Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Looking Deeper Into the Mail-It-In Race

For those of us who like to try and scope out pick 4 and 5 tickets, we all know the mail-it-in race. It's a race where nothing particularly catches our eye, and the logicals look, well, logical. In our mind we convince ourselves we can get by with the 2, 3 and 5 and we're done with it. We have bigger fish to fry in the other legs where we have strong opinions. 

Sometimes these races can bite us, because we did just that - the same thing everyone else is doing. 

Recently, I loved a sequence at Gulfstream, where two horses looked like strong keys. When I reached the 5th leg of the pick 5, I saw the quintessential mail it in race. It was one of those Gulfstream maiden claimers, with three first time starters, two from a well known barn with nice works, one from a mom and pop barn who looked okay, but meh,, and one horse who looked to have decent figs, with the rest of the field dreadful. 

Looking for other ideas I decided to check the track cappers. But they were mailing it in too, with comments like, "this barn doesn't fire with firsters, but these two firsters worked well" and they picked them one-two. 

Maybe I needed to mail-it-in, too. But, thinking about it, I thought I should do a little more work and look deeper for opportunity to zag while everyone zigs. I decided to look at the mom and pop firster. This barn had one first time starter earlier in the meet who was 30-1 and didn't hit the board. Yawn. However, it was probably worth watching a replay, and what I saw was definitely interesting. The colt showed strong speed from the inside rail post, made the lead, and carried it right into the lane, at times looking like a winner. Then the horse just stopped, coming 6th or 7th. Interestingly, he was not back in two months later, so one could assume something may have happened to him to make him stop. 

Their current FTS's works were fine, spaced well and the horse looked fit. 

In a mail-it-in race, is this not a strong A horse at 15-1 morning line?

Typing this you can assume what happened - the horse engaged all the way around the track, was asked at the top of the lane and won by a widening 5. He was the sixth choice in the pick 5 and other serial bets. 

He was a perfect horse, in a perfect race. The modelers and teams couldn't be on the horse, and everyone was mailing it in. 

Mail-it-in races are sometimes exactly that - a race to get by with three or four logicals. But when we have to convince ourselves the logicals are the winners, after we see hole after hole in them, they aren't so logical at all. This type of race can often present us with an ideal chance to dig deeper and strike. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.  

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Analyzing Mistakes, Even if You Win

I got a cool piece of advice many years ago about watching horses. I was told to watch them jog back to the winners circle after a win. Picture the way that horse looks, and apply it to your analysis before the race. If you haven't tried it before, give it a shot, I find it works. 

Normally it's custom for us to look at tickets after we lose; to grumble, be miserable, or dream what might have been because we left a horse out. It's a rite of passage in this game. 

However, like with watching horses, I often analyze what could have been, after I win. 

Yesterday, I nabbed the pick 5 at Kentucky Downs - one of my favorite tracks to play, but also the hardest. I was happy to win, because I had not hit much this meet, but after looking at what might have been, I realized I made an error. 

In leg three, I had three A-type horses. The two, the Diodoro barn change with the three, and the Maker chalk. When I constructed my tickets I did something I sometimes do - I left off the least likely winner to keep things more affordable, or maybe it was simply an oversight; in this case that was the two horse. 

Fortunately, down the lane the two was moving like a winner at 22-1, until he wasn't, and the fresh Diodoro got the job done at 4 or 5 to 1. 

Two races later the pick 5 was mine. 

But, this game has a lot of variance, and I could've easily lost that third leg, simply because, well, I messed up. Leaving off a 22-1 horse I consider an "A"? This is brick to the head dumb. 

Consider the horse holds on. I have just given away a ticket that would likely pay $75,000 or perhaps even $100,000. I'm not happily jogging to a winners' circle with my ears pricked, that's for sure. 

Instead of a good day, with the 3 surging to that long neck win, I am complaining on twitter, or if I was important enough, leaving it for a chapter of a memoir, titled "what may have been."

Ticket structure is so important. But it's vitally important at places like Kentucky Downs. If you're not playing your strong opinions, you are bringing a knife to a gunfight. It's only variance, or dumb luck, that can save us. 

Have a nice Thursday everyone. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Multi-Leg Wager Morning Lines

I think most of us over forty remember when we were cutting our teeth at this game. Without much simulcast wagering - and certainly no big teams playing into the pools from basements - we were competing with the person next to us. 

One of our holy grails at that time was a horse we loved with a bad morning line in a pick 4 sequence. We knew the horse would be under-covered, because 10-1 morning lines were not blanketed by the money in the pools. Especially if the race was a tougher chaos race where people were going deep with the 2-1 through 6-1 horses. You can only go so deep, certainly with the old $1 minimums. 

Even if the horse took money on the board and was bet down to 9-2 or 4-1, you'd still be 5th or sixth choice in the pick 4 payoffs. We had our edge. 

I find it completely remarkable that now in 2022, this means pretty much nothing. 

Yes, 10-1 morning line horses win at 6% or 7% rates because the morning line, like in yesteryear, is very predictive. But there is little dumb money filling the gaps. 

I've gone through many examples here, and you've shared yours on twitter - the morning line horses of 15-1 being well bet in pick 5's etc. 

Just yesterday at Colonial, the dropper in the last had a fairly bad morning line of 10-1, but the horse did back up his last start, and had no massive edge when looking at the race. The connections don't win a whole lot of races. It, on the surface, still looked like a spread race. 

When the will-pays for the pick 4 and 5 came up, who was the chalk? The 10-1 morning line horse who was live on the board (he lost, FYI, coming second). 

In my view, everything we see today is reflective of the percentage of smart money versus public money in our pools. The former making up more and more of it. 

Certainly this is technologically driven. We can handicap and make sharp lines with software, and teams have big bankrolls, betting their perceived edge. The holes will be fewer. 

But I do blame this industry and its recalcitrant attitude. By continuing to act like they had a gambling monopoly when they did not, they chased many of the people you and I sat with in grandstands everywhere away, which has decimated the public-sharp money ratio. And adding even more insult, they did while by receiving perhaps the largest gambling subsidy afforded to any business. 

It's more and more difficult to make money at this game, and this is not news. We have to be sharper than ever, pick our spots and try and find a score or two. We have to zig when the teams zag, and we have to construct amazing tickets. The arrows in our quiver, like finding the holy grail of a sharp horse with a weak morning line in legs three or four are pretty much gone. We have to kick over more rocks to capitalize. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 



Monday, August 15, 2022

Remembering Odds Lines

Making an odds line seems kind of anachronistic doesn't it? Late money, steam, big money in the pool, meh. 

But, smarter-people-than-I like Mark Cramer who wrote wonderful books on the subject, were not blowing smoke. Even today, it reminds us how to be a better player. 

Take for instance the perennial 15 time never winner. "No shot, the horse doesn't want to win" we often say. This may be true, but only to an extent, because each horse in a specific event has a chance and there's no such thing as "no shot". Everything has a set of odds associated with it. 

Race 5 at Colonial today is a good example. The 5 and 9 have the numbers to be good, but their records are 0-23 and 0-31. My immediate reaction is to say "no shot", but of course both horses do have one. Maybe with speed figures they are 4-1 each fair, and I will make them 6 or 7-1instead. 

I do this often with driver or jockey changes. We all know these changes can signal intent of the trainer, so it's important to look at it. But a good jockey to another good jockey is often meaningless, even though in our mind's eye it might mean "no shot" if we're not a fan of the change. 

Even a poor driver to a good one can be much ado about nothing, when we put it into the concept of a fair odds line. 

I remember looking at driver changes in harness racing a bit ago. I don't know how many people will jump on a horse when Ake Svandstet or Trond Smedshammer hand the lines to a star driver like Dexter Dunn, but the numbers don't prove this a very smart wager. The win percentage, over a fairly large sample, doesn't increase much at all, and the ROI is worse with the new driver, because it is such an obvious handicapping factor. 

We all know Dexter is better than those two drivers, and I, like you adjust our odds lines, but we tend to do it too much. The horse is not 8-5 with Dex and 12-1 with Ake. That's ridiculous, we know it's clearly much closer, and the empirical numbers bear this out. 

When we think of handicapping in chances of each horse, we think of the event in a set of odds.  Thinking this way keeps me focused on the present, and when the blinkers don't go on too early where I avoid the "no shot" thoughts, it helps me see the entire race better.

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

There Are Still Some Good Opportunities to Cash Some Tickets

This past weekend's racing proves to me that this game, although, yes, with less public money, with the teams, with the sharps (which now includes anyone with a computer and some skill), and with some hard takeout to beat, it still has some sizeable opportunity. 

