Finding and Betting an Opinion is an Engineering Problem We Must Master

I was listening to the @robpizzola live stream for the NFL yesterday and as usual, Rob does a fantastic job breaking down the slate. It was informative and filled with information you don't get on the "form". 

But it struck me, NFL bettors have it pretty easy, don't they? I don't mean easy to win of course, it's extremely hard, but they have it kind of easy compared to racing bettors. They handicap, they pick a side or total they have value on, they line-shop, and they wager. 

For us, it's not like that. 

There's an ongoing discussion in this sport about handicapping versus wagering and in my view it's a good one; primarily because it illustrates the mind-puzzle we go through each and every day to try and beat this difficult game. We simply have to have both. And that's only the beginning. 

Let's break it down. 

We have to:

  • Find a horse who will win, but that horse has to have hidden positives, because we are trying to beat a big rake. Finding these take the grab-bag of handicapping - replays, following a horse, reading headlines, checking trainer comments and myriad other factors. 
  • Find a way to capitalize on our excellent handicapping because betting just win doesn't really cut it like it does overseas. There are no exchanges or bookies to lock in a price, we're taking our lives in our hands with late odds changes. 
  • Decision make. Do we group this horse in verticals? Sure, but we need more than value with our selection. We can't be using chalk underneath in supers or tris, we might as well just bet win. We need to navigate a pace scenario, analyze if the chalk should be tossed. Again, myriad decisions and a mini-minfield. 
  • And horizontals, the holy grail. The ITP Little Andy twitter fun. This is America dammit and we go big with massive exotics pools. If we find that horse - the horse people won't be on, or more importantly the one the betting teams are overlooking, it behooves us to go Lewis and Clark and explore the possibilities in pick 4's, 5's and 6's. The possibilites of life changing scores. 
Then when we do all that, we join Rob Pizzola and other sports bettors watching the event. That's where the fun really begins. Where our team could lose four fumbles inside the twenty - or in our world, horses who scope sick, get bad rides or drives, get stopped behind other horses and every other beat we've all gone through. 

That opens up yet another rake stepping experience in this massive engineering problem we call wagering - staying sane: Going on tilt because of these beats can cost us all the equity we've built up. Our minds are not conditioned to deal with it. As humans, when we work hard, do everything right, we expect things to go our way. And when they don't.....

So this is a very tough game. We have to be engineers and psychologists, and about a hundred other things. Working on every aspect, from forming an excellent opinion. to converting it the best we can, to living with the seeds of doubt and frustration when things don't go our way. It's a problem we have to work every single day to master. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Everyone Loses Sometimes, Plus There's Always Perspective

Yesterday, for the second week in a row, the sportsbooks got killed. Public teams like Dallas pretty much sealed their fate

Chip must be pretty excited for those Boys, and I think he should be. The last team I watched get pass rush protection like that were the Panthers, and they paralyed that to a Super Bowl berth. Only Atlanta, and in the Bowl Denver, could figure out pressure against them that year. It takes teams a long way when deep crosses happen 14 times a game, where for some teams it can be 14 times a season.  

Regardless, feeling bad for the books is like feeling bad when Joe's Grocery steals some market share from Amazon, but we certainly should not - in the end, this money will get recycled back and life will go on. Everyone loses sometimes. Well, most times. 

I've had a crappy couple of weeks, and horse betting is meh, although I did hit a $15 exacta at Belmont yesterday for profit. Pop the champagne. 

We spoke about losing streaks many times before here. They just happen and there's nothing we can do about them. They're a fact of life. Staying the course is tough, but if we have some sort of betting talent,we have to. You can change bet size, not play as often, but you have to stay sharp and things will come. 

And then there's always perspective. I was reading a book last night while unwinding, and came across this gem. 

Back in 1761, scientists learned that Venus was going to transit the sun in a twice a century event, and there was a push to measure the transit from various points on Earth so humanity could learn about orbit size and the Earth's distance from the sun. A whack of these scientists headed off to various locales. 

One sprightly guy - Le Gentil from France - was super-stoked and cautiously took off for his perch in Northern India a year ahead of time. No FOMO allowed. 

Unfortunately everything went wrong on his trip, and the poor fella was stuck on a boat in the Indian Ocean when the transit happened. He was unable to measure anything. Undaunted, he decided he'd hang out in India and really get things set up, because in 1769 - 8 years - this was going to happen again. 

On the morning of the second transit, with all his equipment tested and at the ready, it was a fine day, until it wasn't. Just as Venus was going to cross the sun a huge cloud developed, and remained there for the entire transit - about three hours. Then it moved on. 

Le Gentil, with an ultimate bad beat, kind of took it all in stride. He, with nothing else to do, decided to  head back to France. But along the way to port, he got dysentery and was holed up for an entire year. I know what you're saying, PTP, this is way worse than losing a head-bob on a superfecta, and I agree. But there's actually more. 

Weakened, a year later, he finally set off for France. Things did not go smoothly. His ship was nearly wrecked in a hurricane off the coast of Africa. He barely escaped with his life, but eleven and a half years later, after achieving absolutely nothing, he finally made it home. When he walked into his home, ready to kick off his shoes and relax by a fire, he found someone else was living there. His relatives had declared him dead and enthusiastically plundered his estate. 

My 1-4 day at betting football, or that $1,250 missed pick 5 on Saturday kind of pales in comparison. Perspective is good. 

Notes:

Good luck to Ed DeRosa who has left Bris/TS for Horse Racing Nation. I am sure he'll get to work with super-nice Candice Curtis at some point. I always liked Mark and Mike and their crew, so I hope he does well there. 

MLB is looking at making some crazy changes to the game, and this was looked at from a harness racing rule change perspective here. Honestly, baseball can look at changing the distance of the pitching rubber from home plate, but horse racing stays and stays and stays with the same sport?

Everyone is freaking out about Baffert with the Breeders' Cup allowing him to enter. I get it, but the guy did get caught (allegedly I guess, since it might take years for anyone to even find a split sample; I jest) with what was likely an ointment. If the sport does not want repeat offenders in the sport entering stakes races, they have to write the rules to eliminate them before it happens, not after. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Gambling Content in Racing? An Ode to the Horseplayer Monthly

I've been thinking about wagering, handicapping and gambling content this week. The topic has been front and center with Nico's great twitter thread about gambling versus picks, and Woodbridge's thoughts on the sports betting content space.  With so much corporate-type content, sometimes it's hard to find pure gambling content, in horse racing especially.

This brought me back to The Horseplayer Monthly magazine, HANA's free monthly virtual newsletter. I am biased naturally, because I worked on it, but looking back, eghad it had a great deal of top content. 

It spoke about takeout, getting the best of it, and it didn't shy away from analyzing races and angles. It also incorporated data through database handicapping (mostly via Jcapper) to explode some longer-held handicapping myths. 

It's so old now, I remember my piece about Bill Belichick as a handcapper going for it on 4th downs. He was skewered at that time, now everyone is playing the numbers on 4th downs. 


The crop of writers - doing it for free - was pretty cool. It was grassroots, and the knowledge these people shared was incredible, in my view. 

