Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Changing Betting Behavior is Tough. In North America, Maybe Even Impossible

The Premier of my province came on the tee vee the other day asking the Feds to suspend their carbon tax increases which have driven up the price of home heating and gasoline to super-high levels. For a province as poor as this (Maritime provinces are poorer than the poorest US state), it does have some appeal. 

The most interesting part of the speech for me, was when he talked microeconomics. He noted, correctly, that this province being very rural can not change its behavior. People can't bike to work, take the subway, install solar panels or buy electric cars. It's the land of trucks for winter, hauling in summer; chainsaws and driving; tractors for snow removal. This place just ain't built for it. 

Over in wagering land, Crunk has spoken a little about the new exchanges trying to break into sports betting (and before them, racing) land. They simply can't get any volume. This despite, just like the carbon taxes, there's an incentive (on price) to play them. How can this be?

In my view, there are some obvious explanations. 

Regular consumers are not as price sensitive as they think, and companies take full advantage of it. I can get cable, cell phone coverage and internet for $200 per month, but the person across the street - even if he or she knows they can get this value - gets swayed by "bundles" from the big guys, and pays $350. This, in subscription models, is known as stickiness. 

I see bettors "cashing out" a bet at their sportsbook at incredibly bad prices. They know they shouldn't, and an exchange could yield them hundreds or even thousands more at the end of the year, but they go on doing it. It's just too much trouble, and the stickiness is too favorable. We see similar with rebated ADW's versus the big dogs. 

I think it's immutable truth at this point - lots and lots of casual bettors don't care a whole about price. 

I see there's a difference, however, between my province moving hell and earth to change chainsaw behavior and your average bettor who can change by line, website or ADW shopping : The infrastructure to enable those who may want to change is not mainstream or available enough. 

The rebated ADW doesn't have Churchill (they know all too well what they're doing when they withhold signals... they're like a big telco); the exchange is tied up in red tape in state after state. You or I can not click a button to cash out at $180 proceeds instead of $155 with any ease whatsoever. 

To be clear, there are people who do this regularly - the high volume, professional or semi-professional player. ITP does this. Many others do, including people in Australia who have many accounts for horse racing, and shop for best prices on exchanges and bookmakers. These mediums have grown from a paltry amount of volume to many billions. This fact is exacerbated, likely, because of the love of win betting downunder, compared to here. 

I believe the infrastructure will not change appreciably, certainly for horse racing, but likely for sports betting, too. And with that, I doubt the casual fan changes either. For the future of betting games in North America I think that portends less innovation, and in the end less overall growth, if any. 

Unlike my snow removal tractor and chainsaw neighbors, casual bettors can pivot on price and medium if they really wanted to, but they haven't and likely won't very much at all. And this industry, whether it be sports betting or racing, isn't going to do anything that gives them a push. 

Have a really nice Wednesday everyone. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

If There's a Track that Could Use, it's Mohawk

I texted a friend who is a very seasoned player last week and asked a simple question I've asked a million times. 

"Anything to look into at Mohawk?"

The response - "It's so hard to know who is trying."

Mohawk, like we've seen at several harness tracks in the new age of harness racing, has been one of the "wait until next week" tracks. Bad post, not an ideal scenario, we might be able to drop and be 1-5, we should just wait until next week.

This has happened a lot in the sport, even in the olden days (i.e. 10 or 15 years ago), when it comes to half mile track racing. Punishing a horse from the 8 who could win just wasn't done a whole lot, because in seven days the horse could get a good post and try for the win. But nowadays it has, in my view (and the view of many, like my friend above) changed to include even mile or 7/8's ovals. 

Earlier this summer the Meadowlands, in their quest to combat this phenomenon, partnered with, and track owner Jeff Gural asked participants to sign up, and share insight. There, 60 to 80 comments a night by trainers and/or drivers, give some details into the horse's intent. Even simple words like "bad post", or "missed time" tend to help guide customers through the murky morass we've seen in the sport. They can be helpful. 

Over at Mohawk, which is on, there's been no such push. Trainers like Chantal Mitchell post in studious fashion, and a few others have from time to time, but it's pretty much a ghost town. 

