Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The New Year's Challenge for Horse Racing - Think Dynamically

Around 1800, Robert Malthus, an English mathematician, wrote a document called Essay on Population. The tome explored a theory that population growth inevitably causes all kinds of problems because there are limits to what the earth can provide, i.e. useable land to live, and in-turn shelter, housing and food. In effect, the more people alive the more misery there is because we'll run out of everything. 

This was the science of the day and it has been used throughout history, at times, in harsh ways. Famines were not stopped (it was culling the herd, mostly with poor people), right on through the basics of eugenics, which was embraced by not just the usual suspects. Today, some on the fringes of the environmental movement cling to Malthusian dogma. 

As we all know - for the most part at least - it was a load of crap. The world does not stagnate, it evolves and innovates. Wealth is not a static number; a plot of land does not hold static yields of harvest; today's world looks nothing like yesterday's. 

Over the years as you and I watch horse racing operate, it's not too out of bounds to proclaim that if the sport had a commissioner, his name might've been Malthus. 

The sport of racing has this pot of handle money - say $10 billion -  that never really moves, and every decision seems predicated on protecting it. If that anchor number drops to $9.9 billion, we wonder if  people have died off, or are sticking that hundred million under their mattress. If it's a hundred million over $10 billion, something wacky happened. 

The sport has thought like this since seemingly forever. 

Take the carve out for racing for Internet wagering way back around 2006. Twinspires was built to try and get a share of the ten billion, and so was youbet and everyone else. In fact, Churchill took over youbet to get their share of the ten billion that Churchill didn't have. 

When Churchill - not to pick on them, this is any large sized entity, really - saw an opportunity to get more of the static number, they withheld signals for say the Derby, or their tracks. Yes, let's not promote wagering properly to hungry bettors over the net so we can get more of that Malthusian anchor. 

In turn, horsepeople groups were upset that Twinspires was taking more of the ten billion for their internet betting arm, which paid them less than on-track. So they lobbied, withheld signing signal deals and were generally recalcitrant, trying their best for their share of that ten billion. 

Over in racetrack land, when someone created a jackpot bet, it was about getting a bigger share of the ten billion number. And in response, another track created a jackpot bet, to get a slice of the other track's slice of the ten billion dollar number. Others followed until they sliced and diced a number that is now likely less than they started with. 

Meanwhile, customers haven't in general terms fallen off the turnip truck and see what's been going on. And when that happens, this static ten billion dollar number the sport has been anchored to is not ten billion anymore. Why would it, they've been left behind. 

For 2022 and beyond, my wish for the sport is that it starts thinking dynamically, not in static, anchored terms. 

Pick a number, any number - $15 billion, $30 billion - and ask "how can this sport get there?". How can it grow wealth, not sit on its capital and argue over splits; how it can move from board meetings about the status quo, to those about what's possible. 

Malthus was a smart man, and by most accounts a good man, but it shows how blinkered thinking can corrupt us. When we think there's an end to the earth, an end to a universe, or the end of a customer base, we end up getting exactly what we plan for.  

Friday, December 24, 2021

F.W. Schumacher, a Real Life Santa Claus

I was reading about the Navarro sentencing like most of you last week, and I came across this gem - yes, the "juice man video". It makes one wonder, why are people built like this? The answer is, most arent. 

F. W. Schumacher was born in Ohio in the 1860's and became a pharmacist. Word is - you piece this together from lore, the man doesn't have a wikipedia page - he invented a few somethings that sold well and he made himself a success. On or about 1910, he read about an area that lay about 1,000 miles north of him in the forests of Northern Ontario, where gold was just found in potential abundance. An adventurous sort, he decided he'd take a trip to see what the fuss was about. 

While there he learned that a parcel of land set aside by the government was available, and remarkably no one was claiming it. In the spirit of legendary diamond finder/horse owner Chuck Fipke, he laid claim and got the land for a princely sum of $8,000. It turned out to be a wise move, as just a few years later he returned and sold the prize property for a reported $2 million. 

Mr. Schumacher returned to the camp several times over the years, making deals, and immersing himself in the community. In 1916, again as the story goes, he started to sprinkle around his good fortune, and one of his ideas was to give each of the kids at the newly constructed schoolhouse a Christmas present. In a new town, with no real running water or electricity, kids getting a pair of mitts or boots, or the latest item from a Toronto or Columbus department store was, well, like Christmas. 

This wasn't a one-off; Mr. Schumacher turned this into an every year event.  

Kids in 50's After Getting Presents at School
1950 getting gifts - Daily Press

Sixty or so years later I walked into school for the first day of class and saw a portrait of a white haired man in the foyer and said, "he looks like Santa!". Months later, as I was called downstairs to line up for a present, I learned I wasn't far off. I happily opened a wrapped gift - a hot wheels or a tonka truck, or later, even a remote controlled car - and brought it home to put under the tree. 