Gambling legend Barry Meadow, wrote, or allowed us to use his columns. One of his columns was given the Ron Rippey Award, something I think Ed DeRosa started. 

Sharps like Paul Matties and Mike Maloney and Ross Gallo shared their time, time and time again. These were professionals giving away their ideas and tips, without asking for anything. 

The content from good handicappers who love the game was always on display. Emily from Optix, Candice Hare (before she was famous), Nicole from Jeopardy fame, Dana Byerly, Mike Adams, Lenny Moon, Jessica Chapel, Mike Dorr, Track Phatom Dave, regular contributor Melissa Nolan, Dinkin, on and on. Typing that, boy we had a ton of content from women cappers and bettors. That in itself made it different from the way this old game operates. 

CJ used to analyze races using the brand new Timeform US figures! That was always fun. They're still great figs; we won't hold it against them they merged up with the Big Dog DRF. ITP, before he was internet star with the Little Andy feud ITP, would share things, too.

Speaking of the DRF. Tundra-shed-boy, me, got to interview Andy Freaking Beyer. Me! I bought his book at age 15 or so, and here I am chatting with him; the man on the Mount Rushmore of Handicapping. That was a highlight I remember well. 

The other interviews, way too many to mention, were so fun. You know who ever said no, including busy people like Larry Collmus and Maggie Wolfendale and so on? Nobody. 

We added a harness section (HANA had about 350 harness members) and people like Garnet Barnsdale provided (again for free) some great stuff. 

The Track Ratings issue was usually the biggest, most read issue of the year. It would get about 4,000 downloads. The ratings were spearheaded by Charlie Davis's spreadsheet work. 

We cheered when Kentucky Downs - low takeout KD, thanks to CJ and his dad who understood us bettors - took the lead in the rankings over Keeneland who raised the juice. It's nice to see they've turned into a massive success since. 

It was such an important issue because it focused on the bet - field size and takeout, and what bettors wanted and used to bet - and it was read by insiders. It was our big way to try and get the message through.



That issue would create the most feedback, and I don't know how many times I heard the food at track 'X' was bad and it should not be in the top ten. Fun times. 

Candice Curtis, who is exactly who you think she is from her twitter persona, created some amazing covers. I love Candice; a complete gem. 

Chip Reinhart would do the hard work - putting everything together. We were not professionals, didn't have any software, nothing fancy, but Chip got the job done. 

Folks like Ray Paulick would help distribute it. Ray's retweets and him letting us post up some content was great. Crunk's handle stats were always welcome, and were informative and drove readership. 


Sadly it's no more. But I don't even know how popular it would be today; in our game. Doesn't it not feel the same as it did? Maybe I am just being nostalgic, but with big team play, the odds board being driven by computers and late betting - everything really - it doesn't feel like it's a community as much. Maybe I am wrong with that and I'm just getting old. 

If I forgot to mention anyone in this homage to the magazine and those involved it's certainly not intended. 

Here's the archive of the Monthly if anyone wants to have a look again. Many of the articles stand the test of time. 

A Simple Rule From DFS for Making Pick N Tickets

There was a pretty decent discussion on the twitter last night about making better ticket decisions with your handicapping. There's a school of thought out there that learning to find value is difficult (it is), so newer players would have a super-difficult time with it and go broke faster. IOW, the ITP's of the world's way-to-do-things can cause some trouble. 

I don't really disagree. Learning to play the game is pretty tough and learning to extract value is a life-long pursuit. Plus it goes against the way our minds are built, where we are intrinsically searching for ticket safety. 

For those newer (or older who have trouble with it), however, I think there is a way to get into a mindset that's helpful. And that's from DFS. 

We create and handicap a DFS team very similar to the way we handicap a race sequence. We build one and then we look at it. To the modern DFS tournament player, he or she immediately knows if the team they've built is a proper one. If you've built a chalk laden team you can see it; you just know. And you know you have to adjust. If you don't see it right away, like it's second nature, you probably need to read more and get better at DFS. 

It's really a basic simple rule of DFS play - if your team looks like everyone elses will look, it's a bad team. You can't make money long-term with it. You have to start over. 

It's the same way we think when building a pick 5 ticket. As we go through the sequence it's completely easy to find the most likely winners, but after each leg a little light bulb goes off where we say to ourselves "this ticket looks like everyone elses." This is built in to the way we think as seasoned players. And like in DFS, if this is not easily recognizable to the player, he or she needs to get more experience. 

In DFS, a savvy player will look at his ticket, realize they have to adjust and will dig, using whatever means they have. And also lean on a few simple rules. For example, they may not use the high chalk back-up RB at $7,000, but instead build some teams with the $7,300 RB that no one will use at that level; maybe they'll use the chalk $7,000 RB and then use a lower chalk, higher priced QB-WR tandem. They're handicapping - they're not picking bad players for the sake of it - but they're thinking strategically. 

For the newer player struggling with pick n tickets, I think the exact same strategy is wise. If your ticket looks like everyone else's, punt. Get to work and find something, don't play at all, or throw $10 in with your buddies for an action play and have a beer. 

Once we grasp a simple rule - our ticket can't look exactly like everyone's on TVG does, just like our DFS team can't look like everyone's on twitter does -  we're on our way to figuring out how to get paid better, and perhaps gain a little better ROI at this terribly tough game. 

Have a nice Wednesday everyone. 


Wild Times at the Other Lexington Meet, Thus Far

Keeneland's meet began yesterday and I got to watch a couple of races. Fields were deep and the crowd seemed to be good. The meet started off fairly well. 

During the polytrack phase, where chalk would win around 1 of 3 races, there'd be some grumbling based on curious results. I always discounted it because I liked digging into the statistics to see who might have a shot on the polytrack, and I found it fairly formful, frankly. 

Across town at the Red Mile - which has a championship meet of their own - things were always super-duper formful. Favorite win rates approach 50% year over year, and why wouldn't it be that way? Fields are fairly short, the surface is fantastic, and the world's best are assembled. That means chalk and form. 

But this year, thus far it is one for the ages, and it's felt that way. I thought I might be getting gaslit, or my mind was playing tricks on me, so I went through the results for this Championship meet:

  • Takter trotter broke at 6-5
  • A 2-5 shot lost perfect trip, monster in two hole at 2-1 broke for no reason
  • Delilah Hanover leading by three 200 feet from wire at 3-1 ran
  • Fashion Schooner broke for no reason at 4-5
  • Takter pacer stopped to a walk at 6-5
  • Miss Wallner Fashion broke on the lead for no reason at 1-9
  • Wearnmysixshooter stopped and lost by 7 at 6-5
  • Lyon's Serenity lost at 2-5
  • Testing Testing broke at 3-2
  • Lookslikemoni broke on lead at 3-2
  • Bonanza broke as co-chalk
  • Rose Run Extra stopped, missed board as chalk
  • Slay stopped at 2-5, coming 3rd
  • Yes and Dontfencemein both lost as even money co-chalks to a 44-1 shot.
That's happened over only *three* race cards. It helps explain why there was a pick 5 carryover and a fifty cent ticket the next day paid a pool shot of over $50k. 