With the head scratching betdowns to 2-5, form reversals, and my friend who doesn't seem to have a clue who "might be trying tonight", Mohawk has been at times completely bizarre to wager the last year or so (I have stopped completely). If there's a track built for insideharness, it's probably the Campbellville oval. It'd be nice to see a Gurallian push there, as we've seen at the Meadowlands. 

Notes - 

Parx has always been a bit odd, in my view. The slots-infused purse track was reticent to reduce usurious takeout in the past, and today announced a change to their menu. They don't have one jackpot pick 5 but two! It seems like a track that takes one step forward and two steps back. Or maybe even three. 

We complain about races taken off the turf late, but in the NFL this happens, too. Nathan Peterman was supposed to start for the Bears on Sunday because the listed starter hurt his ribs in warm ups. The line moved a full 2 points, and I expect thousands of DFS teams were subbing. But out trotted Trevor Simean instead. What a miraculous healer. The big difference of course is that the NFL doesn't depend on gambling to survive like racing does. But I did find it a bit comical. 

Rich Strike lost this weekend. I just thought you'd want to know. Poor Rich Strike. 

Charles Simon is back on twitter again. I wondered if Elon Musk banned him for his view that Flightline was smart to retire from racing. Then I realized Elon is for free speech, even if it's for opinions as wrong and horrible as that was. So it must have been something else. Welcome back though Chuck!

Enjoy your Monday everyone. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

There's All Kinds of Handicapping Biases

As seasoned bettors, arguably nothing befalls our selection process more than biases. They are truly a pox on our house. 

I woke up this morning to see headlines blaring, "Kirk Cousins Shuts Down Prime Time Stigma" as he went 30 for 37 for 299 yards in a win over the New England Patriots last night. 

There's a whole lot of bias going on with most headlines nowadays, and I guess this is just one of many. But, let's break it down. 

Selection Bias

This deadly bias is where we see what we want to see, or alternatively, repeat what others are seeing (because we don't do the work). 

We see a "prime time" 11-18 record or watched a few games and saw a bad performance or two from Cousin Kirk, and we heard it on talk radio. He sucks under the lights! It has to be true, right? 

Here are a couple of Cousin's Prime Time game stats. 

36 for 49 for 422 yards, 3TD's 0 INT 

41 for 53 for 449 yards, 3TD's 0 INT 

His teams lost both those games. 

Overall, Cousins in early games throws for 260 yards per game with a QBR of 100.3 with a record of 46-31. In Prime Time he throws for 272 yards per game with a QBR of 95.9; which makes sense because national games (or playoffs) the team is likely facing a tougher opponent/defense which results in a lower QBR (and does for every QB). 

Since 2014, he ranks 9th in QBR in Prime Time, just ahead of  another QB who captained 7-9 type teams for most of his career, Matt Stafford. 

Over in horse racing land, we can see this bias a lot with rider or driver changes. We select the time the rider change worked to remember, but forget the times it didn't. It can cause us to come to some really bad conclusions. 

This, as we notice in horse racing, is the "I see what I see with my own eyes, so don't tell me anything else" bias. The problem is, our eyes remember things selectively. We should not do that. 

Recency Bias

This is one I think we do much better with in horse racing than sports radio narratives do. We often discount the performance of a horse's last race, where they don't. 

Cousins played earlier this year in Prime Time and was ineffective, probably due to a 55% pressure rate, where few signal callers do well. But it was there. It was the last game in people's minds, so last night's performance becomes an outlier, probably due to our next bias. 

Results Bias

This is an ugly one. If New England didn't have a TD called back, Cousin's performance last night might be a loss, adding to the negative record. It's another game in the "he stinks" column. Mike Florio over at Pro Football Talk will have written a story about it already. 

Results bias is at play with everything we do in horse racing. I have a friend who has been doing woeful at Mohawk, however, he hit a couple tickets lately. Those results don't mean much, other than the random, and nothing can be concluded from them. He should, and will, tread lightly, despite the result. 

We've heard it before - it's the process, not the result. We can hit something without a good process, but we can't be fooled by it, because the process matters infinitely more. 

