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. The story goes 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 (his son's name was "Ike" named after his D-Day General, naturally). My dad replied that he watched his boy play and hard workers were 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, "We had a team of stars that were much 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 was heading to lunch at school and Mr. Burns showed up waiting for me. "Come on, it's your birthday and you have the afternoon off."

I didn't know what he had planned until he said, "It's hunting season and it's time you had your own gun," 

He purchased me a beginner rifle - single shot, bolt action - and we went into the woods where he taught 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's plenty old enough," he replied. 

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

It seems each time he took me out, it was an adventure. 

One of his friends owned a small bush plane and we flew up to a fishing spot for the weekend. I'd never been on a plane before so I had no baseline, 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 when we landed. I wasn't worried a bit. 

His toughness was completely remarkable.   

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, waited 20 minutes 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 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 good cheer until he passed away in the 1990's. 

This Memorial Day when we play the races or do what we do, I will remember Mr. Burns and this completely unique generation. With people like him Hitler never stood 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.


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