Looking at the Pick 4 at Monmouth for Haskell Day, this sequence was, at the surface, a dead end. A spread, back up cover bases ticket was ticket hell - the dreaded $42 payoff for $48. But when it was sliced and diced, the skinny ticket with some coverage foreshadowed some good things. 

Marcus Hersh and the boys on the Sport of Kings pod talked about the last leg - the Haskell. And they landed on Cyberknife. This wasn't a stab (pardon the pun), it was based on two knocks on the chalk - Jack Christopher's distance limitations, and the sporadic work pattern of Taiba (a red flag for a long time with Baffert). With those two question marks, a lean on Cyberknife (in this presumed chalky sequence) made it playable for a very small investment. Using a key that everyone used (why try to beat him) in Search Results, it still was playable. 

It paid 250-1 for $1. Even if you spread legs one and three, you could have this for $6 or $8. 

Sunday at Saratoga there was an interesting early pick 5 sequence that looked formful. We probably didn't expect this thing to pay, especially with the last leg containing Clariere and Malathaat in a four horse field.  But, Malathaat has not exactly looked like last year's Malathaat, and she was adding blinkers (not exactly good impact value or ROI on a 3-5 shot). If we looked at that in the same context as the Haskell, we could fade, keying the Asmussen runner. This cuts our ticket price in half. The rest were A or AB and it paid around 800-1 for again, a pretty modest investment. 

One ticket that caught my eye was on twitter this past week, at Mohawk. This was such an interesting, smart ticket, in my opinion. 


Leg one was a spread for just about everyone, or a 34 lean, yet this player keyed what turned out to be the winner in the 7, who was most certainly the live horse, ending up a curious 2-1 chalk. This killed a lot of money and he only used one combination. 

He then pitched the suspect chalk in the second race, spreading and catching a 7-1 winner. He keyed the heavy chalk in the 4th leg. 

This sequence's horses paid $6, $17, $9, $5 and $7 (not a misprint). The pick 5 paid around 9X parlay. 

That's finding some serious value. 

With the above sets of tickets, from Marcus, Chris and this genetleman above, they had one thing in common, which was the advice given from a professional player in this interview:

"There are so many variables when playing tickets that hard and fast rules are difficult. The only rule that you should always abide by is: Don’t be afraid to lose. If amateur players just follow that one rule, it will keep them from making numerous bad decisions that most players make."

There's still meat on the bone in this game if we think these things through, if we don't as Mark Cramer wrote, use "scared money" and are afraid to lose. It's hard, and I made mistakes on the above examples, as well. But in this game we can always learn and get better. It keeps most of us coming back. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Boy, Have I Learned a Lot About Wagering on This Crazy App

I was outside awhile back and noticed some kids playing with the pigskin. They flipped me the ball and I sent one kid on a fly pattern. I gave it a heave and two things happened: one, my arm hurt, and two the ball landed five yards short. Getting old totally sucks.

One thing about getting old (I started this blog when I was around 38), though, is that you get to talk to a lot of people and learn a lot of things about this maddening game we play. And that’s been a blessing.

It amazes me that many people who play this game, or gamble, can do a lot of things differently to succeed, and this lesson never ceases to resonate with me, especially after all these years.

I speak of twitter’s good friend Dink, who cut his teeth gambling at Roosevelt, and having the street smarts to decide to be on the house side of the equation. Then, recognizing an edge with his pen and paper to excel at the sport of hockey, he did just that. Dink has done it his way and won for years and years.

Others who cross our paths use a new pen and paper – computer modeling. This modeling is beyond looking at numbers on a spreadsheet. In a world where a python is not a snake and a poisson is not a French word for fish, people like Tony Zhou and Rob Pizzola strike at their pursuits in a "Benter-like" mathematical way.

Rob applies his modeling and stresses the importance of edges, getting the best price, and capitalizing on them – things that many think less important than being “right or wrong” but are vital to have more money at the end of the year than at the start. No, it’s not sexy, it’s not an angle, and it might not play well on tout twitter, but it works.

Meanwhile, as most of you know, Tony is an incredible guy. He can write code that spits out horses who win at 22% that the odds say will win at 20%, and act on it in mathematically sound ways. 

I spent some time “handicapping” with Tony. One race he gave me a horse, and I noted to him that there was a negative rider switch. He simply replied, “I don’t really know any of the riders.” He proves you don’t have to.

I remember this year’s Derby when Rich Strike won and paid a million as the 21 horse. A professional gambling friend texted me about using the horse, because there’s a built-in edge. Ten minutes after the race, Tony pinged me saying he bet the horse to win. Both of these guys didn’t even look at the PP’s. It’s just a known element. There’s a specialness to it.

Speaking of special, we have a twitter favorite (or block, depending on your point of view), Inside the Pylons, probably the most misunderstood man on the medium. 

I remember chatting with ITP years ago. He was entering a live cash tournament with all these top handicappers and tourney players. He said to me that he just had to find a way to out gamble them, because he sure as hell wasn't going to outhandicap them. He did for the most part, coming at or near the top.

ITP sees things better than most – I’d offer almost all - horse gamblers do. When he talks about ticket construction, he’s seeing things that are basic to him in his mind, and he thinks it should be easy for us. This can come off the wrong way to some.

What he talks about is not simple, of course. We don’t look up at night and see a super or pick 6 array with the pieces in the right places like he does. Most of us see the ceiling, or if we're struggling, sheep.

I saw this ability during a number of his hits. There would be a horse with something dirty – a bad line, or whatever – that everyone was talking down about. ITP usually sniffed out that the horse would be fifth choice in the pick 5 pools, but may be second choice on the board, because they have him ready to return to form. He'd have the horse keyed, while others were spreading away their edge. 

ITP computes game theory, edges, and the gamble like Tony does with his models, but he does it in his own head. In fact, if I have a technical or edge gambling question I can ask Tony, who I think has a Masters' in math and comp-sci from NYU, or ITP who went to The University of Santa Anita, and they both arrive at the same answer. The man is a freak, and if anyone tells you differently, with all due respect, they have no idea what they're talking about.

Another gentleman I learn from is Garett Skiba. Garett has won numerous tournaments and has made more than one or two hits in pick fives and sixes using some great tactical thinking. Garett processes game theory and “ownership” numbers in a way I completely understand just fine reading it in a textbook, but rarely am able to put into practice. It’s an art and he can paint the type of picture that wins $1 million golf DFS tournaments. He's a real talent at what he does, and deserves a special mention for the quote, "ITP has the bedside manner of Dr. Kevorkian". 

Flipping over to the pure handicapping side of the sport, examples are plentiful.

Mike Maloney is not only one of the nicest people you’ll meet, he’s also razor sharp, seeing and processing things in a way a lot cannot. His eye for track bias is very good. Mike also has a humility about him that I can’t help but think aids him in becoming a better player. Like Inside the Pylons, Mike doesn’t use a fancy computer program, but he respects their potential edges and is always open to new ways to do things. Mike works hard, and he teaches us that when smart people work hard, good things can happen, even in this high rake, brutally tough game.

Others, like Paul Matties and his brother Duke, Nick Tammaro and Chris Larmey are at times, in my view, other worldly at their craft. Paul will come up with obscure angles that work and it illustrates how hard he thinks about the game. Chris comes up with some horses I could not find in a million years, simply because of the way they move, cover ground, or galloped out; or some nuance with a work. They all prove that handicapping and winning in 2022 is more than a speed figure. This too is an absolute art and I’ve learned a great deal from them.

Over in harness racing, it’s been fun chatting with Ryan Willis. He’s a great kid and an excellent handicapper who too has some qualities of seeing things many of us don’t.

I remember this conversation about a horse at the Meadowlands.

“I’m keying the six”

“The horse was 9th by 19 and looked horrible”

“That horse has bad feet, watch the driver last time. They’ll block his feet and he’ll be good”

“You’re keying a 12-1 morning line shot who got beaten by a football field because you think he has bad feet and they're going to work on them for this start?”

“Ya, this is a great play”

After he wins by a widening four and I get the pick 4 and pick 6 because I listened to this nonsense, Ryan gets it like 6X more, so the kid admonishes me.

“You just needed to key the horse and press.”, he says. “Why do you want favorites on your ticket against the best bet of the night?”

He’s not only sharp, he’s learned his ITP math lessons well. And he's only like 30. 

I remember watching the Golf Channel years ago and one of the guests shared a Michael Jordan story. During the Kapalua event, they were watching highlights at a bar and the television was far away. Jordan talked about what was on the screen like it was right in front of them. “You don’t see that?”, he asked. No one could. The guy just sees better than your average person.

Some people just see better than others, whether finding an open man, or handicapping and wagering. Most of the above do just that. 