Last up - Confirmation Bias

This too is another dandy. And it causes many of us a lot of trouble. 

I don't know how many angles I thought were right, that over time were not, but I stuck with them far too long. 

"Look at that, see I told you!" We tend to believe what we want to believe. 

I see Kirk Cousins with happy feet (I might too, as he's seen over 20% pressures in his career playing behind some bad lines), behind in game trying to make something happen as lots of 8-8 team QB's do, and throwing some woeful passes. It confirms to me that he's no damn good. But by doing that I miss some very, very good passes and performances. 

I see a horse who is 0 for 15 who lost a few photos where I bet that is a no trying nag. When in effect we should be unbiased enough to know the horse was just being beat by faster horses. 

If we look for a confirmation of our bias we will find it. We will absolutely find something that confirms our belief. But it doesn't mean we're right. 

In sports land we can hear a lot of noise, because talk radio and talk twitter needs to fill time. I'm old enough to remember when Peyton Manning was a choker because of his early playoff record; LeBron, is he a "winner"; is Eli better than Peyton because he has more "rings" (how laughable was that one). Ovechkin can't win a Cup.

Like with most things, the extremes never tell a story. The horse we bet, is what the horse is; from his races and past performance lines. There's little mystery surrounding him or her. 

There's not much mystery in Cousin Kirk. He's no Dan Marino or Aaron Rodgers, but if it's dark outside, he's no Nathan Peterman either. 

Have a great weekend everyone. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Promising and Overdelivering, Like Frenchy

Back in the 1970's in the northern tundra there was a guy in town who everyone knew, Frenchy Clouthier.

Frenchy dropped out of school early and became a mechanic, and he could fix pretty much any machine in a jiffy. He also had a propensity for being a bit of a daredevil on these machines; cars, trucks, bikes or at a place perpetually under snow cover, snowmobiles. 

One day word was getting around that Frenchy was going to do something pretty wild. Right in the middle of town he was going to cross the river - not a small river, a fairly big one - in his suped up snow machine. 

Now, this might've not been the biggest story ever in January, because the ice was four feet thick. But he was planning to do this in July when the river was, well, a river. 

A grade school friend and I got a ride from one of our parents because we had to see this spectacle. We had no idea how Frenchy was going to pull this off. We set ourselves up on the bank in a good spot, along with most of the town. 

Right on cue Frenchy barreled down the hill in his ski-doo, reaching blazing top speeds; gravel and sand flying everywhere. We held our breath, wondering if Frenchy was going to end up, metaphorically, crashing into Arnold's chicken stand

The machine's skis hit the water, and instead of plunging directly into the depths of the cold river, sinking both man and beast down to the bottom, something amazing happened. Frenchy and the snowmobile just kept going. And going and going. He reached the bank on the other side, and waved to whatever-many incredulous locals. 

When in my real life over the last twenty years I give a seminar on under promising and over delivering, I sometimes talk about Frenchy. That man surely could deliver. 

In the sport of horse racing I don't think we've ever had an underpromise. And really, who is promised what can differ, sometimes in an opposing way. 

We promise horsepeople they can qualify a horse in 45 days which is good for them, but it's injurious to bettors. 

We promise dreams about lasix free racing, but that goes against the trainer you sold your bleeder to because the horse can't go without the drug.  

We promise uniform rule books, and then we don't deliver adjudicating or the calling of these rules consistently because we treat them like guidelines. 

It's Newton's Law of Motion - we put forth something with a promise, but an equal and opposite reaction from another fiefdom pays the price, which always results in an under deliver. This sport's promises are a paradox. 

Racing, I have always believed, should have always played a whole lot of small ball. It needs to promise what can be achieved and do that one small thing well by overdelivering. Then do more of them. There is no doubt in my mind it can be done - with ADWs, track rules, consistent judging, myriad things. However, I think the culture is so broken and so overcome with the fiefdoms, and arguments, and intransigence, it can't embrace it. 

Business is at times one of the most pure, simple vocations. If you are telling customers you're going to cross a river, you need to make sure you get to the other side. 

Have a great Monday everyone. 

