but she was fractious in PP and shoulda died but did not. Could key I suppose as an ITP hurdle race. Belassima is obvious chalk, meh for me. Altar the wild card if looking for a price. No bets here. 

R2 Dancer

1 likely only beats himself. 5 is a nice horse. 

R3 Miller

I will key You Ato Dream and probably bet her. All her races are good and there is no Bella Bellini in here. Hope Gregory sends. The rest don't interest me, but maybe the one can get a trip with added Lasix. 

R4 Shallee

5. What can you say. 

R5 Miss Versatility

Manchego will get put in play according to trainer comments, but the fact is she was no good last time. If you don't play the bounce back as a key at a low price, which I never do and maybe you don't, I guess we have a key in Atlanta. Doves can't seem to go with her, and neither than anyone else. 

Race 6 Haughton

Interesting race. 2 raced great last time, Snobbytown was flat but probably because I bet her last time. 6 is okay, as is 7 and 9. 10 has a terrible post and will be hung the mile most likely. 

Sears' horse - 8 - interests me most I think. I don't know if he works out a trip from here, but if he does I think she fires at a pretty good price, she was sneaky good in her last. I could see going deep here in the pick 4 and leaving out the ten who might still be chalk. Or just keying 8, or skinny with 8 and Snobbytown in a bounce back effort paying a quadrillion dollars to win.  

Race 7 Wm Haughton

What a race here. Chuck Simon noted the trip on 2 Century Farroh and he was really live. He was terrible at Mohawk, but is better down there. Backstreet Shadow got torched and hung around right until the last sixteenth. Very good chalk. Angers Bayama a new horse lately. 

Catch the Fire, in my view, is the best horse in the race and will be a big price. But how can that horse win from out there? I'll probably bet and key on a ticket or two, anyway. Such a nice horse. 

Race 8 Senior Hambo

I have absolutely no idea how this race will be raced after the no holes Gural meeting last night. Usually you could count on the second tier getting a trip, so 12 is I think likely, but who knows. I am  confused. Sermon is going to win one of these weeks and pay $50, I am sure of it! But I doubt it's this time. 

Beads hated the track last time if you're looking for a longshot. Sorella is supposedly pulling shoes if the weather is good. 

Race 9 Meadowlands Pace (kicks off another pick 5)

One Eight Hundred, in my view, is the best horse in the country and he hated the track last time. If the track is the same I'll pitch. If it's fast I will key. Without One Eight Hundred firing on a fast strip, this is a wide open trip race!

Race 10 Wm. Haughton

What kind of complete mess this race is and I may toy in going deep. The outside speed is massive and it seems to set up for a closer if no one gets a hole. If so, Workin Ona Mystery is likely off last week's trip, but I fear perhaps an overbet. A bomb alternative will be 9 who may follow him and has been racing well. How about using Leonidas? Conservatively handled last time and he fits this class. He should be a price. 

Having said all that, TITP will get the lead and either he or Tattoo will walk and come one two :)

Race 11 

I know Gingras said Captain Corey might not be driven aggressively and he needs one, but he came home in 123.3 in his Q under no urging. How can he lose? I guess we'll find out but this looks like a slam dunk to me.  

Race 12

One may think that blowout mile did something good for Sandbetweenmytoes and I guess I lean here. Lyon's Steel has been good and does fit. Not my favorite race. 

Race 13

It feels to me like Covered Bridge is a key in here. Gapped a bit last time, but they were going fast, then went wide and finished up like a good horse does. 

Race 14

I've lost the GDP of Chad on Better Take It in his last two and the horse has been sensational, just wasn't put into any kind of position. Dexter on tonight and I think he will be more aggressive. 

Good luck everyone. 

Beating the "Teams"

Pat Cummings posted this on the twitter yesterday:

That, any way we slice it, is a big amount, and this is sharp money.  It also may not be a surprise to you, because each day when we look at a payoff where we have constructed our tickets around a proper horse (non obvious, non chalk) it often comes back short and we lament the payoffs. 