Why is this happening? Randomness, the track or weather? On twitter the rain was speculated upon as the reason for odd results yesterday

I, for one, wonder if it's more than that - perhaps the Kentucky Sires Stakes races taking a lot out of the horses, and perhaps those miles have tweaked one or two, or three or four. And it seems we're asking for so much speed from two year olds so early, that perhaps this is a trend. It's tough to keep young trotters 100% sound when they've been all out, trotting fast times. 

Regardless, if you've been looking for the track where you'd hammer a $30 pick 4 that pays $20 for a little score, it has not been this meet, at least so far. 

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Have a nice weekend everyone. 

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!


Pick n's Disease is a Horrible Malady

I find the racing betting culture is pretty interesting. The sport in North America, through marketing, the way we currently do things, the way the sport is pushed to us, makes us at times kinda dumb. It's no more prevalent than with pick 4 or 5 or 6 betting. 

At a simulcast center near you, "I hit the 15-1 winner".

"How much did you bet?"

"$20"

"Nice job"

Do you notice with a pick 4 it's much different?

"I hit the pick 4"

"Great!"

There's never an ask for any details. Just a success or fail. Hitting a pick n ticket is the whole she bang. It never involves how much someone spent, what denomination, what anything really. Just a hit!

The pick n's on your TV screen that many complain about are the same. It's like a badge of honor to convert, even if you spent $48 to get back $44. 

It makes us, in my view, worse players. We suspend what we know for a high five. This doesn't work with any other bet. 

Pick n Disease ™ shows up in more mysterious ways. 

Let's say you and I are betting a straight pool and we hate the 5-2 shot. We, as a matter of course (this will happen hundreds of times this week), chuck the 5-2 shot and box two others, or take a tri without this horse we dislike. Why? Because we eliminate about 33% of the money in the pool, and with 25% exotic juice it makes our bet a winner. It creates a mini-carryover pool, is betting 101 and we all think nothing of it. 

Now, add a Pick n. 

That 5-2 shot we don't like becomes a horse we *have* to add. Just in case. 

"Why are you adding the horse you just pitched in the straight pool to eliminate the takeout," Pete from Brooklyn may ask. 

"Um, <stammer, stammer> I can get value in other legs," comes the reply. 

"In a game where the odds board is efficient? Why are you adding back takeout?"

When we add a leg to a bet, it's like we suddenly become developmentally challenged. The laws of wagering are suspended as synapses that fire in our horseplayer brains become discombobulated. .

It's probably not our fault. Pick n Disease ™ is real, it's a demon, and we've been conditioned to not even recognize it. The high five at the simulcast center is like a shot of dopamine, and it doesn't matter if at the end of the day the wallet is lighter or not. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 


Fixed Odds Wagering Notes

 The Paulick Report Friday show generated some chatter from wagering geeks like ITP & Crunk this morning, so I gave it a watch. You can watch it here. Pat gave his thoughts on fixed odds wagering, and its progression into America, primarily with the first salvo in New Jersey. 

Rather than share my thoughts to other geeks on twitter, which as we all know often results in comprehension and communication carnage, I figured I'd jot down a few here,;which might still do the same thing, but I can use run on sentences. 

Pat is bullish on fixed odds, but rightly, in my view, downplays the game changing aspect of them. Australia has increased wagering and revenue from the fixed odds system and it is an integral part of the horsplaying landscape, but hoping that the US can be like Australia is likely incorrect. 

As we've spoken about many times here on the blog, the downunder bettor is drawn to win pool betting and it represents the bulk of their play since forever. The Aussie system was moving players already loving win betting into a more convenient and lower takeout system - a system where they could price shop, trade on an exchange and bet futures on just about everything. How could they not like it?

It's much different here, of course. It's simply a numbers game - the pool of players attracted to such a system are smaller. 

Also different down there from up here? Fiefdoms, protectionism of signals and price. Ray mentions the takeout being 12 or 13% on fixed odds and how it will be "split". There's little profit in offering fixed odds in such a way. And to think CDI will suddenly allow Kentucky Derby Futures betting everywhere and scoop 4% or 5% of the net profit is a fool's game. 

In 180 degree contrast, in Australia, not long ago Victorian racing saw a lull in their handle via the exchange. The entities in charge - those who row the same boat looking for more profit for purses - believed the juice was too high and they lowered it to around 8%. If you think that would happen here with falling handle I don't think you've been paying attention. 

I'm not PTP-Downer with this system like ITP, although I agree with him - people (winners) will get kicked out, maximum bet sizes may be small for many. This is indicative of the lower volume small margin nature of the fixed odds game here.  I don't think of it as a game changer in any way, shape or form. 

I believe this is a novelty. A novelty that may increase overall sales the easiest way possible, just like a Popeye's Chicken increases gross sales - by offering new chicken sandwiches and opening more stores. 

A sportsbook that offers Hambletonian odds nationwide will increase, at least, the 'commercial' of the Hambo. The same goes with weekend stakes races everywhere on the Thoroughbred side. This is primarily for new customers or casual ones looking for action. It's not for us. 

If fixed odds are looked at with that anchor, it's positive. With the fingers in the pie, protection, corporate maneuvering and all the rest that has befallen much of the racing industry here in North America I doubt we'll get a system that works in a super-positive way. I think it's probably best to completely temper expectations. 

Enjoy your Saturday everyone. 

Squeezing Your Betting Margins Until There Are None

In economics for like a bazillion years (I don't think this time frame is accurate, I am not an economist), we've heard a firm produces product until its marginal cost equals the price. In terms for the rest of us, they produce something at X price until the next unit becomes unprofitable to produce. 

This really isn't some sort of textbook gobbldygook, it truly works. And it's frankly quite remarkable. 

When we do have a margin edge, that is our COGS and labor costs are low, or efficient, we can produce and sell a crap-ton of stuff. And it's not straight line. Our sales can absolutely explode when we reach certain points on the curve. Now, we don't really know what's happening at a specific point in time, and we test different prices, suppliers, cut costs the best we can, etc. We just kind of know where we need to be. 

It's also remarkable (to me anyway, because I wager) that this very axiom that's spread from schools with brainy people that charge us thousands a course, works in betting the horses. 

We as general bettors, know very, very little about our edge. But we do know at the end of the day if we're winning or losing. As we win, we bet more, as we lose, we bet less. Now, bet size via pool size in wagering, etc is clearly a major impediment to personal handle growth, but it does explain a lot, like rebates and computer wagering or teams, doesn't it?

If you have a 1.10 ROI on something, and squeeze that down to 1.02 by wagering more, we are mirroring the firm selling a widget for less and less profit per unit. And just like a firm, when our edge moves down from 1.10 to 1.02, we bet a crap-ton more money; like 3X or 5X. It's not a straight line. 

What's the lesson on all this? Nothing really, I guess. But if you are at a 1.10 ROI, I think it's wise to bet more money. You're good and your handle - and end of year profit - will rise. For the business, everyone can't make 1.10 and bet more. But you can sure as hell help them cut their COGS and labor costs (takeout) and port them from a 0.89 to a 0.95. That, just like the scale of your profitable player or widget business, can do some huge things for this sports' handle growth. 

