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. 

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