Markets

For those of us who are more left-brained and think in systems, markets are a really nice thing. They allow us to anchor to baselines, provide us with a structure, a starting point, a framework from which to decision make; they establish order. 

And I think it's why we have such a terribly difficult time understanding horse racing. 

It's unclear how Woodstock in Ontario had $100,000 in purses a day with $15,000 handles and thrived, while Balmoral Park had million dollar handles and $28,000 in purses a day and failed. 

We can't fathom why a government auditor would have to ask this industry to post their prices. And we're doubly flummoxed when the policy is resisted. 

We wonder aloud how a horse racing business can (apparently) explore selling a horse racing business.

We don't understand the highest handle track in harness racing running amateur races to fill a card, while across the river all the good horses are at a half mile track with less than a third the handles. 

Come to think of it, we don't even understand why there are half mile tracks anymore. 

We don't understand, in this cutthroat gambling environment, how customers have to line up for past performances, or how a download can cost so much. 

We don't understand how a business who complains so much about having fewer customers doesn't even realize they're a reason why. 

It's like our old friend the market doesn't even exist. 

As we drift in this intellectual wasteland of slots and other things, perhaps our brains are doing us a favor; they're protecting us. Because when the market does exist things aren't overly pretty. 

Hollywood Park, one of my favorites and I know many of yours, is a football stadium. Arlington, a slice of history and a very viable business, is gone. 

Those two tracks weren't sold for real estate value and replaced with fancy new ones, like an arena or a Wal Mart. They just disappeared. 

When markets act in horse racing, things tend to just go away. And it destroys everything - places to hone our craft, places to play, places we grew up with - we hold dear.  It's completely unsettling. 

Back to our left-brained reality - despite many of us left completely confused over this business, it's still there, trudging along. With that comes hope for better, hope for growth. That, left brained or right brained, market or no market, is always a good thing to have. It keeps us coming back. 

Have a nice weekend everyone. 


Using Statistics to Wager? Don't Forget the Underlying & the Qualitative

I, like many of you, love using stats and numbers to make wagering decisions. Whether we're sports betting or horse race betting we're numbers people. 

But, it always strikes me how much nuance and feel we need to place on the numbers to make decisions to properly try and find our edge. 

We know trainer "X" is 34% off the claim on a small sample, but how the horse's win is our true trigger. Did they get perfect trips and win? Did they all win by dropping in class? We need to see them improve in our mind's eye to truly know how much we should hammer (or fade) the next one. 

In football it's not dissimilar. I listen to Rob Pizzola's podcast and he loves numbers, he's a data guy. But, like in horse racing the fact remains, there's not much edge on pure numbers. Over/under bettors see a number of 47 and will likely have a model spitting out 47 or 48 or 46. Rob will dig deeper and use a bit of the qualitative to make a decision. 

What does he think game flow will be? Will possessions be limited this week because of an injury? Two years ago when faced with the same game situation did the coach have a tendency to do something for the edge? What's not in the numbers is very important. 

I haven't even touched how some data can just well, lie. 

Trainer win percentage from top barns? The top barns get the top horses because a trainer is good. They are jamming nice horses in short fields. How can they not win at these rates? And they're almost impossible to separate. These numbers are self-fulfilling. 

Crazy stats like QB wins. Apropos of nothing really, other than the team the QB plays for. Dan Marino's win loss record was an indicator of his prodigious talent about as much as a cheese sandwich he ate last week. 

Looking at game winning drives. Aaron Rodgers' historical numbers aren't great. Do we really believe those? You and I would take him in a heartbeat, right? Game winning drives are often a function of team defense. 

Kirk Cousins brought Minnesota back with a nice drive to go up 31-24 with 2 minutes left yesterday. His game winning drive was lost in one play, when Aaron threw a beautiful TD pass. Then Minnesota scored and Cousins got a game winning drive stat back, the one he had two minutes earlier (that he might not have gotten if a Green Bay DB could hold on to an INT). The clock ran out, so Rodgers could not get a Game Tieing Drive or a Game Winning Drive stat on this day. 

Stats can lie, too, because the underlying stat can be spurious.  

Quarterbacks against the blitz stats are often used on telecasts as some sort of massive talent predictor. This is mostly a function of offensive line play (unless you're a Mahomes). With a great OL you can get so many more explosive plays from a blitz when it gets picked up by this solid unit. 

The layering of numbers - for those of us who did or do database handicap - is always pretty nasty. If a horse wins we will always find more reasons a horse won, simply because he won! If we're dealing with only 27 data points, we're in real trouble and can make some serious mistakes. 