Friday, November 11, 2022

Racing's Forever A/B Testing Problem

I was listening to a twitter spaces last week, and I think it was Keith Bush (@thoreval) who brought up the concept of properly testing takeout rates to receive actionable data. That's a good question. 

I was reminded of these testing questions just this past week when training for a revamp of a tech platform - you know, new stuff from the smart people. The sales team and engineers had been working on it for tens of thousands of man hours costing millions and millions of dollars, and when it was released, it was met with a thud. At the training session I thought there was going to be a riot. There was no feedback loop, no preliminary testing, nothing was nimble, it was just built as an end product.  

The more noise you have, the more insular you are, the more complex the decision making tree, the more cooks in the kitchen, is (and always has been) inversely correlated to accomplishing your testing goals. 

Meanwhile for a complete shock to the system at the other extreme, I log onto twitter last night, where I see people talking about how twitter is now broken. I don't know if that's true or not, but this loop is certainly the diametrical opposite. 

Musk buys twitter, seemingly thinks of a few things to test on the way to work, and an hour later the engineering team has it out to the world of 200 million or so users. There's real-time feedback, and they can reverse the change after a sandwich at lunch. The team keeps going in a game of whack-a-mole, or shuts it down completely and tries something new. All of this is done transparently. 

This type of testing has never been done in human history in this way. Early on, there's ample evidence it's stupidity, and maybe it's a certainty business books we geeks read for fun will conclude so. But since we have no test-case for comparison, who the hell knows.  

Racing, as we all know, doesn't have a single person owning the entity. And, with its built-in protectionism this sport is not even approaching my training session company in terms of testing and feedback of policy change.  Achieving an A/B test on lasix, or takeout, or track off-times, or a hundred or a thousand others things to do with wagering is where ITP responds with his laughing Mike Tyson gif - it's not happening. 

This is a fascinating world and change is happening in real-time right in front of our mugs. It'll be written and spoken about for generations. What a time to be alive. 

But racing's forever A/B testing problem ensures it won't be a part of it; the good parts, or the bad. It's simply stuck in its lane. It can't change from blinkers to an open even if it wanted to. 

Have a nice weekend everyone. 


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Election Wagering Recaps

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Another night of election wagering is completed - or not really completed, as the country who brought us the loom, the tractor, the hulu hoop and the iPhone takes days and days to count ballots - and it was about as advertised. It's really, really hard to bet properly now. 

With early voting, state by state differences in the counting of votes, and shifting demographics and opinion (Florida is red and so is Ohio now), it was terribly difficult to form mathematical based decisions. One thing I do know, and this has happened and probably will continue to, fading a narrative wins money. 

People getting home from work and moving the markets heavily against Democrat candidates were Joe Kennedy shoe shine boys giving stock tips. That's always good to fade, and if you did, you were in great shape before any vote was counted. In fact, you could've made some decent money, because the R's were overbet. 

But, and this is an issue for us folks who actually want to get a bet down - it was hard to get a bet down. One site I use was 404 errored for hours. There is a obviously a market for betting these elections - 404 errors because of too much traffic means offer more of it, not less. If some exchange somewhere did this properly, like Betfair did long ago on theirs where you could get a $50,000 bet filled, they'd probably do 100 million or more in handle. But sadly, it's 1991 out there, and 404 errors still happen. 

Luckily (although there's still counting going on) I did get a wager down against Kari Lake in Arizona at plus 400 right before a 404, so that might give me some pocket change when all is said and done, but it's close. 

As for my betting results, I played fine, and since it was harder to get a bet down, and I didn't feel comfortable, I didn't spend much. I got great CLV on Oz at +150, who ended up -200. I don't mind losing good bets. I bet a couple of longshots that got bit by vote ticket splitting, small, so that was meh. I took some value on the D in Nevada a few weeks ago, and she looks like she might pull it out by a hair. I got beat in a house race that I thought was a slam dunk, so that was bad. 

Polling error did bite me, where I am close to losing a great CLV bet of a margin in Iowa. The books moved it down 3 points after I bet, and I am still teetering right on the edge. Again, great CLV, but possibly a bad result. 

