Monday, May 31, 2021

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. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

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. 

Friday, May 14, 2021

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. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

"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.  


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. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

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. 

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