August '99 Archived Newsletters
Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter Saturday, August 7, 1999
The objective of this newsletter (ezine) is for you to improve your bottom line when it comes to wagering on the thoroughbreds.
Probably the one common theme you'll find from week to week is the concept of value. In this day and age of simulcasting, there is an absolute plethora of races we can be exposed to as potential wagering situations.
In my opinion, the only way to stay ahead of this game and be among the small percentage of winning players is to focus on value, value, value.
What is value? That's the 64 dollar question. I like to define it as simply a return of more than you would originally have thought you would get before seeing actual odds. Of course the best way to be able to do this is to make your own morning line odds, but you can also use the track program morning line odds or a software program's odds if you like.
As a race you are thinking of playing nears, if you see that a win wager on a particular horse will return more than the morning line or your line, that's called value. And the same holds true for an exotic wager.
If you calculate that your 3-horse box exacta will yield payoffs of greater than morning line parlays, you have value. For instance, let's assume that you like 3 horses with morning line (again, yours or the track program's) odds of A. 5-2, B. 7-2 and C. 4-1.
The parlays of AB, AC, BA, BC, CA and CB would be respectively, $32, $35, $32, $45, $35 and $45. If you have access to late potential payoffs, you can match up parlay and actual payoffs to determine the relative values.
The simple way to figure what a parlay will pay is to take one horse's odds, say horse A with odds of 5-2 and translate that into an actual dollar amount, which we'll say is $7.00. Of course it could be anywhere in the range of $7.00 to $7.80. Then to get the parlay payoff for AB, you would multiply $7.00 by the payoff amount of 7-2, or $9.00, divided by 2 (again 7-2 can in actuality payoff anywhere from $9.00 to $9.80). The result of multiplying $7.00 by 9 divided by 2 or 4.5 equals $31.50. If the combination of AB or BA is more than $31 or $32, you have value. Even if those combinations are in the neighborhood of $31 or $32, you still have a pretty good value wager.
There are any number of opinions on what makes for a value bet, but one thing is for sure. Consistently betting on favorites, especially chalk favorites is a losing proposition. As you know, favorites lose approximately 67% or two-thirds of the time. The only time I will place a win bet on a favorite is if I think he is an overlay (a higher price than I would expect) and has a tremendous edge in matchup of running styles.
Another way to keep from maintaining a positive ROI (Return On Investment) is to handicap the way the masses do, and the way the masses handicap today is by focusing on speed figures. There are a number of speed figures available today, including the Beyer speed figures located in the Daily Racing Form, computer program speed figures, track program speed figures, as well as the Ragozin and Thorograph Sheets.
If speed figures were the ultimate answer, no one would have day jobs, but as you already know, there is no one single answer to making money on the thoroughbreds. To join the 5% club of players who are consistently in the black and maintain a positive ROI, you must have more ammunition in your arsenal than speed figures alone.
You must be able to matchup each field and make some key decisions. Is it a playable race because there appears to be value? Is there a running style matchup that favors a particular horse? Has there recently been a track bias that would favor a particular running style regardless of speed figures?
Track biases can singlehandedly render speed figures useless. Have you ever seen an early speed bias created by heavy rain and a sloppy racetrack? I've seen 9-race cards in which every single horse who obtained the lead within the first quarter of the race went on to be first at the wire also.
This is why I recommend not wagering on races held on sloppy or muddy tracks. There is too often a bias created by mother nature. Either a track that heavily favors early speed, closers, the inside path or the outside paths.
The bottom line is that depending soley or mostly on speed figures will not get you where you want to be, which is in the black once and for all. One of the plays I talk about in my book is the Profile play.
The Profile horse is basically a sprinter who in his last race made a certain move on the turn and then faded back out of the picture to finish worse than 2nd. Often, and with the correct running style matchup next outing, this move will setup a horse for a strong next-out performance. But due to his fade down the stretch, that horse will receive a poor speed figure for his last race. And of course, if he does win, he will pay a solid price.
When Profile horse followers go to the window to collect on a successful wager, they will see some of their competition scratching their heads and wondering how in the world that horse could win when 3 other horses in the race had far superior speed figures in their last races.
One thing is for sure, the last race speed figures are not always indicative of the final outcome. And that is where you get value, by beating the horses that everyone else is playing.
See you next week; clear skies and fast tracks.
Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter Saturday, August 14, 1999
What separates winning horseplayers from losing ones? Is it a lack of knowledge? A lack of a proper bankroll? A lack of ability to concentrate? While all of these things are absolutely instrumental for success, none of them alone will make the difference.