Hell, this is a night when the New York Times "needle" went down for an hour for track maintenance. Why? Because they programmed this remarkable piece of machinery (it truly is programmed amazingly well, so kudos) fat-fingered with Louisiana as Democrat. Strange things happen when betting elections. 

Last up, when you get into the weeds of betting one thing doesn't escape me - this political business is cutthroat, dirty and in some ways disturbing at its highest levels. But other than looking at numbers I did watch some coverage. I saw a picture of a successful businessman running for Congress with his beaming mom -  a mom who escaped Saigon in the 70's. I saw a clip of a woman running who was homeless and strung out on every drug in the book, change her life and run for a seat in Pennsylvania. 

As dirty and annoying the highest levels can be, the grassroots is wonderful, and we're lucky to live in countries where that can happen. 

As always thanks for reading. Back to horse racing this week. Have a super Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Evolution of Election Betting Mirrors Other Betting Markets, Like Horse Racing

"Pssst, a friend of mine was at Philadelphia Park last month and this shipper was large off a no chance trip, can you go to Belmont and bet me $50?

The horse was 9-1, because the Andy Serling of the day just saw a horse moving up in class with an average running line and Beyer. Belmont Slim, who sells tip sheets outside the south entrance, has the horse nowhere. It's nice to have an edge on a $20 mutuel. 

Now, of course, everyone sees that shipper because we can call up a race replay. We know the horse, the trainer's stats, and just about everything else. David Aragona made the horse 3-1 in the morning line and picks him. The live, supposedly sneaky wise guy horse is 2-1. It's just the way the betting market evolved. 

With tonight's mid-term election upon us in the US, we see a whole lot of the same thing. 

In 2004, for example, the Andy Serling of the day was the "election person" on the TV networks. This person was telling you Florida, between John Kerry and George Bush was "too close to call" an hour into the results, when it in fact wasn't. But with not much to go on, and no professional teams betting elections, the masses bet that opinion. For people who were digging deeper, like our friends betting that long-ago Philly Park shipper, there was gold in those hills. George Bush was 4-5 in Florida, when he should've been 1-9. 

This election was quaint, not quant. Rumors of a leaked exit poll being bet by big money on one exchange, Tradesports, but not on another at Betfair. Oh, the good old days, when bookies made the Giants -7.5 in New York, and -6.5 a couple hundred miles down the road. 

Time after time, from 2000 onwards to, say, around 2018, we saw quite a bit of that in elections. The rudimentary was bet, the nuanced was not; holes were not plugged by money; efficiency was a concept, not a reality. 

Then, with markets attracting more and more money, and election predictions being a thing for the public quants, information and opinion got a whole lot smarter. 

In 2022, we're not having to beat the 2004 analyst spewing silly narratives, we have to beat the New York Times needle (which is good), or others benchmarking and modeling with infinitely more precision (and in election betting, importantly less passion or bias). 

There are certainly more flies in the ointment today compared to yesterday. Early voting, mail-in voting and how it's counted by state all have to be looked at in a deep way. This allowed us to bet Joe Biden in Pennsylvania at +400 late election night in 2020. Until the rest of the country catches up to places like Florida who built a proper system, these edges will pop up. 

But, like that Philly Park shipper who aired and paid $20, it's nothing like 15 or 20 years ago. As betting markets mature, their predictive nature gets better and better. It's that way in horse racing, and it's that way in elections, too. It's kinda that way in all betting markets. 

If you're playing tonight, enjoy the evening. Despite the top line numbers and sentiment, I am sure there are edges to be had. Hoping you're on the right side of them. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Bye Bye Flightline & Other Notes

Another Breeders' Cup has been run, and it appears it was well received (as it usually is).  The collection of talent each year is fantastic, and deep fields (generally) keep us engaged and on our horseplaying toes. 

The star of the show was Flightline, the John Sadler trained superstar, who after six starts has headed to stud. Both the former - "he's a superstar" - and latter - "off to stud" - has generated a lot of discussion. 