Have a nice day everyone. 



Pitching the Chalk (Subtlely)

I watched the U.S. Women's Open in golf this past weekend on and off. I wondered if Lexi Thompson, the front-runner with a 4 shot lead, could battle some demons and get the job done. On Sunday, after she hit her second to six feet on the par five first (and birdied for a five shot lead), her 2-5 odds seemed about right. A birdie at the first; she's got this. 

But, according to the Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee, there was more to this excellent first hole result:

“She’s got 6 feet away,” Chamblee said on Live From. “Now professional golfers don’t miss the center of the face by a pinhead. Look where she hits this putt on the very 1st hole. Look where this putt comes off the face. She would have missed the center of the putter there by a half an inch. I have never — I have never — seen a professional golfer miss the center of the putter by a wider margin than that. That was at the 1st hole. …  I thought unless she gets an eight-shot lead, nine-shot lead, and her closest competitors fall away [her lead was not safe]"

This was prescient, as Thompson shot a 41 on the back, needed an eight footer on the last to force a playoff, and the putt wasn't even close. 

This is subtle. And subtle is not going to work every time. But the risk (fading a short, short shot) can certainly pay dividends with subtle. 

In horse racing, some of the best players who win regularly do this and act on it, too.

"That horse coming back to the winners' circle last time looked a bit off, and here he is right back in this week. I will pitch at 1-5"

"That horse's late figure was weak last time for the first time in three races. He may be off form and he's 1-5"

"That horse is on a bit of a line scoring down"

These are all pretty damn minor in the scope of things, and no, they don't always work - horses are 1-5 for a reason - but sometimes they're the staple of a monster score. 

Now, I just have to start monitoring golfer's nerves on where they hit their early putts on the putter face. 

Have a nice day everyone. 

The Ticket Construction Themes

Our wagering game is an incredible mental exercise for many reasons. And one of its characteristics I like best is the variety of thought when it comes to doping out various bets. This includes, for me at least, ticket themes in serial wagers. 

I was speaking with horseplayer Mike Maloney awhile ago (this story might be in his book as well, I don't remember off hand). Mike was in a pretty tremendous slump and took a little time off, but one day noticed that the Belmont (could've been the Big A, it was awhile ago!) charts showed a pretty decent speed bias. He, on a whim, decided to look at the PP's for the upcoming card and make a wager - something he had not done in awhile - with all inside speed. This story is good because it hit. He was not slumping any longer. 

We can do this with one theme, like Mike did, or several themes. Trainer angles, hot and cold, etc. 

Belmont's pick 4 and 5 on Saturday had a bit of that theme for me. 

If you have a thought that Brad Cox's horses are not firing, that means pitching his top two chalk in the 7th, his Belmont horse and the uber-favored Knicks Go in the sequence. 

Paul Matties floated a "theme" that he believes is happening with the absence of lasix that frankly I think makes a lot of sense. That is, the Euros will do well in non-lasix races. This meant you used the 8 and 9 in the 8th race - leg two of the pick 5. 

What we're left with, betting these themes and doing little other handicapping is:

Race 7 - Key the 6-5 shot

Race 8 - The two Euros 8 and 9

Race 9 - Pitch the 3-5. Use Silver State, maybe By My Standards or the one horse. But definitely Silver State as an A

Race 10 - The obvious chalk lean on Domestic Spending, who was large at Churchill and had a decent post and pace set up for his run.  

Race 11 - The three main contenders sans Cox in the Belmont. 

3-89-3-4-347

That's a $6 ticket you could "Inside the Pylons" and press for $5, costing you a measely $30. You'd then construct another ticket or two for 50 cents with some others, like the 9 in leg four, spending maybe another $24. 

Now, we all know that $6 ticket didn't click. But if the Belmont winner doesn't show up like the others and is about a length worse, we've made our serial betting year. The pick 5 on Hot Rod Charlie was $4,000 for a $1 and we had that 5 times. 

Grouping themes like this, I find, can help uncover big scores. And it keeps the ticket size low enough where we only need to thread that needle one time, and we're bombs away. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Game Sevens and Monmouth Whips

Back in the northern tundra when I was a wee lad we'd get a frequent visit from an old teammate of my pops' named Leo Labine. Mr. Labine had a long NHL career and now retired, he was selling something-or-other as a traveling salesman of sorts (long NHL careers didn't pay what they pay today, of course).  

He was quite the story teller, and as a sports kid I lapped them up. 

One was about a game seven where his Bruins were playing the Montreal Canadians in the Forum. The game (series, in fact) was extra rough and tumble; some serious #oldtimehockey. The Bruins goalie was smacked in the face with a shot, and the game was delayed as he got his broken nose patched up. There were no back up goalies, so with swollen eyes and a broken nose, back in the net he went. A couple of others were out with injury. Fights were numerous. 

In the second period it got even more interesting. Rocket Richard was flying down the wing and Mr. Labine levelled him with a vicious check, sending him airborne. The Rocket's head came crashing down on the ice. You could "hear a pin drop" as he lay unconscious, with blood pouring out of him. The trainer gave him smelling salts, he finally awoke, and his teammates led him to the dressing room. 

With the score tied late in the third, lo and behold, the Rocket reappeared - stitched up, with a blood-soaked bandage on his forehead - on the bench and the 15,000 at the Forum went crazy. He reportedly didn't even know who he was, or what the score was. He stepped on the ice for his dazed and confused shift and yes, scored the game winner, sending the Bruins and Mr. Labine home. 

Hopefully for hockey fans tonight's game 7 will be as exciting as that, but it sure as hell won't be like that

Meanwhile, on the Jersey Shore we've seen a couple of cards with jockeys not using whips. And boy, to me, does it ever look funny. My minds-eye is all discombobulated because of it. 

However, people are betting, the races are being raced, there's a winner and a bunch of losers resulting in people cashing or not cashing tickets. There have been no protests with signs "Make Monmouth Whip Again"; the world is not ending. After the culture shock of seeing hand rides, it feels like a whole lot of meh. 

Why is it even important, though? 

Well, in tonight's game seven Price might be hit in the face with a puck and it will simply bounce off. A vicious check where a player's (now mandated helmeted) head hits the ice will result in a trip to St. Mikes for evaluation, not a quick trip to the dressing room, with the player returning to the bench thinking he's a character from the Wizard of Oz. It's this way because things evolve in sports, via the expectations of society, and for the long term health of the game. 

The Monmouth "experiment" is the same thing, wrapped in a different bow. With society's views changing on how animals are treated for human entertainment this stuff is inevitable. And with the purse strings not controlled by handle, but from government help through slots and other subsidy, it's equally inevitable the sport responds. 

To keep the lights on, to feed the top funnel, to manage political risk, things change. Whether they make sense to us or not, or whether we want them to or not, it really doesn't matter.

Have a nice Monday everyone. And to the ever-numerous Leafs fans on the feed, Godspeed. 