Wagering ability or lack thereof is what will have the ultimate influence on success or failure. Unfortunately, there is no set of absolute guidelines or rules for becoming a sharp, intelligent bettor, partly due to intangibles like personality and emotions, which can weigh heavily on one's success or failure rate.
I'll get back to those intangibles later, but for now, let's talk about the kind of wagering that provides us with the best opportunity to stay in the black month in and month out. I'll tell you this. The members of the 5% club are not win-bet grinders who strive to make a certain amount per day, say $100, by making win bets in conjunction with a minimal risk money management plan.
When a professional horseplayer looks at his ledger at the end of the year, he will very likely point to a number of big scores that were responsible for the bulk of his profits. Horseplayers who are most likely to lose over the long haul are the ones who attempt to grind out a certain amount each day, as safely as possible. It may sound a little scary to some, but the facts are that this is an iffy game. Those that beat it recognize that they will probably have to do so by connecting on some big hits, usually in the form of exotic wagers.
Big hits, however, can have different meanings to different players. I'm not saying that to be successful at this game you have to have a huge bankroll and start playing exactas and trifectas wildly so you can be a member of the 5% club. A big exacta or trifecta hit for one player may be four or five hundred dollars, while for another, it may be ten or more times that amount.
To use baseball as an analogy, a conservative manager may have the philosophy that the walk, bunt, steal and sacrifice fly method is a good way to push across a run and get a lead on his opponent. A more aggressive manager, on the other hand, will want to go for the 3-run homer. The winning manager today will have as many home run hitters as he can in his lineup and will encourage them to go for the big blast with men in scoring position.
To be a successful horseplayer, one can look at baseball for another analogy. A major league player is considered to be a terrible hitter if he gets 2 hits in every 10 at bats. Yet if he raises his level to just one more hit in those 10 at bats, he is considered a great hitter. One measly hit more and he is transformed from a lousy hitter into a premier hitter. If you are batting .200 and can raise your level so that you get one more hit per 10 wagers, you will also become a winner.
If a horseplayer gets discouraged during the inevitable losing streaks that we must all sustain from time to time, his emotions may begin to have a negative effect on his ability to succeed over the long haul. He or she must have the frame of mind in which there is an assurance that it's a numbers game and the scales will tip in their favor soon because of their handicapping skills and wagering ability.
Although there are no absolute rights and wrongs in betting, I will stand by my philosophy, because I believe it is superior to that held by the majority of horseplayers, which is none at all. The typical handicapper has one fatal flaw. He spends 95% of his energy on the handicapping process of making selections and the remaining 5% on deciding how to bet them. It should indeed be a 50-50 proposition. Knowing how to bet is every bit as important as knowing how to handicap.
When a player has narrowed down a field to a short list of contenders, he must then decide into which of the betting pools he must put his money: win, place, show, or exotic. There is an easy answer to part of this dilemma. Place and show wagering are almost always a path to losing. The mathematics of this game is such that place and show bets almost always return less than win bets over a period of time. They offer only the illusion of safety. The choice between win and exotic betting though can be not only difficult but crucial.
One way to determine which way to go is to look at your key horse and the potential exacta payoffs using him on top. Let's say your win bet would be in the amount of $30 and that the odds on your horse were 4 to 1. This would mean that for that $30 win wager, your return would be $150. You then could look at the probable exacta payoffs you would receive if you bet an amount on each that would result in that same $150 return.
If the exactas you would consider playing with the horse you are thinking of betting to win had probable payoffs of $30, $40 and $50, then you would need to bet $10, $8 and $6 respectively to get a return of approximately the same $150 for each wager. Since your outlay for exactas would be $24 compared to your outlay of $30 for the win bet, you may want to opt for the exotic wagers in this case.
Using this methodology and if the horse's odds are high enough and the field is small enough, one could potentially cover every remaining horse in the field with structured exactas that will cost less than the win wager. The only way to find out is to do the work. There is generally a lot of time between races, and this would be a good way to spend some of that time.
The best way to study a race is not to try to find a slim mathematical edge. It's to see if there is an opportunity for a big score. If you uncover a horse who is a big price, the prudent decision would be to play to win. Whatever the amount is of your prime wager would be put on the nose to win. In effect, when your horse wins at big overlay odds, this is a big score. If the odds on your definite selection are hovering between 7-5 and 3-2, it would certainly not be advisable to play this horse to win. Exotics would have to be looked at carefully to see if there is enough value to warrant any wager at all.