Perhaps you might think that’s a negative because we have to compete against them. I guess that’s partially correct, but the simple fact is: These people are right in front of us. They are on podcasts, they are sharing their views on twitter. Mike Maloney even has a book you can buy. Rob Pizzola runs Betstamp.com that helps us become better at sports betting. We can ask them questions anytime on the web and they reply. For free, wanting zero in return.

And, probably the wildest thing - I could've made this post 10,000 words because I left so many of you like CJ, and Aragona, and Platt and Marcus and Serling and Beer and Patterson and Shapiro and a dozen or so others who made me think, off. 

I love the topic of gambling, whether it be football, or craps, or slot machines, or horse racing. And it's been a joy to learn from and meet people - virtually or in person - who take pleasure in the craft. The web allows us to do that. Each and every one of us. 

I can't throw a football worth a damn anymore;  I have hit 8 irons that I think are going 150 that land 30 yards short, right into the lake. But there are benefits to getting older. I've got to learn lessons from some incredible people.

Have a great Wednesday everyone. 

 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Racing Bettors' 4th and 2 Problem that Just Won't Go Away

For about 130 years of pro football, 4th and two was beset with a flight to safety. Not going for it (the pain of missing a first down) always trumped the joy (and win edge) of making it. 


Then something - the thing we see on our TV screens each Sunday - happened. The theory was flipped on its head as the narrative changed. Now the pain of not going for it (where it's mathematically the right thing to do) trumps the pain of punting. 

This has been pretty amazing, because, as we've spoken about before, the Nobel Prize winning concept of Prospect Theory is in human nature. Humans put a hyper-proportional weight on something they are giving away than the weight of something they could acquire. 

Over in wagering land here in horse racing, we might be starting to get over the hump, but we are not there yet. Let me rephrase that, the people who beat the game are over the hump - people like Tony Zhou and the betting teams -  and have been for some time. But casual bettors just can't seem to shake it. 

I think we all know the feeling. We put so much work in something (I spent 4 or 5 hours on the last Saratoga pick 6, like many of you), that we tend to want to blanket, to play it more with the crowd; our flight to safety. The pain of losing after spending all that time means an A ticket with Reinvestment Risk and a B ticket with Baby Yoda or the speed 7 horse. 

We know what we are doing is wrong at times. I loved In Italian like many of you. We knew it was a mathematical edge. I didn't like Fort Ticonderoga like many of you. Not using was the edge. Why did I have the two year old on my ticket? Why did I have Bleecher Street?

Because I too am a slave to Prospect Theory. I put in the work, I, with cognitive dissonance like some intellectually inconsistent political knob on twitter, made excuses.  I convinced myself that if I did not have these chalk I didn't like, I might thread the needle on other legs and miss a $150,000 pick 6 and I'd feel terrible. I made every bogus argument to have horses on my ticket that I didn't want to have on my ticket. 

This is an incredibly hard game and the pools are very efficient. Just because there are five races in a row it doesn't somehow make them inefficient, even though we seem to want to convince ourselves it somehow does. We use crutches to construct tickets. We fly to safety. We somehow convince ourselves that a strategy of taking a four game NFL parlay with four teams we love, and then backing them up by taking the other sides can be long-term profitable; although we know this is mathematical insanity. 

We end up punting on 4th and 2, and dammit we're going to keep punting on 4th and 2. 

The NFL learned long ago that doing that was sub-optimal. Now, even commentators like Troy Aikmen have turned into these mathy "go for it" trailblazers. If we as players get to that point in horse racing quicker than others do; before it becomes accepted as a truth, we have some time to make some scratch. And that's what we're all here for right?

Have a great Tuesday everyone. 

Monday, July 11, 2022

Horse Racing Needs Vibrant & Growing Populations & Economies

Chuck Simon has been on fire on the twitter lately, joining quite a few discussions, two of which involve numbers. That's something we like here in the blog, and two of these discussions work nicely together, in my view. 

First, in response to a poll question about 'what sport an average Joe or Jane has the best shot at competing with a pro', Chuck chose tennis. He wasn't looking at opinion or the qualitative, it was about populations and math. 

I think that's the right way to look at it. If you take a 5'4" woman, or 5'7" man, there is a chance they can excel at tennis, because the sport is wide open to many populations. Shorter than average women, and men, have won myriad tennis tournaments over the years. They just have to be good at their craft, not special or an extreme outlier like a Wes Welker or Mugssy Bogues. 

It's just numbers. 

Meanwhile, back at the horse racing ranch, there is an intense discussion about contraction of the sport and Chuck was again front and center. 

The contraction argument has been around forever, driven mostly by us, the bettor. Field sizes have fallen, and five horse fields makes for a terrible betting product at 20% juice. We lament slot tracks taking entries that should be raced at high handle tracks to make for a better product. We abhor it all. 

But fewer horses, as Chuck alludes, means less of a horse population to draw from, less capital investment, fewer owners and lower supply, and in turn, fewer points of supply (racetracks will close).

The sport worries about slots cancellations. The quickest way to eliminate slots in Ohio or Pennsylvania is to contract race dates and make residents race somewhere else. Slots will go away if pols see no one is racing and breeding in their backyard. 

When we think purely about the math, how is that possibly a good thing?

Even the intra-population issues in the sport are a big red flag. 

We complain about short fields in stakes, and the horses owned by few people. Some people even want fewer Graded Stakes. That in itself is a problem, even to suppliers. 

Chad Brown has 3 of 5 horses in a stakes race for $400,000 and they are all 2-1, with the other two (sorry, people) owners at 20-1. The purse for one of the horses and owners, if he wins, is $400,000. For the second Brown owner, who is racing for 20% in second money, is really racing for a purse one third of owner one. The third Brown owner is racing for a purse 1/6th of the winning owner. 

It's not a $400,000 stakes race, it's much less. It's just a purse cut. They don't want this kind of thing either. 

I read a book recently where the economist author said the most important thing for governments to do is to foster economic growth, and he supplied countless examples of its merit. When you grow you have more money for education and health care and technology changes and fighting things like poverty or climate change. 

In my view, closing racetracks can never be considered growth. Closing racetracks is just admitting defeat. 

Have a great Monday everyone. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Importance of Being Earnest

What are things that are paramount in 2022 with regards to equine athletes? 

Horse deaths, wastage, sending out horses to race that probably should not have be sent out to race, to name but three.

For much of human history - any epoch really - humans were incredible killing machines. When we hunted and gathered we killed indiscriminately. When we settled Australia 70,000 years ago we wiped out dozens of species. When we moved to North America thousands of years ago, we killed everything in our paths. 

Even as recent as one hundred years ago during the exploration of the Arctic - when we began to be more sensible in countless matters, and were starting to be educated en masse - we still killed virtually every animal in front of us. Killing an animal was a feature of humanity, not a bug. 

In the last forty or fifty years - a tiny, tiny slice of humanity - remarkably, this feature has been completely flipped on its lid. An ingrained part of our DNA and culture is now found by most to be taboo. We can't imagine ever doing what "they" did, and we might rename a school or street for those who did; even though we probably would've done the same thing, because that's all we'd have ever known. 

Just this month a report on horse deaths at Santa Anita was released and the news was good. The reforms, hoped for by some, joked about by some others, seems to have worked pretty well. The pressure is off, it appears, until perhaps a next crisis. But kudos to California racing for stepping up to the plate. They said they were going to do something, and they did it. 

HISA is another brick in this new wall - the wall that modernizes human's use of animals because we aren't killing machines anymore. Like any new policy (check laws in congress or the House of Commons for reference) it can get blown off course, or bastardized. We talk more about HISA and lasix than keeping the eye on the prize, which is, of course, protecting the safety of the horses. 

But this organization - like it or not - is very important. 

The sport has to be honest with itself, and lead with conviction. Horse safety, wastage, doing better by being better stewards of the horses is not something we can address with lip service, or do it only when someone is looking. It's reality. The importance of being earnest is now the feature, not the bug. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Watching Replays

DeRosa, and others, are talking about the importance of watching or not watching replays to handicap. It's a discussion I always find interesting. 

Like almost everything in this game, to me this is a matter of personal preference and what works for us. If we believe watching a replay makes us play the game more profitably, go for it. If not, and our time is spent better on other things, then we probably shouldn't. 

Do we have to watch replays to win? Absolutely not; players who play solely on performance or speed figures, along with pace scenarios or whatever else, do win. Conversely, people who watch replays can win as well. I believe, like a lot of things in handicapping, it's about knowing what we're good at, and knowing what we're doing. 

For newer players in the Thoroughbred game, replay watching is wading into a deep pool. We could see a horse look terrible in the last sixteenth, but the race was at 6 furlongs and this horse needs to be stretched out. Smart replay watchers discount this and wager, while others just see a dead horse. Sharp players (sharper than me!) can decipher a horse's action on a replay, with style and surface. For newer players this is like reading Latin. 