Many nuances of statistics can be modeled, and smart people do that every day. However, that's well-beyond my pay grade - it took me awhile to figure out proper SQL syntax in jcapper, and kids today would lol at me in general. So, for many of us regular people who like numbers to handicap and wager, we have to do our best to understand what they mean. That involves us being smart and leaning on what the numbers tell us, but also being curious and skeptical; analyzing them, and yes, using a bit of feel. 

Notes:

Wagering experts employed by the horse racing industry? Many of us think it's a good idea

I loved seeing this clip from NFL.com about Elinor Penna. Elinor is known in horse racing as the spouse of Angel, but for her football fans she is Elinor the ground breaking, tough as nails and most-wonderful football mad sportswriter and columnist. She's super.  

Walner's brother raced this weekend. This wasn't a maiden, but a high level stakes race. Incredible move. Perfect gaited colt that I hope we see over here next year. 


Capping the Cappers

Beemer had ITP on his show yesterday, and I found it a good listen. You can listen right here

If you read this blog over the years you're probably interested in the gambling side of the game and I am sure you agree with most of what ITP had to say, and likely try and make decisions based on it. 

A few things I found interesting. 

Playing (keying) the morning line mistake in late legs of a serial bet - edge or foe? Five or ten years ago I think it was an edge, and like most things when money gets sharper, like ITP notes, it goes away. Are we at the point where we fade the 10-1 ML horse that is going to be 2-1? A case can probably be made we should. 

ITP's grid attempt was a neat exercise for those who play in that fashion. Most decent pick n players I know use a corollary of that. Simplified for me - find a leg or two where the field feels blah and do our best to find one (or two) horses who will be prices we could see winning. Just use them as "A's". B's don't matter because the B's will trigger a payoff we probably don't want. Of course I am not speaking about a ticket worth $512 (if you're that type of player), but more along the $24 or $36 narrow ones seeking value for little outlay. 

Speaking of hits we don't want, there was some good chatter about the mindset of not having to win at these tickets. Like we talked about a bit ago, it's Pick n Disease. Why do we bet $15 to win on something at 4-1 with $9 in exotics and we fully accept losing the bet, but if we spend $24 on a pick n we have to cover everything so we win? It doesn't make sense, right? We invest far too much mentally into them. We can bet $20 and expect to lose. The game is winning, not hitting. 

What's difficult for many of us with this topic, in my view, is that we have to work really really hard to string four or five winners in a row. It's been a task since forever. Now we have ITP telling us we have to not only hit these tickets, but we have to handicap the handicappers! 

But, it's just reality. With sharper and sharper handicappers; with more and more bigger money being bet, and smaller transactional handicappers priced out of this game, it's just the way it is. It's more DFS than our grandfather's pick 4's, and we always need to be cognizant of that. Those who don't adapt will likely get left at the gate when playing horizontals.  

Have a great Wednesday everyone. 


Overlay or Underlay or.... Wut?

 If we play racing we bet horses with odds we believe are overlaid. We've learned that from Ainslie, Cramer and dozens of others. 

In the modern game - by far in harness racing - this has become more and more difficult. Cases in point? It happens each day, multiple times it seems. 

On Friday night at the Big M, Nancy Takter had a new buzz horse coming off a huge qualifier. She's known to drop lots of time, and driver Yannick Gingras booked off Burke horses to drive the invader. In the betting, this slam-dunk buzz horse spent most of the wagering in the 3-2 to 9-5 range. 

Overlay? I guess so. But maybe not. 

On Saturday night at Mohawk, a Julie Walker horse going on lasix for the first time off some pretty bad form looked like a contender on the slight drop, but in no way looked like a slam dunk. There were other horses dropping in class; several who looked viable in this spot. The barn is more of a second lasix barn, so it was a bit of a mystery. The horse, in the doubles and exotics, as well as in the straight pools right from the jump, was hammered at 7-5. 

Underlay? I suppose so, right. But maybe not. 

Saturday at the Big M's overnight feature was an Open Trot. The contenders were Beads and Sorella coming off Breeders' Crown starts, Andy Miller's Open trotter Get Legs. The Jeff Cullpher horse - Dunbar Hall - raced well last week in the junior open, coming third. Dunbar Hall is well-known to Mohawk players as a horse who could not beat anyone, but is doing better in the new barn, and was actually picked by Bob Pandolfo, where he had his fair odds line set on him at an 8-1 chance. 

Dunbar Hall was 3-1 at post time and took massive money in every pool, even the horizontals. 

Underlay? I would think so. But maybe not. 

As you may suspect - 

The Nancy Takter horse was very flat off a second over trip, not hitting the board. 

The Julie Walker horse won under a hold by five. 