Best ever talk always seems to filter its way through the chatterverse (we're fans after all), and there is a real recency bias to it. Arrogate was jaw dropping ...... and so was American Pharoah, Ghostzapper or <insert another horse here>. In terms of sheer brilliance and speed I suppose Flightline could be the fastest horse in memory, but that's a matter of opinion. I do know he would've been 1-5 in the Sprint, Mile or Classic this year, and that's certainly saying something. We should be able to judge him better at the end of 2023, as he builds his body of work. 

It does strike your average fan as curious that a horse would retire after so few races, especially when they see multiple millions to race for in Dubai, at Gulfstream in the Pegasus, next year's $6M Classic, or at the LIV Golf type event in Saudi Arabia. 

It also is somewhat perplexing that a sport who seemingly pays so much attention to breakdowns would breed horses who race so infrequently. But as we all know, there is more money in not racing than racing, and if you're a fan of this sport, you've embraced a lot of lip service and this is old hat. 

Could this horse have moved the needle if he raced for years? 

Although I am never one for "saving the sport" talk, because in my view that's silly, I surmise he could have helped. 

Would boxing be more popular today if it stuck with its historical structure, where great boxers were known and fight all comers at regular intervals? Surely it would be. People get to know a certain boxer, and love him or hate him, you pay for that pay per view, or head to a nearby bar to watch. It drives eyeballs and revenue and keeps us engaged with the sport. What they did with boxing will be studied in business books for five hundred years and it won't be in a good way. 

But it's how the business works. Breed horses, get black type, make a whack of money, and invest the money into more horses. Or in Mattress Mack's case, into more horses, and sponsoring every racing event or venue known to man. 

Regardless, Flightline was introduced to a few million people for a shade over two minutes on Saturday in prime time. And then he was gone. 


I had a very unmemorable BC at the betting windows. I usually catch something, but all I caught was a draining bankroll. This unlike Will Nefzger, who parlayed a strong opinion on Elite Power into riches. I thought that was a superior key, because not only was Jackie's Warrior the key, B tickets were including (primarily) Kimari, who was a fairly strong second choice in the betting offshore the whole week. When you pitch the top two, you get paid. 

Will threaded the needle on his other choices, but it shows the power of leveraging a strong opinion. Will didn't want back ups with Jackie's Warrior, he wanted a $10 pick 6 with a horse a lot of people weren't using. It illustrates the concept well - instead of betting $200 win on Elite Power, or a $200 double of Elite Power with Malathaat - he punched a pick 6. Just like we would not bet a defensive $200 win saver on Jackie's Warrior or Nest, there's no need to in the pick 6 either in this particular case. Well done. 

Chuck Simon has been on fire on twitter the last few days. Gotta love him. 

The BC morning lines are a tough job. I thought Nick Tammaro did some good work. Seriously, is there a more thankless job than morning line maker in this sport?

I pitched Modern Games. He couldn't cross the Atlantic twice and win. Until he did. 

The NBC feed was built for the fan at home, because damn, if you bet the exotics in the Classic you were left guessing. Coincidentally, when a horse was leading by several at the Meadowlands the last few years they'd do the same thing - zoom in on the winner. But they asked some bettors what they thought, they complained, and now we get the pan shot. NBC probably should do that, too. 

I think there's no such thing as a wise-guy horse anymore. And really, this year's wise guy horses were all no good anyway. One anti-wise guy horse - Wonder Wheel - knocked me out. They win a lot of the time, and I'll probably continue not having them. 

Thoughts with Dave Litfin. I hope he got to watch some of the races. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Making Harness Bettable Again by Enforcing Simple Rules

There's an election going on in the States, and one of the big issues is crime. 

I wonder if the usual plays out - one party is too cold, but the other one is too hot and suddenly we see people in jail for 20 for stealing a pack of gum three times. The pendulum often swings too far, in both directions. 

Over in harness racing, we see about the same thing when it comes to enforcing the rules on the books. 

On one side of the border we have the Meadowlands, which (rightly!) worked hard on the racing rules to enforce the closing of holes. However, like the three strikes and you're out folks, it looks like this has gone too far. Holes should be allowed for the free flow of racing, and to be used for cover, or to get a horse out of the way so you can pull first over, not simply closed just because every hole has to. 

Meanwhile in Canada, Woodbine Entertainments Bagdad Bob-Sgt Shultz routine of "There is no problem, and I see nothing" is the other end of the spectrum. 