That's it for this week. I'll finish up on this topic in the next issue of Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter. Until then...clear skies and fast tracks.
Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter Saturday, August 21, 1999
Last week I talked about wagering ability as being the primary factor that will ultimately spell the difference between success and failure with regard to a long-term positive ROI, or Return On Investment. I also stressed the importance of going for the long ball or big score when it presents itself. And of course, a big score can vary in size from player to player.
A big score can be achieved generally in 2 ways: a win bet if the odds are high, and an exotic bet. There will be occasions when both wagers will be made. If you have singled out one specific horse that you really think has a great chance to win and it's going off at big odds, then a win bet in the amount of your whole prime race allotment would probably be appropriate. If he wins, your return would be in the category of a big score. If, on the other hand, that solid choice is at mid-range odds, you may very well want to go for win and exotic wagering.
What do I mean by big odds? Something over 10 to 1. Anything less than that and you may want to include an exotic wager in the form of an exacta, trifecta, quinella or daily double. That's why it's important to always know all the possible wagers available for each race you are contemplating constructing a wagering plan for. If you opt to play exactas, the way to focus on making a score is to tilt the wagers so that you have 50 to 60 percent of your plays on one or two prime combinations that will yield a large return. You would also make smaller plays on peripheral combinations that would produce a small profit or enable you to break even if one of them connected.
Let's say you have narrowed down a field to three contenders. You like them in the order of 1-2-3, with #1 being the horse you really think has a great chance to win at decent odds. If, for example, your prime bet allotment is currently $60, you may want to structure your exactas in the following manner: 1-2 ($36), 1-3 ($12), 2-1 ($12), or 60%-20%-20%. If your prime bet allotment is currently $20, you would posssibly structure your wager this way: 1-2 ($12), 1-3 ($4) and 2-1 ($4). In this way, you will simultaneously take a shot for a big win while protecting yourself against the most likely adverse results.
While taking this stance of an aggressive wagering strategy, one must realize that they must also live with a potentially low hit frequency. Since no player can afford too long of a dry spell, the crucial part of this wagering plan is the saver bets. You may want to have a lot of them. This way, if your analysis of the race is at least partially correct, you can still make some money or at least not get hurt.
Consider again the hypothetical race above in which we wagered the combos of 1-2, 1-3 and 2-1. Let's say that the odds of the horses were 6-1, 10-1 and 12-1 respectively. You may be annoyed if a real nice 2-3 or 3-2 exacta came in for $230 with you having nothing on it. You may want to play it something along these lines instead: 1-2 ($26), 1-3 ($12), 2-1 ($8), 3-1 ($6), 2-3 ($2), 3-2 ($2), 1-4 ($2), 1-5 ($2).
You should try to maintain the same aggressive yet cautious wagering strategy in each form of exotic bets. In daily doubles where 1 is your top choice in each race and 2 is your second choice, you may construct this wager: 1-1 ($36), 1-2 (12), 2-1 ($12), or water it down more as we did in the exacta situation above.
Trifecta wagering is somewhat more complicated due to the nature of the bet itself. Since you are dealing with the place and show spots, unexpected results can and do occur often enough that you have to do more hedging in these wagers. For instance, a horse that you may rate 3rd may be nipped out by a horse you rate 5th. Or that same horse may have a jockey aboard who likes to whip and drive for the win, but doesn't aggressivly push to get the show money. I've seen this over and over again, especially with well-established riders who don't care about 3rd place money other than in big stakes races. They don't lose any sleep just because they didn't bother to urge their horse enough to stay 3rd so you could collect on a trifecta wager.
Let it suffice to say that marginal horses can slip into third place on a trifecta ticket pretty easily. It is a mistake to play a trifecta without making a distinction between your top horses and your marginal ones. If you place a 3-horse box ($6 for a $1 wager) or a 4-horse box ($24 for a $1 wager), you are making no distinction whatsoever. Let's say you locate a race with enough value to consider constructing a trifecta wagering plan. Such a race should be a large enough field and have at least one of your prime contenders at generous odds.
If your order of preference is 1-2-3-4-5, your trifecta wagers may look something like this:1-2-3 ($14)1-3-2 ($14)1-2-4 ($4)1-2-5 ($4)1-3-4 ($4)1-3-5 ($4)1-4-2 ($2)1-4-3 ($2)1-5-2 ($2)1-5-3 ($2)2-1-3 ($2)3-1-2 ($2)2-3-1 ($2)3-2-1 ($2)(or half this much if you are playing $1 trifectas, which of course if successful would net you half of the payoff).