Dunbar Hall tipped off cover and made those Breeders' Crown and Open horses look like 10 claimers, jogging by 3 and a half. 

If we were Mark Cramer or Tom Ainslie, we're singing for our supper. 

As you know, these are not isolated incidents. 

Why is modern harness racing like this? I think there are three main reasons:

i) There is very little public money in the pools, and if there is sharp money (like we see at times with the Cullipher barn's horses, for example) it is easier to see, and makes up more of the final price. Think about a stock with a high float versus one with a low float and someone wanting to buy 50,000 shares who knows something. 

ii) The teams play harness racing, and one of their inputs is the odds board itself. It's not hard to make an algo based on money/trainer/barn and bet accordingly, exacerbating the bet downs. 

iii) We need to rely on an odds board more now. Horses race much less frequently. In harness, the sport in its infinite wisdom (i.e. horspelayers come last) have lengthened the time between qualifiers. More horses come off layoffs than ever before. 

This is, of course, a completely frustrating way to play a high takeout game. This is not our grandfather's racing. But navigating these questions is a must today, or we're betting against or for the wrong three horses above and losing our shirt. 

Have a nice day everyone. 

Getting the Horizontal Rules Right

California steward Scott Chaney caused quite the brouhaha on the twitter box yesterday. The quote itself - primarily about horses in general running for purse money only not being a huge issue - was not terrible. But in the context of what happened in the Breeders' Cup with Modern Games it was, in fact, pretty terrible. 

In verticals, barring horses from wagering is not necessarily a bad thing. It can turn some bad betting races into good ones. In horizontals, I believe it also can be used. If we have a pick 4 sequence with four 1-5 shots we can't find any holes in, I'd much rather them all barred. Then I'd at least look at it. 

But in this case last week, in this world, the statement was, well, ugh. It wasn't about that. 

We've spoken a lot about wagering here over the years, and one trend that has been apparent for a long while has been the explosion in horizontal wagers. Gone, for the most part, is the high cost pick 6, replaced by lower denomination wagers that the general public has embraced. This type of wagering - long ago solely a daily double - has grown to a point where they're talked about on each and every simulcast, and they've even spawned twitter feuds. 

What hasn't changed much, however, are the rules and how they're handled. Late changes of riders or drivers, surface changes, dead heat rules and yes, late scratches "for purse money only", where millions of dollars pivot to another horse are all part of this lexicon. 

When something changes, in any business or entity, there's usually a response. Leaving out the tribal political people on social media, there's great and important discussion to be had on voting rules, as more and more people cast ballots in modern ways; self driving cars need to be addressed; how consumers consume with larger and larger companies taking more of the pie is perhaps the Standard Oil question of the century. 

As racing's make-up changes, it's just not like this. Racing waits for something to happen, shakes their head, and hopes people forget about it by next week. 

Is devising a better system to handle all of these millions in horizontal money easy? Hardly. But it would be nice, just this once, at one of these fancy conferences or board meetings someone decides to get the ball rolling; it'd be nice for customers to know that someone is home. 

Have a nice weekend everyone. 

Breeders' Cup Thoughts

The best weekend (don't flame me Claiming Crown fans!) in horse racing concluded, and it was never boring. Breeders' Cup weekend, for whatever reason, delivers. 

First - and I'll touch on the obvious below - the Breeders' Cup, Del Mar and the associated coverage in my view did their usual excellent job. TVG interviewers, which I watched, focused on asking the connections great questions on their horse's health, and how they were coming into the race. 

The jockey cams and other views were excellent and worthy of the sports' biggest weekend. During the week, the workouts, analysis and everything really - on social media, pods, and the electronic print coverage - I found completely great. 

The racing was sometimes meh (why do jockeys on speed horses snatch up now so often?), to excellent, where Japan's Loves Only You got race ridden into oblivion but found room and displayed class for an exciting finish; to the Distaff where what happened (speed) resulted in a bomb winner. 

The Classic is always the race I look least forward to, and ya, it was a little boring, but it did spawn some suspect quotes from jockey's who some think play the role of a heel all too well. 

Golden Pal made me, and others look dumb - I went five deep on a ticket, without him. The betting crew who believed Steve Asmussen's slump was going to end because he was getting his horses ready for the Cup looked like a genius after Echo Zulu cantered, a mope when many of the others didn't fire.

The performance of the weekend was a Pletcher former Baffert horse who looked like an absolute monster. Baffert horses, who we hear so often race ride as a team were both near the lead on the Distaff, adding to the carnage. Speaking of the Distaff, how did my 25 box lose?

