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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