I respect those who put in the time to watch replays. Smart players like Chris Larmey or Mike Maloney (and many contest players) can make scores the sheets and the numbers don't see well. But trying to emulate them is pretty darn tough, in my view. 

Over to harness racing, replay watching is somewhat different. The race is one standard mile, the horses race each week, and trip can be just about everything. We can see who is live or dead, and especially for young horses, we can see how the horse paces or trots. 

Someone asked me today who I liked at the Big M, with their complete set of two year old races tonight. I can see who I like on the form, and these horses might win, but I don't have two hours today to dive into replays (luckily this blog piece took ten minutes).  I want to ensure my horse was not all out, was pacing or trotting like a good horse should, that the driver was confident. I won't dive into these races, for example, without a replay. 

A caveat of course, like with the Thoroughbreds, this doesn't mean one can't win without watching replays. The teams can and do. And if everyone is watching a replay and see that horse locked and loaded, is it worth 7-5 this time, or is the horse overbet because of replay? Again, that's simply a numbers game, and the numbers guys and gals are good at it. 

Have a nice Friday everyone, and whether you watch replays or not, good luck this weekend at the windows. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Stewards Scorecards? How is it Even Possible.

There's quite the brouhaha today on last night's White Sox Blue Jays game. The umpire had a bad game. 

How do we know. Well, there's an accuracy card. 

None of us like getting judged at work, but welcome to the real world. We all do, albeit less publicly.

Now, MLB deems this worthwhile because of the "integrity of the game" and probably to a lesser extent, sports betting. They don't derive much revenue from the latter, but it's a reason. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, let's fire up our stewards and judges scorecard for horse racing. A sport that does depend on betting to survive. 

We can't even make a scorecard. What state, what track, what jurisdiction? They all seem to have different rules, and a different way to judge. We have no baseline to judge a judge. We can't score something that's un-scoreable. 

We talked about the importance of institutions this week. This is a prime example of why they are important. A proper institution, whether in a game with independent contractors like golf, or a league like the NFL or MLB, would at the very least have a set of rules everyone adheres to. 

I think this is another instance exemplifying why a group like HISA has support, even though many can see its shortcomings. The business - for hundreds of years - can't really even come to grips with a set of rules that everyone follows. It seems like such a basic thing, yet in horse racing, with its disparate, ad-hoc structure, even the basic is elusive. 

Have a nice Wednesday everyone. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

"Putting on a Show & No Off Book Money" Has Tied Racing's Hands. It's a Load of Hooey

I was doing some reading on the revenues and spend for sports betting companies, and they certainly live in a world we're unfamiliar. 

The sports betting industry is unique in a very important perspective - customer acquisition is just about everything. And these companies are investing in customers in mind-boggling amounts. 

As reported today, Fanduel spent $5.5M on just promotional credits in May in Pennsylvania. This does not include a penny on the copious commercials we see on TV, or in-print. Estimate on the low-end is that 30% of each dollar in gaming revenue is a promotional credit. 

We often hear sports betting companies don't "put on the show" so they can afford to spend this kind of money. But that's not true. They do put on a show - to the government in taxes. And some of these tax rules are incredible, leaving only crumbs when the dust settles. 

For example, in New York in January this year, handle was $1.6B, gross gaming revenue was $113M. 

After fed taxes, GGR dropped to $109M.

After 51% tax rates, revenue dropped to $52M. 

Further, these companies that spent 30% on promotional credits still have to pay tax on this phantom wagering, because it's wagering. That would bring the effective tax rate to 77%.  

That's worse than "putting on a show". 

One of the reasons these companies can do this is because of how cheap it is for money is to be raised (well, it was before inflation hit), and they are operating at a loss. But if we're being honest, horse racing had the exact same thing for many years - it was called slots. 

Peeling off $X for promotional credits or lower takeout is what could have been done in the exact same fashion. But of course it wasn't. Something as basic as a bet $100 get $100 credit was not seen on the retail side of this business for years. 

If this business, which has seen billions upon billions of money from slots, spent 30% of that revenue to acquire customers, guess what - we'd have more customers. 

Horse racing complains a lot about a couple of things with sports betting competition as a reason it can't compete: That they don't have to put on a show, and they use money outside a profit and loss statement to acquire customers. I'm sorry, it's a load of hogwash. 

Horse racing's customer acquisition trails others because of one simple fact - acquiring customers, even with decades with billions in slots, preferential tax treatment, and a de-facto online monopoly on gambling, was never a priority. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Jock & Driver Bettors, Big in OTB's, Less-So Elsewhere

I don't know how many winning players I talk to who say, "I am not really a big jockey or driver guy". 

In my years playing and modeling thoroughbreds I tend to agree. I could not find much actionable to play or not play with jock numbers (as much as I tried), and most of what I thought I found was statistical noise. 

And, logically, why wouldn't it be noise? If you've proven yourself as a decent jock, the market is using you, and there's only so much a 115 pound human can do with a 1,100 pound horse, especially when they all have preferred running styles. Also, when someone truly is better than others, the jock is bet more, because again, the market isn't stupid. This is why many top jocks have terrible ROI's, and a mathematical case can be made to fade them, not bet them. 

Over in harness racing, we saw on Saturday night what we often see, but what many seem to not want to admit.  Sarah Svansedt, an amateur with only 63 career drives, pointed her fast colt to the lead, parked everyone out and trotted 150.2, a national seasons mark. 

The driver of the horse last time? Yannick Gingras, who could only muster a 151.3. 

Fast harness horses win races. Fast horses, when pointed to the lead where fast horses get to show their stuff without troublesome traffic, win races in fast times. In this case, whether driven by an amateur or arguably the best driver in the world. 

Now, clearly we don't want to list Sarah tomorrow on every great horse in your barn. Experience matters and you want a top person driving your horse, just like we want a capable driver driving our bet home. But I don't think we can ever forget that important lesson. 

In harness - and this is unlike the thoroughbreds in many ways, because that breed's horses are generally ready to win when popped in the box - I follow a few simple driver rules. 

A "big" driver change, say from a trainer or 2% guy who has been unwilling to try a horse, to a top ten driver is massive. Not because the new driver will yell at the horse any different, as we just witnessed from Sarah, but because the top driver will put the horse into the race. It's a positive intent sign. 

A driver change - for example a Doug McNair with a couple choices in the race - is probably a good lean, even from an outside post. He didn't book off one to go to the back. We'll get an effort. 

Lateral changes, i.e. capable to capable, are to be mostly ignored.

An aggressive driver (even one without gawdy win percentages) - Mark Mac, Jonathon Drury, Jody Jamieson for example - hopping on a horse who hasn't been tried can be an excellent wager. They will give the horse a shot if it looks like he's been finishing, but has not been in position before to strut his Sarah Stuff. 

Drivers that show they are not afraid to mix it up can and should still be bets if we like the horse. We get prices on these types. Who has the best ROI on horses over 5-1 at the Meadowlands the last five years? Journeyman Victor Kirby. Vic's even batting 50% on chalk; with a pretty good minus 10% ROI in a limited sample, which compares favorably as we try to make money betting guys like Yannick with -32% ROI on chalk. 

We saw this a little just last week at Mohawk. James MacDonald had the choice of two horses who looked to be even in ability. He took the 8, the other went to Anthony MacDonald. James was overbet at 4-5 and his brother won at 5-2. The spread was too much. The driver change did not make a difference.

Jock and driver betting tends to display a whole lot of survivorship bias. We remember when a driver or jockey change converts, but don't notice the many, many times it doesn't. Thankfully, the numbers standardize this in a disapassionate way and works as a bias removal tool. When we run those numbers - and because the game is about making money - we don't tend to see a whole lot, so we have to rely on subsets of the data. We have to pick and choose; to be smart. 

In a pari-mutuel game, I don't want to bet with the OTB crowd where a jockey or driver change is considered the Holy Grail of handicapping. By the numbers it isn't, so in a lot of cases, please give me the other side. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Playing With Confidence and the Winning Anchor

Several years ago the Denver Broncos were reeling. Their HOF quarterback was still hurting, had lost his fastball, and at halftime in week 16 or 17 they were trailing a division rival. Their back up QB, the venerable Brock Osweiler, was not doing the job. The line was missing blocks, the receiver's routes were not crisp; the running game non-existent. 

At halftime they rolled the dice and started their beat-up, hurt QB. And a funny thing happened. 

The blocks were made, the line played great, the receivers were energized. They moved the ball methodically down the field, like an army unit on the march. Peyton Manning threw few passes, none over ten or twelve yards that I remember, but they scored. They went on to win the game, and a month or so later, the Super Bowl. 