The Winners' Alchemy

I was looking at the Derby Pick 4 a few weeks ago as the board opened for leg one. There were two horses I was looking at - Wesley Ward's and Patrick Biancone's - and both opened completely dead on the board at around 20-1 respectively. The three chalk were live, none of whom I was super-fond of. I was alive in the pick 5 so thought about not betting, however, with those juicy prices in leg one no less, I decided it may be a good idea. 

I created a ticket with just those two, and another ticket with Biancone (who I liked more) keyed. 

I was chatting with a couple of folks during the day and wondered to myself if anyone wanted half. And I realized, who in the hell would want half of a pick 4 ticket starting with two 20-1 shots? This is the type of bet that you keep to yourself. 

I thought about one person, though, who I figured might be interested. I pinged and his response was quick, "sure, two long ones in leg one. We can absolutely kill off tons of money on a Derby Day. Let's go!"

There was no thought that we'd likely be out after leg one, that we should add other horses. 

I wish the story had a happy ending but Wesley ran up the track and our key, who I think ended up at 17-1, ran a nice second, but second don't pay. We were out. 

As I got to thinking, why I offered out such an against the grain, two longshot leg one ticket to this guy was simple. He's one of the best pick n players I know (much better than me); he's a winner at these bets and has been for a long time (if he doesn't win he doesn't eat). I've seen many of his hits where a 15-1 was singled, or two longer ones with dirtied up form are the horses his pick 5 or 6 ticket is built around. He might hate my handicapping, not like the way I structured the rest of the ticket or what have you. But he'd understand what I was trying to do. 

As I go through this game, ever learning, trying to get better, trying to achieve more, it strikes me again and again, there is a winners' alchemy in this sport. It's a witch's brew, stirred with an unconscious competency of winning that few people have. It's like that movie where one character can see a path home lit up through the woods, while the other can't.  

I try to follow this strange brew as much as I can, and I am the first to admit it's just so damn difficult; we've been engrained with the same conventional thought for so long. But, what's most comforting to me, is that following the correct path can only lead to good places. 

Have a nice Saturday everyone. 


Refund Those Bets (Maybe With Fixed Odds)

The sun is out here in the tundra and life is, well not good, we're still kind of all locked down (the vernacular, it's not really), but it's not too bad. And lunch time is upon me and I am bored so I thought I'd share some drivel. 

Matt wrote what I thought was a tremendously good piece about Baffert today in the DRF. The whole opinion column is good but in one paragraph, he brought up the PETA complaint whereby they are asking for the results of the Derby to be paid out like Medina Spirit was DQ'd. I won't even go there; it's a non-starter, but it did get me thinking. 

If fixed odds wagering was mainstream and legal, many of the entities bet taking would do just that - pay your Mandaloun tickets as if he won. We've seen this tons of times before as a marketing vehicle, with fights that are poorly judged, or whatever. In the pari-mutuel pools this is impossible. 

I am not a huge fixed odds proponent or opponent, but I do think they add value to the business. Yes, the DraftKings' of the world might kick me out if I am hot, but there are shared wallets with sports betting that need access to this sport; the sport needs outlets to push it to others who will not sign up with a Twinspires account. And yes, just possibly, it does need the singular entity that can say, "here's your DQ money, customer", when the real pari-mutuel business can't or won't. 

Notes - 

I don't know if it's Baffert, fatigue, just me, or what, but the Preakness itself as a betting day (and race) feels horribly muted on the social media channels this year. I have not even opened the PP's. It's definitely somewhat weird, if we truly are yawning, because TV ratings will be through the roof. It'll be BINGO

There are inflation ruminations all over the place this past couple of weeks. For a society under the age of 40 that has never really seen it, it must be like watching an episode of the Munsters. The smart money says this is a blip, but what if this inflation is truly cost-push? What's it do for the horse business? Maybe someone sharp out there can tell us what happened in horse racing from 1975-1982 during the big inflation years. 

The Big M cards are heating up for harness watchers as is customary each May. The biggest change this year is the influx of Canadian horses and drivers due to lack of vaccines (and new waves) north of the border. For those who wonder what cards would look like if harness racing consolidated its dates, this is a little taste of it I suppose. Make no mistake, the cards are getting very good. 

The TIF set of articles on wagering and wagering integrity were the bomb. Very interesting. If you have not read all the parts I'd recommend

Have a great weekend everyone. 

"Use Defensively" (Not a Baffert Column)

There's something going on in horse racing today, but I have not really followed it. Instead, I've been thinking about two words we hear so often in betting this game: "Use Defensively". 

"Here are 112 reasons why I hate this 6-5 shot, but I am going to use him defensively"

"That horse should be used defensively"

"I might use her defensively"

I get what they mean, I really do, but I find this phrase usually results in me making a 345-12347-234-1239 pick 5 ticket. 

This concept is at work in verticals as well. We'll hate a chalk - the three horse who is 6-5 - and we love the two, so we want to enter the superfecta pools in a pretty big way. We might construct a ticket that looks something like this:

2-58-58-1458; 58-2-58-1458. We may even throw the 3 for 4th. 

Then, time after time, we see the final ticket we press look like this:

2-358-358-13458; 358-2-358-13458

Yep, we just had to use the 3 horse "defensively", even though the only reason we wanted to bet the race in the first place is because we hate the three horse. 

In my view, this is simply prospect theory, loosely defined as "faced with a risky choice leading to uncertain gains, individuals are risk-averse, preferring solutions that lead to lower expected utility, with a higher certainty".

In my non-economics doctorate plain spoken horseplayer terms: We're scared shitless to lose a ticket. 

I get the whole idea of using a spread when we're uncertain and "using a horse defensively", but my goodness, it might be the most misunderstood, overused, negative ROI term in horseplaying. If we want to beat the game, we should stop letting it rule us.  

Notes:

Everyone's friend (no not Mattress Mack) the indefatigable Jason Beem is (unofficial title, I think) King of Grants Pass Downs and it opens this evening. Take a look if you're interested. I think Buck Swope will be simulcasting the event live from his basement in his underwear. Details can be found on Beem's ubiquitous twitter feed. 

It fascinating to me how multi-leg exotics have taken over the game. On Saturday, this happened to several of us - the Willis Kid and Gabe Prewitt much more than me. It was a massive miss in a pick 5 where we leaned on a $140 winner as an "A" horse. We're all whining we lost money, but yes, we had a $140 horse as an A horse. $40 win each nets us over $5k; throw a $4 ex and $2 tri, another $10k or something. But we had to just play - and whine - over missing a pick 5. 

Decent interview with Tony Zhou on Beem's podcast (I kind of feel like Jason's publicist with two mentions in these notes, but so be it). Tony is one of the sharper folks out there, in my opinion. 

Last up, Baffert got a positive in the Derby. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 


Public Cappers Cap for the Boss

Unless you are off the twitter grid (God bless you), you've no doubt witnessed the feud of the month(s) between ITP and some public racing handicappers and racing analysts.  It has not been unentertaining. 

