Last week's inaugural Super Spectacular Monday Blog got a lot of hits, and not just from Russian bots (although cпасибо to all Russian readers), so thanks so much for reading.
We're back again this week with some (way-too-long-probably) thoughts on things that caught our eye.
There was a longer form missive in the Financial Times this week about Computer Betting Teams; numbering about 20 according to the article. Some of the people quoted you’d recognize from twitter which is always pretty cool.
I don’t think a lot was new, but from the big picture I think the article and resulting stats prove something amazingly simple –
Low takeout works.
For many years the “takeout hawks” have professed that if you give better rates handle will explode. And for those in the article getting better rates, their handle has exploded. Lots of insiders fought that immutable truth with obfuscation or worse over the years, and in an irony not lost on us, some are now running places like Elite Turf Club, which does exactly that.
CRW’s don’t kill racing. HISA rules don’t kill racing. Lasix doesn’t kill racing. More rebates for good casual customers (i.e. lower takeout) won’t kill racing either (and as a point of clarity, nor will it save it). But it would raise handles. And when handles are going up for all segments of the sport, you might just find you’re on to something. The problem as I see it, is instead of being open to offer rebates for 400 million potential customers in North America, racing's brain trust has given them to 20 people.
Pivoting from things we can’t change to something we might, hitting value pick 4’s and 5’s in this day and age is pretty tough, but last Monday the bearded @ryanwillis1 was not in love with the chalk in race 2 at Western Fair, the second leg of the pick 5. He messaged (and tweeted) that the horse is a terrible claim and is a bad bet at 2-5 or so. He thought the use was probably the four horse.
I took a look at the horse in question and thought the young rascal was smoking Ajax OTB crack. The horse wasn’t going to be 2-5, but probably 1-9. His speed figures (as little as we use them in harness) were much better, he had the coveted rail on a half, he was dropping big time in class, and watching the replays he looked fine. If anyone was playing, this is a free square.
He saw something, though, and it turns out he was right. The 4 went gate to wire and paid $10, winning by open lengths. The pick five, with this 1-9 out paid $6,000 for $1, and the horses were completely logical, with $7, $4, $12 and $10 winners.
Just out of curiosity I built a little model showing the performance of this type of horse with fairly recent data. These are for thoroughbred claimers, with the highest last race Bris figure, ridden by the leading rider, dropping in class.
Because horses bet below 1-2 in this situation win about 59% of the time it’s pretty hard to blindly throw them out. But at about a 25% flat-bet loss and the leverage it gives us in serial bets, there is probably some obvious value.
But the key for me is - what if we noticed something that isn’t in the past performances like Ryan did? Say a bad work on XBTV, a bad gallop out, or in harness a bad equipment change or something that caught our eye pre-race. Their ROI might not be in the 0.70’s but be in the 0.40’s or 0.30's.
I think this case is illustrative of why structuring a ticket is so important. We ain't going to use that chalk defensively (we'd have to be dumber than a bag of hammers to want a $0.30 ROI horse on our tickets) and we have to leverage our opinion with the horse we came to bet. Keying Ryan's horse (remember it was only a $10 winner) absolutely blew up the pick 5. Even in this game with 20 cent tickets where "bet a little to win a lot" is harder to come by with the teams, it still happens. And the sharp little guy or gal can be the one hitting it.
Leaving aside that a company who spends like one hundred trillion dollars on marketing came up with the scintillating name “DK Horse”, it’s something that is probably positive, especially come Derby time. But as Crunk points out, it has a thrown together feel, like so much does in our sport.
Horse racing and the lack of trying ‘big things’ has bothered a lot of people. When it comes to expansion, new mediums, or new ideas, it always seems to be a toe-dipping exercise. Would it shock anyone if this partnership innovated the other way – for example, next year we might bet pari-mutuel golf tris or supers for the Masters, adding new zeal to sports betting, creating a new thing not for racing, but for something else?
The pari-mutuel product is good and has an edge (despite late odds changes) and the horse racing product is certainly better than same game parlays. I wish we’d think bigger.
Chris's new betting pod is up with Tommy Massis, a guy who plays sweeps different than the masses, no pun intended.
One thing the sport does really well, in my view, is Derby prep season. It's so easy to follow the happenings when races like the Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby go off back to back.
In Florida, Forte got the job done at 1-5; to me, like a 5-2 shot does. But I am not a huge fan of this horse like many are, so perhaps I am biased. I think Mage is a good horse, but there wasn't a ton of separation between them, and in fact, the 9 and 8 horse at the wire.
There's a lot of chatter on the twitter about who was better yesterday, Mage or Forte. I'm more interested in the fact a seasoned Juvy winner coming second off a layoff (where he should be really good) worked hard to win against a horse making his third lifetime start who still runs green. Take away the names, trainers and previous bias - who has more upside?
Timeform US CJ postulated on twitter that Mage has a license to get better, so there's that, but he also noted the Derby in start four is a little dicey. I usually decide who I want to bet in the Derby at around four minutes to post, but could see myself rolling the dice and betting the horse.
Over at Oaklawn, about a half hour later Angel of Empire looked very good in the Arkansas Derby, and Red Route One didn't really fire although he looked a little more interested with blinkers. Maybe that's too strong - interested like I am interested in water polo, i.e. not a whole lot. Smart cappers like CJ and Aragona were bullish on Angel of Empire and were rewarded with a nice mutuel. He was straight and strong.
I'll leave the Derby handicapping to the sharps, but in my humble opinion, I don't think anything magical happened on Saturday. Although, I don't think we're talking out of our hat to conjure that the bloom is little off the Forte rose.
HISA love on the twitter is not happening, especially when it includes Philadelphia Park. But it does spark a smile, when posters post alluding to the new testing, “Philly Park as a control group so every horse will pass.” Speaking of HISA, this week’s Chuck Simon President of HISA update is – we’re still working on it.
The simple things in racing are sometimes really simple. Last week the Meadowlands reminded drivers that being late for the races (because they’re driving at Chester on Friday afternoons) and causing driver changes after the pick 5 betting has begun messes it up for customers.
I took a whack of calls, webinars and other things this past week for work, and it struck me I didn't hear one curse word. This is about 5,894 fewer than in last week's Uncle Bill Twitter Spaces. I think this is what HR people call work-life balance.
Turfway Park's meet concluded and their field size was (dramatic pause) 9.78 Some people don't like betting poly, but if you like betting field size, there's your spot.
Open source code (code that can be accessed by the public) has done amazing things in the football space, by improving upon what has been released by data providers. People like Jessica Chapel and Dana Byerly and Crunkanator talked about it more for horse racing over the years than I because they didn’t have trouble learning basic Fortran like I did. But I wonder what this could’ve done for not only the wagering space, but stable management and claiming, too.
Third party apps, line-up optimizers for DFS, and literally hundreds of other products and services have flooded this space, all because these people could easily build things with sports data.
My back neighbor’s kids from Florida are taking extra credit Python courses in grades six and seven. Racing doesn’t seem to be prepared for this, and if we’re being honest, haven’t been for a long, long time.