Here are some $1 combos and costs:
123/1234/1234 - $18
12/12345/12345 - $24
1/234567/234567 - $30
12/12345/1234567 - $40
123/123456/123456 - $60
Obviously, this can be a big help if you find a horse or two you really like that is or are entered in a race offering trifecta wagering. As long as at least one of your contenders hits the board at good odds of over 10 to 1, this wager is a good one and can result in a big score. As everyone knows, this is a tough game and it's no easy feat to be right a high percentage of the time. The beauty of exotic wagers is that they allow you to maintain a positive ROI even if you connect on them only a small percentage of the time.
Clear skies and fast tracks.
Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter Saturday, August 28, 1999
This week my topic is Speed Figures. Speed Figures and exotic wagering are the two primary innovations that have radically changed the thoroughbred game in the last decade. Before the advent of these two factors, bettors would focus mostly on the 3 C's, Class, Condition, and Consistency and they would isolate a single horse for a win wager.
Speed figures came front and center in 1992, when the Daily Racing Form asked Andrew Beyer to supply them with his private speed figures and contracted him and his associates to provide them with speed figures for every horse at every thoroughbred racetrack in the USA as well as some in Canada. Before that time, except for when these same figures appeared in the ill-fated Racing Times for a year before it went out of business, only Beyer and his associates and friends had access to them.
There were others making their own figures also, such as Len Ragozin and Jerry Brown, a former disciple of Ragozin's, who to this day have followings and believers in their "Sheets" and "Thorograph Sheets" respectively. Unlike the Beyer speed figures which are free with the Racing Form, "Sheets" for a day's card at a track of your choice will set you back about $25 or $30.
While back in the last decade bettors who had access to speed figures could have a decided edge on their competition, today there are speed figures in abundance. Just about every track program has speed figures as do most software programs. The result is that handicappers everywhere are zeroing in on speed figures as their primary, if not sole, handicapping tool.
With the proliferation of speed figures, which are the best or are they all the same? First of all, they are not all the same and I strongly prefer the Beyer speed figures over any others. The Beyer figures are right in front of you, are readily accessible in the Daily Racing Form and are probably the first and foremost in accuracy.
Are they infallible? Andy Beyer himself will be the first to tell you the answer to that.....a resounding NO! As a matter of fact, the main reason today for longshot payoffs is because horses with a supposed heavy advantage in Beyer figures go down the tubes. Why is this? Because no speed figures can possibly measure things like track biases, track condition, weight shifts, jockey determination or lack thereof, eventful trips, moves-within-a-race, and of course today's pace matchup.
That's why moves-within-a-race like the Profile and WIR moves I talk about in "Calibration Handicapping" are so extremely valuable. Because of the way they ran their last race, these types of horses generally receive inferior speed figures than do horses who finish closer to the winner.
Speed figures are not a mystery. They simply combine a speed rating and a track variant and express how fast a horse ran in past races. Period. Beyer speed figures are so accurately calculated that for all intents and purposes, they eliminate the need for stressing class, because they measure the same intangible that class does.
But since they measure final times they measure nothing else, and that's where the hole lies that can allow us to "read between the lines." Most of you know by now that horses go in and out of form in "cycles." It's a good bit more valuable to be able to find a horse who is just entering a good form cycle than to play a horse with a big last figure who may be about to begin a down cycle. That's the advantage of spotting patterns or trends and moves-within-a-race that will often indicate a horse's next-out readiness that is camouflaged to the general public.
A Daily Racing Form computer analysis of over 10,000 last-race Beyer speed figures produced a vivid answer to the question, "when do the figures indicate a clear-cut advantage?" The answer is that a top figure of 3 or more over the second-best figure in the field constitutes a genuine advantage horse. The analysis also showed that a 1 to 2 point advantage was pretty much inconsequential. I should point out, however, that blindly betting such horses will no longer yield a positive ROI because they are used so fervently by the betting public.
One interesting pattern of Beyer speed figures that was discovered in the computer analysis is this. If a horse who has run on the dirt has either improving or declining figures for his last 3 outs, he will tend to go the other way in his next outing. From the group who turned it around for the better, only 10% won their next race and this angle did not produce a positive ROI.
Of 4,518 horses who showed 3 improving Beyers, like 65, 70, and 75, 3,201 or 71% had a lower figure in their next start and 52% declined by 6 points or more. This validates the notion that race horses have form cycles. This phenomenon has been dubbed by Andrew Beyer as the three-and-out pattern and can be quite useful and valuable in finding horses who have run well recently and are solid favorites today, but whom also can possibly be thrown out from at least the win spot.