ITP, profiled here in the antithesis of an average-quick-hit-interview-with-an-owner-or-breeder, clearly makes sound and logical points. Namely, why are you giving out negative EV bets, because your and the sports' future depends on helping your customers win more money (and those suggestions do the opposite). 

The comeback - again with some validity - is about making sure your customers have a better chance of winning that sequence or day, by giving them higher hit rate outs. They don't care if their tickets will pay 70 cents on the dollar long term. 

It's been like this forever, of course. Your newspaper handicapper would get a raise with a 37% hit rate, fired with a 18% one, even if the latter was $1.07 after crunching the numbers. 

The difference (chasm) between the two points of view lies, in my opinion, on a pretty simple fact. 

ITP is offering suggestions to help the customer beat the game. The public handicapper is offering advice to cash a ticket. The former is the sole reason you and I and everyone who may be attracted to the game do so; the latter is following a dogma that has existed for generations. 

What dogma? A dirty little secret (that's really not one in this business to anyone who follows it) is that the racetracks have never been focused on you making money. This statement is not even debatable. If it wasn't true, takeout would be lower and/or rebates would be more readily accessible. Where's yours?

With a focus that's not on you, many public track handicappers have no choice in the matter. When you see them offering a spread ticket with chalks, telling you absolutely positively without question should be taking a 74% takeout jackpot ticket, or using all three favorites in the first leg of the double, they're handicapping for their bosses. 

I don't want to paint a broad brush, so I'll make that clear. I believe there are several excellent racing analysts giving out gems of wisdom, presenting some good ideas and that do their homework. They do want you to win, and coming to work is more than just a paycheck to them. But they're the outliers; they're the ones bucking the trend. And they're the ones quietly nodding that ITP is making a strong point. 

Have a nice weekend everyone. 

3 Ways to Manage Our Betting Bankrolls

I wrote the following for the Handicappers Edition of Trot and reprint it here:

For those of us who’ve made the “walk of shame” to the ATM at the track (or had way-too-many deposits to our online account) know, bankroll management can always use some work. There might be nothing that’s more frustrating or misunderstood than the bank we play this game with.

I’d like to offer three ways we can maximize our betting bankroll (or at least feel better about it) and hopefully make this incredibly tough game more fun.

First, it’s important to remember that when we bring $100 to the track to wager, it is not our real bankroll. We as bettors, over a month or two, have a much higher stake to bet with than we think. What we need to do is gather what we can use as our real bankroll – usually a figure we are comfortable with – and bet off that number.

I know some bettors who start with a ‘real’ grubstake of $500 and they use that as their anchor. When their account gets over, say, $1,000, they take $500 out; when a losing streak inevitably happens, they top it off. This anchor number can minimize the frustration and mental stress with continual reloads of $20 or $100, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

We as horseplayers tend to like things a certain way. Picking a bankroll number we’re happy with allows us to get comfortable and worry less about how much money we have and more about making it.

Second, I saw professional horseplayer Mike Maloney not long ago chatting about properly managing bankroll, and he suggested a really great tip that fits so well into today’s world of harder to hit exotics. Mike advises that some bets in some sequences should not be played if we do not have the bankroll chops to play them; this because we cannot adequately cover all of our opinions.  

Although this advice might be more apt to a big Thoroughbred racing day, like the Breeders’ Cup or Kentucky Derby, it is sound. If we can’t cover horses in a pick 6 that we want, and constantly find ourselves “cutting down a ticket” why are we playing that wager? We can’t build a bankroll if we never win.  

Mike believes that lower capitalized players should wager rolling pick 3’s or doubles instead of a pick 5 or pick 6; play a triactor instead of diving into a 50 cent super high five, or alternatively (if we want the action) splitting tickets with friends or a group. There is no need to swim with the sharks when we don’t have the teeth to.

My last suggestion is more mental than anything, but I believe is extremely important. To manage our bankroll properly we need to be playing the long game. This means eliminating from our vocabulary phrases like the “get out race”, where we need to make a score in the last race of the day to break even. It’s not 1948 where the track isn’t open until next week. Getting out, or wagering with a short-term mindset usually means we’re making terrible bets, and bad bets kill bankrolls. Seasoned, successful players manage to monthly or yearly targets and don’t sweat the day to day. It’s pretty sound advice. 

Bankroll management is math, but a whole lot of psychology, too. I hope the three suggestions above help you manage your bank better, or at the very least make you think of more ways you can.



ADW's and their Racetrack Suppliers, Just Another Business Lesson

I was perusing the Financial Post today and there was a story about the supermarket-supplier relationship

Summarizing, as supermarkets get bigger and bigger (the top three have a 75% market share), they do things that are pretty uncompetitive to their suppliers, like added fees, extra taxes and hidden squeezes to fund their ecommerce pursuits. 

This allows them to have pricing power (and to get bigger market share), taking away from mom and pops, and the farmers and suppliers (ever notice the big dogs don't particularly gripe a lot about minimum wage hikes; it's for this reason).  The Post calls this industry, at this point, "dysfunctional". 

What this has accomplished, however, has provided the consumer with a ton of choice. We can buy more goods of different types, with more choice, more than ever before. We can buy online, get things delivered, or shop 24/7. 

Over in ADW land, it's kind of the opposite. There the suppliers (the tracks) are the ones squeezing the distributors (the ADW).  Host fees, increases in margin are all on the table of late. People on both sides have called each other "dysfunctional". 

Like the supermarket supply problem, though, it provides us with a pretty decent business lesson, and we don't need our MBA to understand it. 

If racing cut their supply fee (host fee) to 1%, we'd see a massive influx of distributor investment and activity, just like we've seen in the supermarket sector. At 1%, Draft Kings would likely expand an offering and open an ADW; small ADW's would spring up rapidly; prices would be cut spurring serious handle growth. R&D investment in the end user would be huge, with new technology innovating. Perhaps at 1%, OTB's would dot the landscape again (especially if they're seen as a possible vehicle for sports betting). 

But at 1%, like those folks supplying veggies and cheese and chickens, it's tough to see an uptick in volume that would warrant such a price. 

Similarly, with some host fees massively increased, the opposite occurs. Marketing budgets are cut for the end user, price breaks etc are lowered, and demand falls. There are fewer supermarkets offering great products, at good prices, open 24 hours a day or online. 

In racing we seem to want our cake and eat it too. We want all these distributors pushing the sport; pushing it to make it mainstream and grow handle; to have a betting vehicle on every street corner or in all areas of the web. At the same time they want the tracks to be able to charge 75% for their host fees because they "put on the show". This simply can't be done. It's an intellectual and business fallacy. 

Like with supermarkets there is a sweet spot where everything works best in this sport. Suppliers are paid and working at optimal efficiency, with a demand side pushing the racing product to new markets with new tech. But with no one minding the store, dysfunction is likely here to stay. 

Have a nice weekend everyone.