The hole giving at Mohawk has been almost comical; a Monty Python skit, with horses. 

Just this past week or so I saw a driver want to give a leading driver a hole so badly, he choked the horse down. On another occasion, a non-regular was completely screwed when another driver leaned so far back to give the leading driver (with ironically a horse who was awful and backed into him) a hole, the race looked like some sort of pig wrestling competition. 

At the Meadowlands things are too hot, at Mohawk things are too cold. That's probably too soft, things at Mohawk are positively glacial. 

People might say that Ontario has slots, so who cares. Maybe they're right. Just sign the checks and don't worry about how badly the product has degraded.  

But for those who actually want to gamble on it - I hear these strange beings are called "customers" - we might want to do something about it, no?

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Selling of Picks

 A lot of us are left-brained people where things have to make some sort of sense in the flowchart that is our brains. If we can't compartmentalize something we get kind of shaky and uncomfortable, and possibly do crazy things, like bet into a non-mandatory jackpot super high five. 

One thing many of us can't understand is why someone who can win at sports betting would sell their picks. 

In the case of the NFL, for example, we have (primarily) two outcomes - we beat the spread, or we don't. We're not deciphering Python code or landing someone on Mars. If you, as a pick seller, are giving someone else your picks instead of wagering on them with your money machine, I can't intellectually come to a conclusion as to why. 

Really, in sports betting at least, we likely know the person selling their "pick" isn't being completely honest. It truly is the only explanation, in my view. 

In horse racing, pick selling in this traditional sense (in this day and age, at least) is really not a thing. But using our best left brains with the same framework we used above, I think a case can be made it actually does make sense for a winning player to sell their opinion. 

Where the sports betting pick seller who actually wins has to hit a button - $500 on New England plus 4 - in horse racing it isn't that easy.  

The pick of the 6 in the 7th race is filled with simply more questions. How do we use the horse? What are the final odds? Did the surface change? Is the horse dead on the board? Did we miss something with the other nine or ten horses that the will pays show us we missed?

Even if you're the best handicapper in the world, picking that live horse is only part of the battle. Betting it properly is the rest. It's why you could be the best handicapper in the world and be flat broke. You might as well try to make something with your skill, shouldn't you? 

What I find interesting about our sport, versus the seedy underworld of scammers in the sports betting space, is that there are "winning pickers" out there who might not have the mental make up or skill to win long-term, but are providing players with some excellent ideas and content. Many times for free. 

Think if horse racing had what sports betting has - lower juice, tons of data, and a massive audience. That would provide some of our sharpest pickers a market to actually sell into. And in my view, unlike in sports betting, it would make perfect sense. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

It's Fun to Watch Casual Football Bettors Move Towards Us, the Horseplayer

We've got to analyze the upcoming 9 furlong turf race and we notice the chalk won against a similar group at the same distance a month ago, wire to wire. The splits were all around 25 and the last eighth was a sprint home. We're fading the horse for a horse who, in the same race, came 6th. 

We knew the leader got its own way and has a huge turn of foot. We know our horse, if circumstances were different is easily as fast. He got stopped up at the quarter, then had to take the 4 high path when the outside path wasn't good in the first place. And he's a bit more of a plodder. 

This is done each and every day by us, as a matter of course. 

Meanwhile in football, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Detroit Lions 24-6 and our Cowboy minus 7 bet was pure gold. Gold I tell you. I'm gonna quit my job because I am so smart.

It's really not that way anymore. The people watching the Dallas Detroit game are analyzing it now. Just like we handicap, and have handicapped horse races for every day of our lives. 

Dallas was leading 10-6 in the 4th. Detroit scored what looked to be a go ahead touchdown. Instead of it being called a touchdown and then changed on review to 1st and goal from the one -inch line, the line judge ran to overrule the back judge's touchdown call and marked the ball (wrongly) at the one yard line. Detroit rushed to the line, and fumbled. 

After they got the ball back, still at ten to six, the refs missed an obvious penalty that would've made Detroit first and ten from about the Dallas 35. Instead it was 3rd and 11 and the Lions QB threw a pick, resulting in a Dallas TD. One drive later and another almost pick 6, Dallas won 24-6. 