Although perhaps anachronsitic in the day and age where everyone is so much richer, in a boom bust town where unemployment could reach 40%, at times these were the only presents under the tree for some. They were bought by Mr. Schumacher, 30 or 40 years after his death.  

In 2021, 105 years after the very first set of gifts, the school - Schumacher Public School in the town now named Schumacher - is still there, looking not much different than it did a century ago. And 160 presents were purchased for the kids, K through grade 8. When the local fire chief (who purchases and wraps the presents) called to ask for a check for $6,000 to cover it, word is Mr. Schumacher's great grand-daughter said "is that all you need, we can go higher." I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. 

2019 gifts - Daily Press
Mr. Schumacher did more than buy presents for over a century, he also donated money to child care, mental health and seniors. Throughout his life he did more on the philanthropical side outside of the town who holds his name. And, a relatively private man, he never once asked for anyone to know about it. 

This Christmas many of you are tending to a sick horse, or trying to find a way to add one to your rescue. You're scraping together a little added bonus money for a groom, or a fellow horseperson going through some trouble. You're heading over to a friend's who is holed up to jog their horses. You, like Mr. Schumacher, don't have a wikipedia page or shout it from the rooftops, but it's what you do. 

People like Jorge Navarro who seem to take joy from "we screw everyone" are not even a footnote in history. They will be easily forgotten. People who do the work of Fred Schumacher, and that includes many of you in this sport, tend to be always remembered. 

As noted, if you google Mr. Schumacher you won't find much. But if by some chance his family stumbles upon this little blog, I'd like you to know I remember your grandfather or great grandfather fondly. Not only did his land bear fruit - my grandfather worked underground for 30 years at the Hollinger, helping someone like me years later to go to university - but his good deeds each and every Christmas stick with me, long after receiving my last present. 

Daily Press photo

My sincere best wishes everyone. May you and your families have a wonderful Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

It's Tougher to Find Bets

Years ago - maybe eight or ten - I could download some files, or take a look at a few harness programs and almost always find four or five or six somethings I could take a shot on. That kind of feels like an epoch ago. 

Today, for me, trying to manufacture a bet is like trying to figure out the latest COVID stat. It's pretty elusive. You can still dig - look for that one little thing, whether it be an angle, or a hidden positive or something else - but the end result looks a whole lot different. 

Last Friday at the Big M I was searching for something to play in the pick 5. I found an amateur race, which is usually good if you can find a single (most people spread), and I thought I did. 10-1 morning line, and perusing the selections, no one had the horse in the top three. I keyed for a small amount, and watched the races. 

Come the third leg, my horse opens at 4-5, which is fine, because he'll probably go up and isn't used a lot in the pick 5. But, a half minute later, the pick 5 live money came up and the horse was ...... about 3-2. They were all over this horse. He got a nice trip, won, and paid $5. 

When I was chatting with ITP this weekend he said "it's smart people against smart people now" and he's right. The horse we think we find through accumulated knowledge and work, which years ago might be double digits, sometimes doesn't even pay $6. 

Barn money is usually not smart, but that too is exacerbated in the pools when it is. How did that Moreau horse a month ago at Mohawk end up 4th choice when she was a slam dunk key? How did the new Burke horse with mediocre lines open at 3-5 and stay there to win, while another with better lines opens at 5-1 and loses badly? 

Moreau and Burke ain't betting - they've got more important things to do - but someone is. And with so little public money in the pools it sticks out like a sore thumb. 

With all this, manufacturing bets takes time and effort, and there is an opportunity cost. Sooner or later the work doesn't equal the benefit. 

When I talk to seasoned players I get more and more responses like this one I got this morning, after asking a friend to run some numbers in his database for me. 

"Sorry, I don't collect data anymore. I have just lost interest. I play a few dollars for fun, but that's it."

The game has waned and I am not sure what can be done to improve it. Until then the old advice - pick your spots - is probably sound. 

Have a nice Tuesday evening everyone. 

Friday, December 3, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a nice weekend everyone. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Capping the Cappers

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

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

A few things I found interesting. 

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great Wednesday everyone. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Overlay or Underlay or.... Wut?

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

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

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

Overlay? I guess so. But maybe not. 

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

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

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

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

Underlay? I would think so. But maybe not. 

As you may suspect - 

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

The Julie Walker horse won under a hold by five. 

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

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

As you know, these are not isolated incidents. 

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

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

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

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

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

Have a nice day everyone. 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Getting the Horizontal Rules Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a nice weekend everyone. 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Breeders' Cup Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

You're definitely a bettor if:

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

Monday, October 25, 2021

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. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

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. 


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. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

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. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

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. 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

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. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

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. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

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. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

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.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

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 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. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

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. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

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. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

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!

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

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?"


"Nice job"

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

"I hit the pick 4"


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. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

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. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

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. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

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. 


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. 

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