The Old for the Traditional, the New for the Bettors

 The PGA just announced a hosting and data partnership with Amazon Web Services. The deal has two main planks:

  • AWS will help the TOUR store real-time and historic content that will give fans and media access to content dating back to the 1928 Los Angeles Open. This “data lake” will contain video, audio and images that AWS technology will tag for easy cataloging. This will help the TOUR and its content partners search, review, annotate and package new content and give them instant access to key moments in the TOUR’s history.
  • “We are excited to utilize AWS media services to further enhance new and existing innovative services for our fans,” said Scott Gutterman, the PGA TOUR’s Senior Vice President, Digital Operations. “Features like Every Shot Live and TOURCast will now be powered by AWS, which will allow for a more streamlined process and overall better product for our fans.”
So, the Tour will have an historical digital data dump, all the way back to 1928. It will, in effect, catalogue the entire sport in one spot. If any partner wants to use footage - to promote an event, or the sport itself - it will be there for use. 

Second, and perhaps most interesting, the "innovative services for fans" is corporate speak (as Geoff Shackleford explains) for real time shot tracking (via video or over the web) that enhances their vision for in-running betting. PGA shot by shot betting has been bandied about for some time as a big growth opportunity for golf.

It's rather interesting that this tight group has created a vehicle for both the old and the new. They're preserving the sport and enhancing its future. 

It's hackneyed at this point to talk about, but horse racing's history, digitally at least, is an absolute mess. And its future in terms of wagering with data, video streams or what have you is an equal mess. 

It's tough to build a house without a proper foundation. Golf with its control structure can, seemingly on a dime, do what they did with AWS. Racing, built much differently with no apparent leader to change the business, is not. Which one gets left behind?

Have a nice Wednesday everyone. 


There Ain't No "Public" in Harness

We'll often hear, "the public made the 7 horse 2-1", and historically I suppose it's meant something, but today it tends to feel more and more ancient. 

Case in point - the last two evenings at Woodbine Mohawk Park. 

As most know, there are stale dated horses racing because of the COVID mandated break, so "the public" can't bet on any form. As well, harness racing, unlike the Thoroughbred cousins, don't have fancy trainer stats to lean on. To add to the mix of uncertainty, Thursday's card was held in a snowstorm, where chaos often reigns. 

How did "the public" do, with no information, bad weather, no lines, and no stats? 

Favorites won at 61%. The average win price was 2-1. 6-1 was the highest priced winner. 

This is, of course, completely counter intuitive. Tim and Jane and Bill in their basements are not making horses with no lines and no form 1-9 (there were two of them in Ontario since the comeback); they're not shooting fish in a barrel at 61% rates. 

This, I believe, is an excellent exercise for those of us who play the game, and an equally good lesson for those running it. 

For us, the customers, we learn that we have to pivot in our play. 15 years ago we were watching the Big M, we'd see ten races of full fields where 6 of ten horses a race had a shot. We'd get to work on the puzzle, wanting to sniff out longest odds and most overlooked one to hammer. As WEG the last two nights show us, we have to totally rethink that. In today's racing there are one or maybe two horses going a race, and the insiders set those lines for us. Many times, the longest horse we like tends to not be value, but drawing dead. 

For those of you in and running it. Well, shame on you. This sport - the anti-Amazon - has chased so many of the "public" away, you're sitting there playing a game amongst yourselves. 

It will get better as the year goes on, and yes, we'll make a score or two in a competitive race here and there. But in my view it's very important to remember episodes like this. In the harness racing game there is no "public". They've hit the exits for years. The last two nights at Mohawk are just a completely transparent reminder of it. 

Have a nice Saturday everyone. 


Racing Resumes & Betdown Betting Notes

Good Day everyone. 

It was announced yesterday that racing at most of Ontario racetracks will resume beginning this week. The conditioned sheets will be posted, and once again, just like the last time they did this, there won't be any qualifiers needed to race. 

So, good news and much needed purse money for participants, not so good for us as bettors. But it is what it is. 

This time, to me, it does feel different; mainly it seems like the last time we'll see such shut downs. I suspect racing will be back on a normal calendar, and stakes season *should* go off without a hitch in the tundra. Down south, vaccinations are moving forward at a high speed, so stakes payments made by U.S. trainers should be realized in a start, and unlike last year, U.S. drivers and trainers and jockeys should be good to go. For those of you lamenting local drivers driving in all the stakes races, you'll have a reprieve. 

For us, say you and me in the tundra, perhaps we won't be visiting a U.S. racetrack quite so easily. The vaccination roll-out plan is really quite the clown show, even embarrassingly raiding a vaccine set-aside for poor countries. There's no timeline on when we'll be able to drive down for a race or visit (assuming a vaccination is the litmus test). But, at least some normalcy seems to be in the cards. 

For next week however, bettor beware. Watch your wallets!

Betdowns, ROI Positive?

With lack of form racing soon upon us once again, revisiting a gambling topic seems appropriate - bet downs. There are generally two truisms if you go through betting data. i) the chalk end of the spectrum has more ROI than the other end and ii) Bet downs (horses hammered below the morning line, for one definition) are not very good for the bankroll. #theydontknow

I wonder, however, if that's as true today in harness racing with its small pools and inside money.  The fact, is, bet downs are seen with more regularity in this sport, primarily at the Meadowlands, and they aren't pitches. 

You'll have a horse like Tellitsassymae at the Big M last evening, with a 6th by 8 last race 6 weeks ago in a nw5750 in a nw4500 off a qualifier of 6th by 11 the charter labelled as a "dull effort". That horse, bet down to 3-5 off a 7-2ML, was a horse we may think about pitching. She of course won easily. 

You'll see a Whittiker in tonight, which me and Chip were on last time in a nw2500, get second over, hang a bit in the wind and come 5th at a juicy 6-1. He was a betback for me and I was a little excited to use as a pick 6 or pick 4 key. He was moving up in class to a nw4500, was 9-2 morning line, and right in the wheelhouse. He was bet down to even money, took all the money in the sweeps, and he won by 6 under a hammerlock. 

We, as bettors, are conditioned to avoid these low prices, unless the horse has no holes. What we see at the M and elsewhere are tons of holes, but if they're bet down (sometimes to bizarrely low prices), the holes we think we see aren't holes at all. 

The question is: should we keep avoiding these horses as they cross the wire winning not like a 4-5 shot, or an even money shot, but like a 1-5 or 1-9 shot? I honestly don't know. This is one tough game. 

Enjoy your weekend everyone. 


"We Can Make Some Money Here"

 We'll often hear a lot about marketing (mainly of the push variety) in horse racing. Although I find that sometimes interesting, I think it often  misses a big point about our gambling game, or any game really. 

A couple of weeks ago on a Monday I flipped on the interweb stock screener and noticed a mining penny stock I was following was popping. Volume was up and it was trading about 50% higher. What in the heck was going on? Did they find a new mine?

It turns out the evening before silver futures were moving on rumors of the Reddit Kids pulling a Hunt brothers and trying to run the silver market. That trickled down to my little stock and off it went. 

If we flowchart this for a moment it tells a pretty bizarre story. 

Kids on some chat board talk about something. The wires pick it up, silver moves. Then, six hours later a small stock in Canada (a stock with the word "silver" in its name), with a float of 5 million shares and a market cap of $4 million moves up on huge volume. 

