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. 

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