Playing with confidence in sports is a remarkable thing. 

In racing, or gambling in general, I believe it's the same thing. 

When you have faith in your process, you play with confidence. You don't completely change your play when you lose. You don't take more action bets, you don't chase the last race of the day. You don't overbet or underbet. You don't try and get even when down, you don't open up your selection process, because you know things will come. 

The problem, and wrench in the plan is - to get the confidence, we need a taste of winning. 

This is why, I believe, winning in any subset - betting win, a pick 5 syndicate, betting low takeout carryovers only, whatever, is vitally important. Having that anchor - a Peyton Manning getting the snap - breeds that confidence. For newer players who have never had it, my advice is to do the work, find out what you're best at, and stick with it to achieve it, even if it's for a shorter period of time. 

I have not played super-seriously for some time, and lately I have been stinking pretty badly in the pools (at best treading water) but I do often fall back on my past success for a reminder. I currently am betting tiny exotics, selectively betting win bets, and trying to get back to making a little scratch. 

Maybe it's different for you, but finding confidence, I think, is vital to making money at this game. It allows us to march down the field again, instead of wandering aimlessly, looking for a winning ticket. 

Have a nice Sunday everyone. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

The Money. It Works in Other Sports

The LIV golf tour is in the headlines as the Saudi backed enterprise is starting to get what they want - more and more PGA players aboard the fledgling venture. Dustin Johnson walked out on The Canadian Open (and his deal with RBC, which sponsors the event), and now others have followed. Today, it appears Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have committed to the Portland event. 

And of course, we have the grand pooh-bah, Phil Mickelson, (quietly?) leading the charge. 

Despite apologists and some participants pissing on our leg and telling us it's raining, this is basically about money.  And frankly, from an EV perspective, isn't it worth it for these golfers to pursue these kinds of paychecks?

They can play for a year on the PGA and maybe earn a couple of million. They can play on the new tour for a year and make 5 times that. They can - even talented youngsters like Talor Gooch - in one or two years set themselves up for life. 

The downside (leaving aside the whole Saudi thing) is they are suspended from a Tour that they are not even playing on. And if the new Tour folds, which it may at some point, the PGA will (after suspensions and grumbling) have to accept them back at some point anyway. 

Money, for people who need it, people who want the security of it, or for people who gambled it away is a pretty strong attraction. 

Moving over to horse racing, I am summarily stumped. Purse money does not seem to attract talent as much as I would think. 

We've got 5 horse field Acorns for a half a million (this has been a pattern). The Just a Game, usually a great race, has 5 horses. The Met Mile, which was moved from Memorial Day years ago (because it could attract top fields on the super stakes Belmont Day) drew 5 for a cool million. 


Over on the harness side, a million dollar purse for a North America Cup drew 17 horses, some of whom we'd never even guess would be good enough for the richest pacing event in the world. The Armbro Flight, eliminations are not even needed. We will see short fields all year for megabucks in stakes. 

Part of this is because of the nature of the game. I'm not attracted to buy yearlings much, because the best are concentrated in top barns and I feel I don't have a shot. On the thoroughbred side this does not feel dissimilar. There are lasix issues, and drugs and the high cost of buying a horse to get it to a point where you can enter an Acorn. 

But it is confusing to me. Large purses in golf attract golfers. Large purses do not seem to attract horses. 

More than that, large purses on the LIV tour attract golfers, but the golfers they attract leave the PGA Tour, allowing spots to be open for players to fill that funnel. And parents and kids see the money involved, and their boy or girl may choose golf over another sport with less opportunity. The ecosystems all shines based on the fundamentals. 

No one seems to be rushing out to buy horses, despite these same fundamentals. That probably says more about horse racing than it does about golf. 

Have a nice Wednesday everyone. 


Tuesday, June 7, 2022

DKNG's is Just Another Corporate in this New World

Draft Kings CEO Jason Robins caused quite the stir yesterday with his comments to analysts

That he told investors looking for higher returns (on a stock that is completely beat up) he will deliver higher returns is nothing too exciting. But the fact he brazenly told the audience his company does not want winners and would look at increasing holds to generate profit was eye-opening. 

For a company sinking so much marketing money into getting people to play with them, then telling them they only want losers and at some point prices will go up to make you more of a loser, doesn't seem to be the best tag line to me. But maybe this is all part of some master plan little people like us can't figure out. 

This seems to be indicative of the space with the corporates, from what I've seen over the years. There's so much invested to be big, getting big is the easiest part, but being big in online gambling does not mean controlling a market. You're just big with other big companies. Low margin and high volume that comes from big (think Amazon) is replaced with nickel and diming, and squeezing your customer base to meet an EPS target. 

What's worrisome about all of this is the lack of innovation and invention. With larger and larger companies squeezing a lemon, we tend to see what we see in horse racing. Very little is spent on making the customer experience better to grow the entire business. It isn't like that, either in the past, or with new private companies. 

Betfair, for example, was not created by a corporate, but by a few people that liked to gamble, and were interested in tech. It won tech awards, both inside and outside gambling. The company hummed along beautifully until it hit similar snags. When it was taken over it already had "premium charges", and almost immediately the new corporate bosses were shuttling users into the regular sportsbook. 

One of the greatest gambling innovations of our lifetimes was relegated to an afterthought. 

Business books and studies (I think even Prof Betts linked a study to this on her twitter feed) have delved into this phenomenon, and it's not just with the DK's of the world. The private sector has done less and less in the way of innovation, and is more concentrated on hitting a "street" target. History books might not look kindly on this part of this era, but often times with hitting that target, the consumer benefits through lower prices and uniform access. In the sports gambling world, this somehow (how, I do not know) perversely means higher prices and less access. 

A few weeks ago, Racing the Rockefeller Way, was written for HRU. In it, Rockefeller's business strategies were examined. One section not touched on was his creation of a medical research group - the first of its kind. His mission statement was to be curious, innovate, discover new things, be proactive. It was a Bell Labs for medicine. The research saved millions and millions of lives and exists to this day (running certainly profitably, if need be). I wonder what it would've become if its benefactor's initial KPI was an EPS target. 

Most of us want to see gambling on sports and horses to grow, to innovate, to get better, to offer more access at low prices to achieve that every day huge volume. That to us is a sound business. I think that's why most of us are so confused when the business seems to wish for the opposite. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

10 Things

Here are a few things (ten of them!) people who have blogs tend to do when they're taking a break from work and want to write something. I hope you like maybe four or five of them. 

Note - This is *not* a Derby Top Ten list. 

1. The Big M is partnering with Insideharness.com to get more information out to the betting public. This probably stems from some serious to-the-back-with-chalk racing we've seen at times lately. I like it and have been calling for this stuff for a long time, Chip seems more perplexed than when an official calls a Penguin for an obvious trip. 

2. I went to the track for the first time in a long while a couple of weeks ago. This track - Mohawk - reminded me what it's like. The food was good, the setting nice and I had a great time. Going to the track is underrated. 


3. I saw a tweet yesterday from Ed from Los Al. He said something about the importance of accurate morning lines to the betting public. He's right. People like David Aragona need a raise; others, I know it's hard but please do better. 

4. I watched a little of the Mountain the past week or so, and I was pleased to see Mark Patterson hosting the show. The insight, the stories, the analysis were all presented in a perfect Mark way. It was nice to see you again Mark. 

5. Horse racing has a ton of variables computers pick up and it makes them effective. However, the nuance of the game still leads us into places computers can't go. In hockey tonight it feels similar to me. Goalie Mike Smith could not stop an 18 inch Chicago deep dish last game, and if they put him back in I I am supposed to bet Colorado and the over. But, the narrative in the dressing room he is no good right now, and often teams get super defensive in this type of outlier situation to protect the netminder. Should I bet the under? I think so. 

6. In 1900, the richest country in the world was the U.S. Today, almost every country in the world is richer than they were. Don't say this on twitter, but capitalism rocks. Getting out of the way and letting things roll has worked wonders. In 1900, the juice in horse racing was 5%. Why didn't you people just get out of the way?

7. No bets on the Ontario election tonight for me, because it's a foregone conclusion. The economy hasn't been awful in my home province, COVID responses were not off the charts bad or good, and people seem relatively happy with Premier Ford. Plus, it's super hard to ditch someone after only four years up here in the Tundra. 

8. I read this week that 117 million of the 300 million or so guns in the states are owned by collectors, representing 3% of the population. I collect comics and old programs. 

9. I am a fan of Rich Strike and his connections. I hope they win the Belmont. 

10. Have a very nice Thursday everyone.



Sunday, May 29, 2022

That Generation

It's Memorial Day (where is the Met Mile? OK, I should get over this by now) in the U.S., and whether it be Memorial Day or Remembrance Day, I often think of an old family friend, Mr. Burns. 