Gamine finally lost, after many hammering against her degraded speed in her previous two. As Paul Matties said, she was a fade, but she was a fade last time and it was three months ago! Horse's do not race often enough to pitch in their next starts with any force anymore. 

There was no lasix, and whatever you feel about that, no, horses weren't walking off the track with blood flying out of them like a Monty Python skit, scarring children on the apron for life. Trainers are dealing with this. 

On the betting side there was value. For those who pitched Latruska it showed the lesson of going deep if you didn't have an opinion beyond that. Ditto on the Saturday late pick 5 ticket structure where we handicap the handicappers - everyone was going key-spread-key - and when Jackie's Warrior blew and a good key won leg two, you had a chance at a life changer. 

Off the course, the biggest news was the Modern Games scratch that wasn't - I'd label it Gate Scratchgate but it's really hard to say and clearly won't catch on.  

I found the episode very on-point for this sport, because contingencies are not much thought about when it comes to the betting public; that horse racing would not have a mapped out plan for such an occurrence goes together like Burger King and Baffert. But I can't get too worked up about it, quite frankly. One it was an honest mistake, two there was clearly no intent to give us a boot in the ass because the Breeders' Cup and Del Mar lose a ton of money when a horse is taken out of the pools. 

I find the whole thing pretty black swanish. Of late, the protocols to scratch horses early and often (primarily in California due to the rash of breakdowns not long ago) went a little over-the-top. Something like this was bound to happen. 

Regardless, I don't put this anywhere near to what Churchill Downs did when they cancelled the last race due to a weather cell without even a moment's thought to the bettor who was alive with a jackpot chance; not even close to when people present the benefits of lower takeout or mass-produced rebating to improve the sport and you're met with a "what's takeout" and then raise it again; nowhere near to a thousand things this sport has done to kill our handle and step on our necks over the years. 

That opinion might not be popular, but that's mine. They'll fix it for next time and it likely won't ever happen again. Until the next thing happens, because that's just what this sport does. 

I hope you cashed a few tickets and enjoyed the weekend. Have a great football Sunday, yes that means you Marcus Hersh! 


Are You a Fan or a Bettor? Breeders' Cup Edition

 Ya, those of us who primarily bet are fans and bettors. We own horses, love watching the greats and get chills when we see a great performance. 

But, if you haven't done at least a couple of these over the years at the Breeders' Cup, you're definitely not a bettor. 

Plus, we have to keep the whole "we don't care about the sport narrative", so let's not disappoint!

You're definitely a bettor if:

  • You watch the Breeders' Cup in a little box on your slow HP laptop, instead of the network coverage on your 89 inch Samsung. 
  • Jackie's Warrior is winning by 12, going speed we have never seen before on his way to a 125 Beyer we'll be talking about for a hundred years, and you're oblivious as your eyes are trained on Aloha West, begging him to hold onto 4th for your $0.80 superfecta. 
  • A human interest story comes on NBC and you immediately flip your PP's to Delta Downs to see if you can sniff out a bet in the upcoming $2,000 claimer. 
  • An analyst comes on telling viewers how much they hate Mo Forza but they want to use him defensively and the first thing you do is check @insidethepylons' twitter feed 
  • The race concludes and you have the tri. But they're interviewing an owner who's sharing the story about how as a foal this horse was tangled in a fence and now is a Cup champion after being nursed back to health by a little girl who needed a friend and you yell: "SHOW ME THE DAMN PRICES!". 
  • There's rumors swirling in the third leg of the pick 5 that the seven is being secretly trained by Jason Servis and is owned by people on FBI wiretaps. There's a head bob at the wire with a colt who is owned by the nicest people in the world who are down on their luck. Since there's  $14,387 in pick 5 money alive on Servis and $1.50 more alive on the feel-good horse, you're praying Jason's horse got there. 
  • You bet $100 on Gamine and she's running goofy again and herds Cee Cee 18 paths, almost into the hot dog stand on the apron, and you run to post on twitter that "they'd let this go at NYRA"
  • Firenze Fire is toiling in a battle for 5th and tries to eat three horses and a track photographer but you don't notice because you didn't bet a super high five. 
  • A dude with $490,980 in bankroll who's lapping the field in the BCBC is interviewed and you make fun of him for not liking a horse you cashed on. 
  • Some horse from South America with 18 Beyers just knocked you out of the pick 6 but you convince yourself you liked the horse and it was simply an oversight. 
  • You're keyed to Medina Spirit for a ten K score and when the Baffert interview comes on you say to yourself, "I hope he wins because the man has gone through enough"
  • The races conclude on Saturday, you've made $1,400 so you decide that you're an expert at Mohawk. 
Have a great BC weekend everyone and good luck. 

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