I've dove into the payoffs at various tracks over the last year or so and one thing that I have concluded - if you find a horse or horses they are on you're treading water. Conversely, if you find a horse they aren't, you're going to get an inflated payoff. Whether this is true or not (and how we even know for sure is difficult), but I think it's there. 

When you look at a superfecta payoff at say the Meadowlands in harness racing, the odds of the horses involved might portend a $1,000 mutuel which comes back $700. We see this often. I'm convinced the teams shorten the list of contenders and hammer those combos in three and four horse verticals. Where we do see bigger payoffs, the "wow, I can't believe that paid that much" payoff, is when one of the slots is filled with an outlier. 

It's important to remember that this is not about how we conventionally handicap against the crowd. We're not throwing out or parsing horses who five of six public cappers pick as their best bet.  That's 2010 stuff. We're trying to make value analyzing the horses who are 8-5 versus the 2-1 horse all the public cappers are on. That's the live one. The public isn't making that market. 

How do I try and tackle this ("try" being the key word)? 

  • I am generally more selective on whom I use underneath. If a horse ridden, trained or driven by someone out of favor who is not overly live, but who I think fits in a pace scenario for example, I will try and get them on the ticket, second third or fourth. With lower denominations you can use "all" for 4th for a small amount with the out of favor horse. 
  • I'll key what I think is not a steam horse on a small pick 4 or 5. This can be a $12 or $16 bet. With low denominations, it's possible to thread a needle and get paid. 
  • If I see something in real time that I do not like about a team horse, I will pitch. It's important to remember, these folks to do not have a crystal ball; they are not the guy with the bag of money on a Monopoly board game cover. They are working on thin margins and they lose a lot of races. 
  • Play the steam horse underneath. If they're on 3-46-467 for $100, bob and weave the three with some outliers. 
In the above scenarios, it's important - like ITP preaches - for me to not get caught up on "hitting the ticket". There's no use spreading to hit a ticket the teams are on. To make this possibly profitable long term (the jury is still out, believe me) you have to keep the tickets short and punchy with a horse or two you're focused on. 

This game is so tough. We're not only fighting takeout, track changes, short fields; we're not just competing against the guy or gal at the end of the block; we don't have to just find winners. All that is hard enough, of course. We're left having to find bets where the sharpest players in horse racing hopefully haven't covered something. It probably sounds like a fool's errand, but here we are. 

The above is opinion and conjecture, naturally. Modeling such a qualitative, nebulous thing is intuition, not math or science. I'd be interested to hear other opinions on this matter on the twitter if you'd like to share your' thoughts.  

Have a nice Thursday everyone. 

Pool Dilution

 Chuck asked an interesting question on the twitter machine today. 

So, how much is too much?

In my view, when a track has a lot of handle more is better. By not offering choice, a pick 4 pool may be $100,000, but when we do offer choice the pick 4 might be $90,000, a pick 3 $20,000 for more handle. 

At smaller tracks this gets much more tricky, particularly in Pick n's, 

As penned on the HANA Blog (an older one, as the reference to the "Super 7" evidences): 

"Multi-leg bettors should be aware of is to be aware of the pool sizes, especially when backing longshots. It would be great to have 3 consecutive 20-1 shots win in a Pick 3 on the WEG circuit, but unfortunately the pools usually only contain approximately $4000, leaving around $3000 after takeout. A $1 Win parlay of 3 20-1 shots would pay $9261, but hitting that pays you at most $3000, and less if someone else has also hit it. Making a Pick 3 wager with horses going off at 13.45-1 or more in each leg is a mathematically poor bet. This effect is most pronounced in Super 7 wagering. When the pool has a $10000 guaranteed payout, 7 horses of 2.75-1 or more creates a parlay that would pay more than the $10000 that you would receive. For a $50000 carryover pool, the odds only increase to 3.7-1. For a $250000 carryover, it is 4.9-1. The lesson to be learned is that you should probably only bet the Super 7 when you have some very solid low price horses that you are comfortable keying."

Tracks who do offer such pools are not doing their customers a favor, but in my view (crazy-ass Rainbow Pick 6 announcements aside) high handle tracks that do offer choice are. 

Reply to Chuck's feed if you think I am all wet. 

Enjoy the Wednesday everyone!


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