Mr. Burns was in the bomber squadron of the RCAF, flying missions over Europe. This was probably the toughest job in the war, because so many of them didn't make it back; these planes were sitting ducks. It was the absolute short straw. He was shot down a couple of times, and somehow made it back safely across the pond, back home. 

I guess getting shot down and seeing friends not make it home makes a man pretty tough and devoid of giving a shit, and Mr. Burns was certainly that. In fact, how he met the family tends to exemplify that quite well. 

My dad started coaching 16 and 17 year olds in juvenile hockey, and his rather sad sack team made the playoffs. In the first round they were playing the best team in the league and they beat them in seven. Mr. Burns' boy played for the losing squad and after the game he tracked my old man down. 

"Can my son play for you next year?" he asked. My dad replied that he watched his boy play and he was a hard worker and hard workers are welcome. 

Just then the opposing coach came out of the dressing room, overheard the conversation and asked Mr. Burns why he was looking for a new team for his son.

Mr. Burns, in his complete don't care, I-was-shot-down-a-bunch-of-times-over-Europe way says, "Well, we had a team of stars that were way better than the team we just lost to. The only sensible conclusion I can make is that we were badly outcoached."

The man was a legend. 

Years later, I am heading to lunch at school and Mr. Burns showed up waiting for me. "Come on kid, it's your birthday and you have the afternoon off."

Little did I know where we were going, but soon it was clear. 

"It's hunting season and it's time you had your own gun," he said a matter of factly. 

He purchased me a beginner rifle - single shot, bolt action - and we went out to teach me to use it. It was a glorious afternoon. 

Upon returning home, I walked in with my new rifle, much to my mother's chagrin. 

"You bought him a rifle?" she said. 

"He has to learn to shoot, he's plenty old enough," he replied. 

"Angus, he's 9!", my incredulous mom exclaimed. 

From then on we went out quite a bit, and each time it was an adventure. 

One of his friends owned a small bush plane and he took us up to a fishing spot for the weekend. But the flight was horrendous, due to massive winds. We were bouncing around like a pinball. Looking back in my mind's eye, it was the worst plane ride I have ever been on, times a million. 

From the front seat all I heard was "this is a great flight" followed by a story that this was nothing like taking flak, and the fishing would be good. I wasn't worried a bit. 

His toughness was completely remarkable, and for a kid, it was a pretty good life lesson.  

One time we were fishing and he cut himself on the boat, which required stitches. The only problem was the nearest doctor was about three hours away. We got back to camp, he broke out a bottle of iodine, drank like five ounces of rum and stitched himself up. He seriously didn't even wince. I never tried this in life - I went to doctors like a normal person - but I was sure it could be done, because, well, he did it. 

This long friendship lasted through trips just about everywhere (Mr. Burns accompanied us to road trips to almost every racetrack in Ontario), and mostly good cheer until he passed away in the 1990's. 

This Memorial Day when we play the races or do what we do (I work mainly in the U.S. so it's kind of a day off for me too), I will remember Mr. Burns and this completely unique generation. With people like him Hitler never had a chance. 

Enjoy your holiday everyone.  

Friday, May 27, 2022

Fixed Odds' Ad Hoc Model. Perhaps Better Than Most

There was a story on the BH today about the first few days of fixed odds betting at Monmouth. The article touched on the slow ramp-up and didn't mention juice, which we believe is pretty high. 

What I took most from the story was that they're kind of making this up as they go along, and quite honestly, I don't think that's a bad thing. This sport tends to be about setting a price that has absolutely nothing to do with a market, and then moving it higher. Fiddling around and setting benchmarks and baselines is what business does, so it's kind of acting like one. 

The contrast between what Monmouth and Betmakers is doing is palpable, when we look at what happens in Canada with Woodbine's pricing. WEG's mechanism is so archaic, suppliers are written into the pricing contract - "horsepeople get 4% of tri wagering", for example. This leads to the un pari-mutuel pool system throughout the land, whereby some U.S. tracks have their juice juiced up, putting Canadian horseplayers at a tremendous disadvantage. It also causes great problems when tracks - like Canterbury - do the right thing and offer low takeout bets like their 10% pick 4. Woodbine doesn't even have it on the menu. 

When you can't offer a fair deal to your customers - an entire country - because of archaic, egregious policy like this that you haven't rewritten to get in-step with the modern betting world, you're not a betting business, you're a government entity. And you deserve every customer you lose. 

I have no idea where fixed odds at Monmouth is headed. Perhaps they get killed by sharp players, maybe the big tracks don't allow Monmouth to offer their product. Maybe the robber barons of high takeout (who are obsolete, even though some don't seem to know it yet) make unreasonable demands so it all dies in yet another dumpster fire. But, starting the way they have and modifying their pricing and offering based on demand and potential profit, is probably a good way to get out of the blocks. 

Have a good Friday and weekend everyone. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Playing the Pick 5 With Bettor X

 This was originally printed in Trot Magazine's Horseplayer Issue. 

The pick 5 is a racing staple with almost every track trying to take advantage of its popularity. But, as players, can we honestly say we play them correctly?

One player who does play them well is “Bettor X”; he’s someone who has been playing professionally for 30 plus years. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for the Horseplayer’s Issue.

Q: All pick 5’s are not the same. What do you look for in a sequence that makes you want to play or pass? How important are these decisions to your yearly bottom line?

The things that entice me to look at a sequence are carryovers and/or low takeout. Once I look at a sequence, I need to see legs where others might make mistakes and I can have a reasonable chance to capitalize on those mistakes. If I can’t find those mistakes or I don’t think they are big enough to capitalize on then I have no problem passing. Forcing plays in multi-leg wagers is long term destruction.

Q: Amateur or newer players tend to gravitate to “spreading” (adding a lot of combinations) especially with 20 cent or 50 cent denominations. Can you explain why this might not be a good strategy?

While most people think lower denominations and spreading to cash tickets is good for new players, I think it’s the exact opposite. It grinds them down quicker with no real chance of winning. And it dilutes their chance of winning something that matters, or getting the thrill of being alive for a score which will keep them coming back or getting excited about getting better at betting. Most spreads are chalky or include chalk so that eliminates a lot of chances to gain equity in a sequence which is crucial in giving yourself a chance to win and showing long-term profit.

20 cent minimums lessen the value of longshots and increases the value of chalk, whereas dollar minimums do the exact opposite. So, when structuring your tickets, you need to take this dynamic into account. Singling chalk in spread races is great in 20 cent minimums. Just like spreading to beat chalk when everybody is keying chalk with $1 minimums is great.

Q: So, one simple way to create better tickets is to find horses to lean on in spread races. Are there any other hard-and-fast rules you can expand upon that will help players make more money in the long-run?

There are so many variables when playing tickets that hard and fast rules are difficult. The only rule that you should always abide by is: Don’t be afraid to lose. If amateur players just follow that one rule, it will keep them from making numerous bad decisions that most players make.

Q: Batch bettors and sharper players gravitate to larger pool tracks. I know you often look at some less popular signals. Do you play tickets differently based on pool size and competition?

Yes, you definitely have to play different, whether its strategies, amounts or other things, when you play big tracks or pools vs smaller tracks or pools. Bad morning lines are better to attack at smaller tracks than bigger tracks. Trying to beat popular drivers and trainers is much more lucrative at smaller tracks than bigger tracks. Playing larger denomination (narrow) combos on chalk is much better at big tracks. There are many differences, you just need examine payouts (and money alive each leg if available) to figure out what occurs at each specific venue.

Q: We all know carryovers are a takeout reduction and drive a lot of new money because of it. Are all carryover pick 5’s playable or are there instances where you will take a pass?

If you don’t like the sequence or don’t have an edge (or a clue) then don’t play.

Q: For harness racing, with its high favourite hit rate, do you believe one dollar minimums on pick 4’s and 5’s would help the sport grow its handle in the long-run?

Yes. One dollar minimums would grow handle with harness racing being so chalky. As I noted above, lower minimums can make sequences unplayable unless you play certain types of strategies. You need to include all groups of bettors in the pools to grow handle. Lower minimums grind the small guys down and keep a lot of bigger bettors out of the pools so it’s very tough to grow handle in the long-term.

 



Monday, April 25, 2022

Rebates For All!

So, I did a little reading on the railway rebate system. No, stop laughing, I really did. And it was a pretty interesting exercise. 

For those who don't know, railways across particularly the northeast U.S. around 1870 were in their nascent stages, and they were controlled by very few. This is not because of some underlying conspiracy, it was just due to the capital costs involved. And these near monopolists had a pretty monopolistic way to charge. 