The game is not a game, the one event is not an event, it's a turf race. 

Adjusted game scores are a thing. And they're pretty simple to understand - they're just an adjusted speed figure, or performance figure; again things that we've done in our heads or on paper for years. 

Serious sports bettors have adjusted and do so, for games based on circumstance, injury, etc. They've also tried to gauge a "true score". But now it's in the masses. Everyone looks at it. Everyone is doing it. 

To us, though, it's just another horse race. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone. 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Bettor Education is So Difficult

I was listening to a betting podcast last week, and the two protagonists spoke about how difficult it was to educate sports bettors on some basic ideas. In this case, it was line shopping, i.e. getting the best price (or the lowest juice). 

The pod guest runs, which is a cool resource that curates all lines and gives you the best deals for the side or total you want. He noted (from countless conversations and comments) things are going better, but he still sees this reticence of buying in to how important it is. 

We see a similar reserved view in horse racing when it comes to takeout. Or ticket construction, or odds lines, or getting the best of it. 

We're all not dumb. We can do basic math. We know if we get paid $110 on a bet instead of $105, over time we will be many thousands ahead. 

We also know that almost every person who is a success at sports betting or racing concentrates on such things. And again, unless we have some sort of mental block, we know following the process of successful people is smart. 

Why is this so hard? I don't know for certain, but I can think of a few theories. 

I think many of us are so used to losing, we can't see how just getting a fraction better price can make a difference. 

I think many of us are paralyzed by liking an opinion so much, we are unable to grasp the probability it will lose. "I'll bet that game at any price!"

And, I suppose, many just want action. Price is this weird thing those betting geeks look for. 

I think - and this is particular to racing, but also applies to sports betting with wild bets or parlays - with exotics we can make a score that was not a mathematically a sound bet, but since it hit we repeat the process, hoping to hit again. We take a lot of false signals as bettors and make them immutable truth. 

I believe whether we're betting horses or sports, setting the table properly gives us a chance to win. 

That means taking advantage of deposit bonuses, signing up for multiple books, getting rebates, betting low takeout and passing on the high, and working on making proper tickets. I think those provide us with the habits needed to get the best of it, enjoy the game more, and at the end of the year have more money than we started with. 

I know that's hard, and many of us struggle with it, but in my view it's the only path that makes any sense. If we're not trying to get better at betting, we're doing ourselves a disservice. 

Have a nice Monday everyone. 

Friday, September 30, 2022

The Rulez

It's a fun day on the twitter today, because of a rider named Christophe Soumillion, who, with his best Tom Wilson impression, decided to elbow another rider off a horse. Not while they were hanging around the paddock, or behind the gate. No, while they were going 35 miles per hour. 

Seeing this in some states would be considered attempted murder, one might expect a lengthy suspension and fine, and I guess that's kinda what he got - a two month ban. 

However, this two month ban starts after the biggest meet in France, including the Arc. 

Meanwhile, over in another sport, it was tough to watch Dolphins' QB Tua Tagovailoa spun to the turf with the force one would expect when a 320 man who can bench press several moose spins you to the ground. It appears he's okay, like our rider friend above, but that was scary, and could've been career ending, or worse. 

In Tua's case, what happened was something the league cracked down on a few years ago. When a lineman grabs a QB, he can not, under any circumstance, spin him around to the ground with any force. It seemed to work, and linemen were careful in those particular situations, avoiding the 15 yard personal foul. Then the league and refs, bowing to coaching and fan pressure, pretty much stopped calling it. 

In racing's case, we have yet another, in my view, complete joke. In a sport where riders take days over winter vacations with the fam, or Christmas, the powers that be let this man ride for millions, then he can take his vacation. For potentially killing someone. 

People complain about the rules. But we are not complaining about the rules, we're complaining about the rulez; this muddy, inconsistent, sometimes maddening morass of what, we do not know. It'd be nice if they stuck with it, and called things right, because not calling it right can have terrible consequences, but I'm not holding my breath. 

Have a nice Friday everyone. 

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 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. 

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