Honestly, it really doesn't make sense. But that's what happened. 

When people feel they can make money they search out avenues - even those as ridiculous as this - in a matter of hours and act. It never ceases to amaze me just how fast it happens, and how it happens. It just does. 

In horse racing we're often led to believe we need billboards or commercials or marketing to promote the wagering aspect of the sport. But in reality, we just need to show people that they can make some money. That's what carryovers do - the ones where we scratch our heads and wonder where in the hell all this money is coming from for this Fonner Park or Century Downs Pick 5. Most of these people couldn't even find these tracks on a map. 

If the sport does more to help users "make some money here" it'd be the best marketing plan of all. 

Have a nice Wednesday everyone. 

Ontario Please Open the Racetracks

Ontario remains locked down after another lockdown. This one is was 28 days, which was extended on January 23rd, and its on the heels of the previous lockdown, which was on the heels of the previous one. Infections are still high, worse than early last year, no matter what they seem to do. 

One thing that makes this lockdown a little different than some of the previous lockdowns is that harness racing people can't race their horses. The main track was closed on December 26th. 

Premier Ford has been rather refreshing, in my view, seeing as he is kind of a Trump Lite guy but hasn't acted like one. He is surprisingly very self-effacing in terms of this and has left all decision making to "experts". But damn, these experts don't seem to follow much experting when it comes to harness racing. From day one this sport has been one of the safest activities and businesses in terms of the lack of COVID spread. I feel safer in the paddock at Woodbine than I do at Costco. I'm sure most of you agree. 

This decision does not make much common sense; none that I can find anyway. And there's no sign of it abating. So, another industry - one that has been proven safe - is shuttered. Horses need to be fed, walked, cared for, bathed, shod and jogged. That takes money. And there is no money to race for, because there is no racing. 

About nine months ago a few of us shared a story about a woman who drove to a large coastal park to walk her dog. Her car was noticed by the police, it was tagged and towed and the K9 unit was called. After 45 minutes of extensive searching they found her and her dog playing fetch in the ocean with no one for miles around. They escorted her back and fined her $700. The joke at the time was when it takes a police trained canine 45 minutes to find you, you should not get a fine, but a social distancing gold medal. 

Most of us gave them a break for this rather comical episode. Things were new, there were rules that she was breaking; in general, we give them the benefit of the doubt. 

But it's February of 2021 now. We expect better. We expect them to make decisions based on fact, because we now have facts to lean on. If we do that, there's only one logical conclusion: Let these people race their horses. Let them make a living. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 

Hayward's Racing's Betting Business Story is Good, But it's Missing the Plot

If you've ever wanted a pretty complete history of the betting space in horse racing, you could do far worse than reading former NYRA CEO Charles Hayward's commentary today

Leaving aside the one very questionable, in my view, opinion regarding bots 'seeing into betting pools' for jackpot bets and the like (addressed nicely by the comment on the piece), it's a good read. 

Charles' and many others point regarding primarily the rebate space is nothing new. One point he drives home that others don't very much, however, is the inflation on pricing for the regular player that rebates cause. 

The thinking is: X% of people get a lower price and because it makes them profitable (or more profitable) it sucks money out of the pools and this paradigm raises takeout for the every day player. Although I think his estimates of a 3%-5% to Average Annie is too high, the argument and math is logical and sound. This happens. 

The fix for this is always, without fail, doing something negative to any group or individual who is getting an advantage of a lower price. It's usually framed as populist rhetoric - us against them; stick it to them; raise their prices too. 

But it's, in my view, all noise. Racing is not the first business who has had a pricing and operational change in a business to consumer space, brought about by over-the-web or in home offerings along with new competition. It just seems to think it is, and often whimsically yearns to sell CD's for $18.99.

It amazes me that this business argues constantly about fixes to a pricing or betting pool, while addressing a symptom, not an underlying cause. 

This would be like a government taking over the auto insurance industry and seeing prices creep up to $5,000 a year per user.  The result - trucking companies are going out of business left and right, and the transportation system is having trouble delivering goods to market. To fix it, Peter Politico introduces legislation to rebate $200 per policy to a trucking company and to keep the budgets set, increases everyone else's insurance cost to $5,020. And in every newspaper, congressional update or blog, people are focusing on the $20 per policy increase, instead of the fact that car insurance should never have cost $5,000 in the first place. 

I'd once, just once, like to see someone in power say they'd like to really address this issue. Forget about creating bogeymen, just offer through every ADW in the nation, everyone a 5% rebate. Mandate it, and do it for two years. Study the results. Instead of complaining that people don't want to play into a system that can't work for them, do something about it. Lower your damn prices. For everyone. 

Have a nice Wednesday everyone.


Racing's Skin in the Game

Good morning everyone. I hope 2021 is treating you better than 2020 did, and since 2020 was bonkers, maybe there's a good chance it's happening. 2021 is probably treating me better because I was finally able to get a procedure done that I had been long waiting for. It was fairly easy peasy, so that was good. 

But, one part of it made me acronymically SMH. You see, there are fees on most things medical up here in the tundra, and this one was no different; I owed $260, and my bill showed up in the mail. I have no problem paying the $260 of course, so I opened the invoice and looked for a way to pay. It doesn't mention online banking where we can pay just about everything, so I log into my bank and look for this payee. It's nowhere. 

Lo and behold you can't pay this online; in fact you can't pay by phone, or even by carrier pigeon. You have to put a check in an envelope and mail it out. 

The medical treatment was pretty good, but we're apparently still in the bloodletting phase of invoicing. 

How could this happen, considering so many have to pay for services? I suspect it's because the health services organizations get billions from governments and happily work those budgets; this $260 is a smaller part of it. Where a private company needs that revenue to pay salaries, and has to ensure they have an easy pipeline to get this revenue (i.e. letting you pay online), the government does not. Without my (and others') timely $260, everyone from the docs to the nurses to the hospital administrators still gets paid. There's no downside, there's no penalty. 

There's no skin in the game

In horse racing we've lamented similar over the years. 

You've often read this blog where we've postulated how much better the industry would be funded if it wasn't priced by margin, but by net profits. Online sports wagering as new states come on board - where we see TV commercials every six minutes it seems - has exploded as private companies chase profits, not margin. When you let companies chase profit, the consumer wins because they get the best products at the best prices, the company wins because they get to enact policies that help them - they have the skin in the game. And finally, the licensee (the state, or in racing's case the racetrack) wins, because they get more money. 

Perhaps the best example and more apt to my outside racing problem above is clearly slots. When you are going to get $1B per year for doing absolutely nothing, where you have no skin in the game at all, you sit and collect the $1B, and let everything else (like handle) go to hell. There's no downside when you have no skin in the game; there's no penalty; no one is getting fired. You're asking users to lick an envelope and send you a check and no one cares. 

Racing's system is entrenched. Uniquely so. And until it gets unstuck, until it thinks of new paradigms to fund itself based on incentives to grow handle and in-turn grow purses, it seems we'll all be licking stamps for some time.  

Have a nice Thursday everyone. 


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