They pretty much made the prices up. 

If you wanted to ship your cattle that weighed 8,000 pounds 50 miles, you paid say $200. And the $200 was kind of pulled from thin air. 

Sharp people like Rockefeller who was refining oil in Cleveland at the time knew the game and said to these railroaders, "I will guarantee you lots of shipping and keep your cars full, but your prices are just guidelines, give me back some money."

They were happy to comply. This practice of rebating freight was not against the law, nor was it unsound (volume discounts are available to this day on many things). And with prices artifically (not market) set it was a business practice. 

Congress and other lawmakers in the U.S. were loathe to regulate any new business, and this paid off handsomely for the relatively new country compared to its regulation-laden, old school European counterparts. Business was allowed to thrive or fail. But, as was custom as well, when things were wacky, and the greater good - economic growth, free passage for goods - was threatened, they acted. 

This scheme was threatening to the overall business health of the country. Smaller businesses were squeezed out, consolidation and price fixing occurred, new entreprenuers and businesspeople were disincentived. 

With the passing of the Interstate Commerce Act in the late 1880's the government simply said "Rebates for All". Prices fell and the rest was (business) history. 

Horse racing, "the railroads" set their prices pretty much the same way. Takeout rates are made up, as can be done with a monopoly on gambling. And like the railroads, they rebate action to bigger players, while the smaller ones suffer.

Unlike the railroads, however, there are no gatekeepers. The business just trudges along with higher and higher prices, and rebates for some. It keeps the rail cars filled and they seem to be happy about it. 

But the business has been dying a slow death, with inflation adjusted handle stagnating; even with technological advancements and off track wagering. The funnel is not being filled. 

Some people out there believe all rebating should be stopped and things will be better, but with respect, they have not thought this through. High takeout for everyone would be the result because it's too hard to lower national takeout. And that's bad. 

But rebates for all? Yes, that would help immensely and give this game a shot in the arm it hasn't seen in a 100 years; just like it helped one of the (now) most powerful countries in world history to grow business and demand for their products.  

It'd be nice if 140 years later this industry gave it a shot. But I guess we shouldn't hold our breaths. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Sinking the Sunk Cost

 Axios reported today that fledgling CNN+ is "doomed".  The parent company has suspended all marketing spend and began firing people, this, just a month or so after launch. Eliminating so much sunk cost is something a lot are loathe to do. Things have to be super-bad for these changes to be made. 

The thing is, CNN+ did this right (and still could succeed, as the piece alludes) because they built out a 4 year plan for success. Four years is about what normal new business allows for such investment. 

Flipping to racing, we seem to try things that we have sunk cost (hope) for a longer period of time, if it's minor, or an inside idea. We can hammer racing roulette messaging for instance, because it takes such little investment, even though it won't work.  

Meanwhile, on the important things? It's not like that. It's the opposite. 

Canterbury Park tried a lower takeout menu, and as Crunk showed on his blog, the results were - all other things equal, with his usual astute analysis - fairly good. Lower takeout is a CNN+ strategy: a 4 year one. It was scrapped almost immediately, of course. This despite being unlike CNN, it actually showed promise. 

3% cash back is used as a novelty, not a strategy by racetracks. If the business doesn't get more than the 3% they offered in like a week, it's doomed as a long term strategy, despite it showing logical and empirical might. 

CNN+ sunk a ton of money in something, got terrible results and they're pivoting. That's good and the way things should be done when investing in something new. Racing never seems to invest in something new, but on the off-chance they do, even if it shows promise, they scrap it almost immediately if the Brinks Truck doesn't roll right in. It really is, in my view, a pox on our house. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Money in the Racing Industry Moves Rationally & Monday Note

If you're north of the 49th, you're suddenly hearing quite a bit about Canadian productivity; meaning, over the last half decade or so it's been particularly abysmal. There are many reasons we're 25% less productive than our friends down south. Rising taxes, increased regulation and other negative factors have decreased business investment wildly of late, and with firm size not being what it is in the US, we have issues. Even on a micro-scale it takes over three hundred percent more time to get a permit for a new building in Canada than in the US now, despite the litigious state of our southern neighbor. 

That people do less, work less and firms stop innovating and investing and pivot their money somewhere else is perfectly rational. It's why a lot of left-brained math folks like business. It's not twitter fights or politics, it's just well, business. 

In racing, as we all know, it's a different kettle of fish. A person investing in horseflesh is not looking at NPV's, or modeling risk; they know they're in a negative expectation game. It's probably why tax write-offs are so important. But people can only keep losing money to a point, mainly if the utility they receive is not worth it. 

And with the current state of the game - little direction from leadership and the absence of confidence or hope, large barns winning all the races, power concentrated at the top and other issues - like business investment in Canada, money moves somewhere else. Again, this is perfectly rational behaviour. 

From this blog's point of view side, it's exactly the same with the customer. As Crunk has pointed out on his twitter feed, the average ADW weekend warrior loses badly, and this also should not come as a surprise. This is a high takeout game and most of us know we'll lose. But the enjoyment, or the thought of winning keeps us going if the losses are minimized, and there's hope for change. 

With, according to his numbers, which I think are sound, people losing 39% in ADW's - that's a level of max pain few can overcome. Add the fact that field size is going down, the races are harder to win at, power is concentrated at the top, and takeout has not moved lower (even with massive subsidy), what's the rational move? To leave for sports betting or other pursuits, or bet less. 

I know harping on racing is not very interesting and it ain't click-bait (lucky I don't sell anything here on the blog). But I hope this explains why we do it. Without fixing the foundations and giving the supply side and demand side hope for a better day, a hope for change, a hope for new policies that will make the game better, investment will continue to decline. It's more than just dollars and cents, it's bigger than that. Without hope for a better day, better days can't happen. 

Note:

I watched the Pompano card last night and I'd be remiss not to mention what a wonderful evening it was, however bittersweet. The boys put on a really good show on track with aggressive drives and lots of entertaining races. And Gabe, as we'd expect, ended the track's history with a large carryover, which has been a staple of Pompano's resurgence as a wagering racetrack. The videos, the interviews, the races honoring long-time participants and employees were tremendous, and we all know it was done with virtually no budget. A hearty congrats to a track well lived. 



Sunday, March 13, 2022

NYRA's Self Inflicted Clown Show & Other Notes

Everyone saw "the ride", everyone commented on "the ride", everyone waited to see what was up with "the ride". 

Then everyone got the shaft. 

In a completely curious release, NYRA said - pretty much - nothing to see here, move along, case closed

Wut? 

It's flabbergasting. This is not the Warren Commission, or some CIA operation, or an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. This is a ride by a rider, who most likely completely screwed up (apparently he said so when he spoke with trainer Linda Rice after the race). 

Why not just say that to us, you know the paying customer?

In the NHL, Tom Wilson skates by someone and gives them a shove. Twitter goes nuts. The video is shared and reshared like its the Zapruder film. People have opinions and some want him sat down for 40 games. Some want his first born. It's a part of sports. 

Then the NHL officials review the film and give us a detailed explanation why or why not Tom will have to come in or not come in for a hearing. If he has a hearing it's usually the next day, then we move on. 

NYRA, in its infinite wisdom, just kind of says, well, nothing really. Shut up and bet. 

A lot of us don't understand this business. Sometimes I think it's us. Maybe we all just complain too much, or we're not educated enough to understand; maybe we didn't get a diploma from the Racetrack Industry Program. 

But then I see things like this and realize, no, it ain't us, it's them. And they seem to do this over and over again. Please make it stop. 

Notes:

Lots of praise on the twitter for Beem's call in the Tampa Bay Derby; his accuracy, how he didn't want to be the show, etc. Beem's a good caller so no surprise there. But I happen to love listening to calls from all stripes. I enjoy Jason, and a guy like Vic at Oaklawn. Am I allowed to like both? 

A whole whack of trades were cancelled on nickel futures, where $3.9B changed hands. Some sharps who took advantage of the market are upset. But, it was not really a market, per se, it was messed up. Next time your sportsbook cancels a wager it can be the same thing. It happens. 

Change doesn't always happen by committee

There was an interesting pick 4 at the Big M last night, well for some of us, anyway. Bucky hit it as he had the 5. I had the 469 who were 2nd, 3rd and 4th for a big score. And a friend *thought* he had it for a score of over 10 large, but he mispunched his ticket in leg one. What a game. 

We wrote about this horse's qualifier awhile ago. The 5th by ten stiffaroni. The horse has now won 6 in a row and is the hottest horse in the country. At PTP Downs the driver and trainer get a really big fine and if they do it again I quadruple it and send them to Century Downs. But sadly, it ain't PTP Downs. 

