Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Handicapping: Bucking Convention; The Hardest Thing A Player Can Do

The best handicapping column I've read all week - maybe all month or all year - came from an unlikely spot. Bloomberg business had a Black Swan story about betting the Belmont, and it described the chaotic results of the race of late, with ROI numbers betting horses blindly. The fact is apparent: Some bad horses - on paper and in reality - won the Belmont.
  • Look at the last 10 winners. They raced 43 times after their Belmont victories and won just five of those races, or 12 percent. Four horses in that group went a combined 0-for-28. By comparison, the past 10 Preakness champions won 29 of their 74 subsequent races, or 39 percent. Gamblers who anticipated the Belmont chaos were well rewarded. The winner paid 21-1 on average over the past decade. The exacta ticket -- where a bettor predicts the first two finishers of the race -- returned an average of $233 for each $1 bet. 
So, we must bet some bad horses - horses that look like they have little shot - work a little magic and we make some money.

Not so fast. Even the writer of the column says something that we all say, almost all the time:

" While I understand the principles of chaos laid out above, I just can’t get myself to wager on bad horses."

There's the crux of the problem in taking advantage of chaos races - we still look at the horse, his speed figs, everything else the public is looking at - and we discount them, and throw them out. Even when we get hit in the noggin with what's been happening, we handicap traditionally.

If we do that, we're less and less likely to make a score.

I remember a few years ago sitting at Woodbine, and I was watching Mountaineer. Top pace figure horses were winning almost every race the past night or two, or coming second. 10-1, 40-1, 1-5, it didn't matter. If your pace horse was aggressively ridden, he was going to be there. I found a horse in one race who looked horrid, but he had speed, and sported the #1 pace fig. Sitting with a very good traditional handicapper, I expected him to be on board, but he wasn't.

"That horse has backed up by fifteen the last two. He's an impossible bet"

I wouldn't tell the story if he was right, so you can guess what happened. 22.1, 46 and an easy winner at 12-1.

Not too long ago I hit the largest superfecta I have ever hit. It was a day where outside speed was winning everything. The 11,10 and 9 had outside speed, and they all looked like crap, but they were capable if they ran out of their skin. I bet it, and it came in.

I called someone who was live at the track who is a very good player who plays chaos and bias really well. He had the winner and a couple of the exotics. He was there with another player and I asked what he hit in the race. It turns out, like my traditional handicapping friend in the Mountaineer example,  he simply could not bring himself to bet the bad lines on those horses.

"They looked too bad" he said.

A lot of people who have been handicapping for a long time are married to their angles, married to a PP, and married to conventional thought. It is simply the hardest thing to expunge from your brain memory, when handicapping chaos, bias, or random type events. In fact, it's hard to get out of your mind in any race; that's why, with so many betting horses with obvious positives, they cash winners, but lose money.

It's easy to pick winners. I can give you 4 of 10 of them by touting the post time favorite each race. You can do that too. You can also find bombs when looking at those traditional angles and other things that help you. But if we cannot bet the unconventional, bet that ugly horse, bet a one post because the inside is good, bet outside speed on a biased track, closers in every race when they've been winning at huge numbers  - no matter what the horse looks like in the PP's - we're missing out on chances at a lifetime score.


Lenny said...

Lately I've been thinking along the same lines. Every time I find a clever long shot it gets bet down. My thinking is it is because so many of us follow a similar script when handicapping that we land on the same horses. I'm re-evaluating my handicapping process and trying to find new angles that others aren't on to yet. Being profitable at the track is all about evolving quicker then the next guy.

Tinky said...

It's not so much that "bad" horses win the Belmont, but rather that so few American horses are suited to 12f., the "good" runners tend to be extremely (and uniquely) vulnerable.

In other words, the odds are based on PPs of races that are, at least superficially, often a poor guide to success in the Belmont.

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