I'm not saying that we should throw out all three- and-out horses, because the analysis shows that 14% of them win their next races. We may want to focus more on older horses who exhibit this pattern as they are more likely to fall into the 71% category. I'm a strong believer in the "bounce" theory and this may explain part of it. If I spot a horse who has 3 improving Beyer speed figures with the last one being a lifetime top (or even a top showing in the listed past performances) by a fairly large margin, I will indeed expect that horse to bounce or regress in his next outing and the computer analysis strongly backs up this line of thinking.
The same computer analysis looked at horses who fit the profile of "most likely to bounce in their next start." These are horses who following a layoff of 150 days or longer either won or finished within a length of the leader in their next start. Of the 331 horses examined by the computer, 222 or 67% ran a worse figure, while 48% ran a figure that was worse by 10 points or more.
Bouncing, or regressing, affects many more horses than just returnees, however. If I see a horse who has just received a Beyer speed figure which is way out of line with his normal figures, I will view him as a very likely bounce candidate. For instance, if he has been earning Beyer speed figures in the range of 70 to 80 for most of his showing p.p.'s and then runs a 105, this horse is a prime candidate for a bounce in his next outing. I've seen numerous cases in which a horse ran an out of line number like this and that exceptionally stressful and top performance affected him to the point that he never again won a race. In other words, he bounced into oblivion.
A good example of a horse who was a prime bounce candidate was entered Thursday in the 5th race at Saratoga. #6 Assinca is a 3 year old filly who had raced in New York 5 times in 1998. Her ascending Beyer speed figures were 46, 49, 43 (the only non-sprint), 56, and 55. She returned to action following an 8-month layoff on July 17th with a near-Profile performance which earned a 54 figure despite finishing 10 lengths behind the winner. The fact that she was a near-Profile and a good-looking WIR horse along with possessing the best "invisible Beyer" made her a good value bet for readers of "Calibration Handicapping."
Assinca did not disappoint, winning by more than three open lengths and paying $58.00 as a WIR horse with the best "invisible" Beyer. What was startling, however, was her Beyer speed figure of 81, a full 27 points higher than her return figure and 25 points better than her previous high. With this type of improvement, Assinca was a prime candidate to bounce in her next race. And bounce she did, when she finished 3rd on Thursday, allowing the only 2 other likely contenders in the field of 8 to run 1-2 for a $24 exacta. I would not think that Assinca has bounced into oblivion though. She's still young and very likely has some good races ahead of her.
I'll be touching on speed figures as well as many other handicapping tools in future newsletters. For now, check out this development at Saratoga. It's something you should try to become aware of at any track you regularly play.
For those who are unsure or sketical about the existence of track biases, look at what has been happening at Saratoga for the past couple of weeks. From Wednesday August 11th through Thursday August 26th, which is 14 racing days, there have been 24 races held on the main track at the distance of a mile and an eighth. 14 of those races, including the last 7 in a row, were won wire-to-wire or in the fashion of get-me-the-lead-and-I'm-home.
Anyone aware of this bias in favor of early speed would have had a strong value situation on Monday, August 23rd. As it happened, the first 2 legs of the second pick 3, which were races 6 and 7, were conducted on the main track at the distance of a mile and an eighth. The winners of each went wire to wire and paid $12 and $24.60 respectively. With the 3rd betting choice winning the final leg, the payoff of $1,327 was well within reach.
The tally for this bias is as follows: *** 24 races - 14 winners = 58% wire-to-wire winners*** A $2 wager on all 24 races cost $48.00 *** The return for that $48.00 was $142.30 *** The profit for those wagers was $94.30 *** The ROI for those wagers is 3.96 or 196% Additionally, in 4 of those races, the frontrunners were caught but still ran 2nd.
Although this bias was abruptly ended by a soaking rain on Friday morning, I strongly advise anyone and everyone to keep a close eye out at your home track for such a situation, as it can be of real value to you if you are aware of it and can capitalize on it. Track biases are real and not imagined. You must be sure that they exist, however, and to do that requires some careful inspection of results charts or races themselves. If favorites are winning from on top regularly, for example, there is no need to assume that there is an early speed bias. But if a prolonged series of longer priced horses keep going wire-to-wire, there may be reason to believe a pronounced early speed bias is in effect.
Keep your eyes open; you never know what you may discover that will build up your ROI.
Clear skies and fast tracks.
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