Have a nice week everyone. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Horse Racing & the Ten Years Problem

Back in the 80's, Ronald Reagan was good with a story or quip, and I remember one vividly. 

Only about 1 in 7 Russians owned cars, and with no imports and only a government run car company, there was a waiting list. 

One day a man walked in and put a deposit down with the bureaucrat at the car department. 

"How long will it take me to get my car?" asks the customer. 

"Ten years," says the bureaucrat. 

"Would that be in the morning or afternoon?" asks the man. 

Incredulous, the government man asks, "it's ten years and you have to know what time of day? Why would that matter?"

The man responds, "because the plumber is coming in the morning."

With our sport we see so much similar to this. Positives that take years to adjudicate, meeting after meeting for seemingly the smallest of things. 

I saw Pat Cummings on twitter talking about Category One rules coming to Oklahoma, which is fine, but how long will it take for the rest of the country? My over/under is ten years. 

I sat on a panel working to implement uniform racing rules in Canada. It was professional, there was little squabbiling, virtually everyone was on the same page, and it was chaired by one of the most respected people in the sport in John Campbell. Three years later I am thinking this will take another seven. 

Across the board takeout reductions, a national system for drug positives? If I said ten years would you go over or under?

This sport needs a complete reset; a system refresh. It can't take ten years to make a decision or to implement one. We understand history, and we understand how a government run carmaker in a communist country would fail, but what's our excuse? 

Have a nice Wednesday everyone. 


Thursday, February 24, 2022

Churchill Plays the Hand They're Dealt

CDI announced the iGaming and sports betting space is too much for them, and they are discontinuing investment in that particular vertical. 

“Many are pursuing market share in every state, with limited regard for short-term, or potentially even long-term, profitability. Because we do not see — for us — a path in which this business model delivers predictable and acceptable margins for at least several years, if ever, we have decided to exit the B2C online sports betting and iGaming space over the next six months.”

We all like to poke fun, or at times get angry at CDI (seriously guys, you sold Arlington, we can't be happy). And I ain't a CEO - I didn't even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night - but this was the right course of action for them. They're a smart company. 

Back in 2010 I was working with a company who created a type of Facebook for music. It was an interesting idea, and had some backing, and although the budget was small ($10,000 per month) I began marketing it. Half way through month one, the owner called and said, "can you spend more, my budget is now $100,000 for May." 

They had financing lined up and budgets meant pretty much nothing; growth meant everything. This type of system did occur in the 90's with dot coms and we'd seen it before, but this was my introduction to the post-2009 world of easy money through easing. 

That system has only increased. Investment, in the US especially is going bonkers. There is so much money out there, with simply nowhere to put it. They've found it in one spot of many: With sports betting companies. 

These companies have so much money to burn, it's absolutely staggering. 

With this capital you can concentrate on customer aquisition at almost any price. If you and I run a SaaS or CRM company, we have to bring in a CAC (customer acquistion cost) of say $1,200 or we go broke. Sports betting companies can have a CAC of $2,000 for a $300 LTV (lifetime value) and they don't give a crap. 

CDI, unlike these companies, does give a crap. Unless you have an edge on technology, there really is no other choice, as big as CDI and others are. 

It'll be interesting to see how many sports betting companies exist five years from now (maybe sooner).

It truly is a world the financeers of the last century would be woefully unfamiliar. And a world which older, established companies like CDI can have trouble navigating. 


Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Big Data, Small Data (II)

We wrote about using big data a few months ago in the context of remembering to use the qualitative as well. I won't rehash it (as I tend to do with this 3,000 post blog) but I will offer an offshoot post from something I read today. 

Jeremy Balan tweeted a neat thread about Zillow and its home pricing algorithm. This "big data" algo worked super-well with back data and in real time for awhile, but when it came to buying houses in real time it cost the company a whole pile of money. 

It's a really good thread as to why, and I think it's important, for us who play racing. 

Big horse racing data is used by the teams, and it can see what we do not. Many #theyknew horses are not #theyknew as in inside money, but more the AI algo knows. As well, with rebate, many horses are bet down where you and I aren't going to play them even if we like them; but the algo says it's a play. 

One area, as the thread author alludes, where big data can fail is the qualitative as we talked about in the last post. 

But another, in my view, is that it simply isn't as nimble with short term trends - track changes, and trainer trends are two of them. I personally love playing dead front end bias tracks, because I look at where the teams are, and they seem to be still betting speed. If a move-up trainer is ice cold because there's a rumor someone raided a barn, they're still, again, in my view, too well bet. 

I know the teams and their algo updates and is aware of these things. I know they dot i's and cross t's when things change. But if we're good handicappers, I can't help to think we'd be better at it. 

I took an interesting seminar today with something along these exact same lines, and we do see it even with multi-million (billion) dollar algorithms for marketing and business. They can be slow. There are holes and there are blind spots. There are things we can do better than they do, and they are recognizable. 

In horse racing, from Beyer to Crist to Cramer, we've often heard how we need to be aware when we have an edge. This was in the context of the person sitting next to us. Today it's much harder, but recognizing when we do have an edge on the machines and acting upon it is the same thing. It's just a different century. 

Have a nice evening everyone. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

When Feelings Trump Everything Else

Russian skater Kamila Valieva performed in the short program last night, with the Sword of Positives dangling over her 15 year old head. She did well, but there was a pall over the whole proceeding

Commentators were left pretty much speechless, save for saying this skate should not even be happening. 

I could go through the cold hard logic about due process and other lawyerly things that I know little about - except that they're very important in a free society - but that kind of butchers the point. 

This whole thing feels icky. And sometimes a feeling trumps everything else. 

When Baffert - who deserves and is receiving due process - ran horses in New York after a hearing, it felt the same way. If he races in next year's Derby, it will as well. Commentators talking about the ill-fated Medina Spirit while talking about another three he has in, well, I don't blame anyone for feeling what they'd feel. 

I believe when a sport is put into this position, it signals a problem at its own core. When rules are guidelines, punishment is ad hoc and written in sand where a breeze or wave can change everything, these sports should expect our feelings would override everything else. 

I have no hope the IOC does things right, and neither do many of you. We both probably feel the same way about this disparate, maddening fiefdom-led sport we follow daily called horse racing. We have little confidence in the power structures. 

Right of center political commentator Ben Shapiro often says "facts don't care about your feelings", and he's probably right. We need to always rely on fact and remove emotion out of the equation. But sometimes the facts suck, and I don't think any of us need to apologize for feeling the way we do. 

Have a nice Wednesday everyone. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Racing - Coming to Grips with Who it is

There's a rule in marketing - the consumer will see what you are, not what you want them to see. In fact, I'd proffer that even in closed industries it's probably true. 

For an illustration, I'll present this rather bizarre story in the WSJ about the Olympic Mascot Bing Dwen Dwen. This lovable little creature has been flying off the shelves, but the Chinese authorities hit a snafu last week: Bing Dwen Dwen was interviewed by Chinese State Media and it turns out he/she spoke like a middle aged man. 

Sensing the marketing issue, i.e. they're pretty sure it creeped everyone out, the Chinese Communist Party intervened to shut down the story. The hashtag was wiped off Weibo and clips of the interview owned and shared by people were deleted off the internet. In Soprano-speak, everyone and everything got whacked.  

Interviews were cancelled, because, no, that thing you saw you really didn't - officially "the mascot cannot speak." The next day, State media sent "experts" on various programs to assure "Bing Dwen Dwen could only make bubbling noises." 

Clousteauing that no one was particularly happy with being gaslit, they switched to a new tactic - bringing the mascot out to show it, in fact, could not speak. Because in person, apparently the media and public would be sure to believe it. 

  • At a group “interaction” between foreign journalists and Bing Dwen Dwen, organized by Beijing Olympic officials on Saturday, Lin Cunzhen, Beijing 2022’s art director, brushed back questions about Bing Dwen Dwen’s genderlessness and inability to speak while a person in an inflatable panda-shaped body suit bounced around for the cameras.
That didn't seem to do much, because, well, fool me once!

Reading the story I could not help but think of the oh thousand or so times, I read that racing should stress the positive; the story about a girl and her horse or the groom who loves horses. That if only we had some sort of state media to control messaging things would be well. 

Sure, positive news is fine, but the public - with stories about Derby winners who have died, positive tests, some guy named Fishman, and just about everything else - won't buy it. Just like they won't buy a stuffed mascot doesn't have a person underneath no matter how many times you tell them to. 

We have problems in our sport, but one of them isn't controlling messaging. We are what we are and trying to be something else is completely futile. In the end we might just find if we meet the problems head on and are not worried about burying them, the public might be fine with it. 

After all, despite the gaslighting and creepy uncle stuff, Bing Dwen Dwen products are still flying off the shelves. 

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