September '99 Archived Newsletters

Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter
Saturday, September 18, 1999

Because of its importance, I thought I would address the wagering process once again. I stated in a previous newsletter that in my opinion, one of the major stumbling blocks for most players is the construction and execution of a smart wagering strategy for each and every race under serious consideration. I also said that an appropriate amount of time should be spent on planning that strategy and that this process is equally important as handicapping. When I'm at the track, all too often I hear people around me making a real quick decision about how they are going to bet the upcoming race.

Here's an actual conversation I could not help overhearing just last Saturday between two players who were sitting right behind me, and it typifies the way many race goers plan and execute their wagering strategy. The following conversation took place after the completion of the 7th race at Belmont and its replay. Two men were discussing the upcoming 8th race: "I like the 1 horse, what about you?" "I like him too, but that 4-5 shot 5 horse looks tough." "I'm going to put in a $4 1-5 exacta box." "Yeah, put that in for me too; here's eight bucks." Then one of them goes up to place the bets...with 19 minutes remaining until post time!

How long did that whole process take? I'll tell you one thing, these guys were not all that serious about making money. But I'll also tell you that even those of us who are seriously trying to come out ahead can fall into the same trap. We can have previously handicapped a race and considered a particular horse a top contender. Then when we see the opening or early odds we see a horse getting pounded to heavy favoritism. Meanwhile, no thought whatsoever has been given to how we would wager on this race, and before we know it, we've made up our minds that this favorite has to be part of the wager; probably a big part of the wager.

Why? Because John Q. Public has proclaimed a horse to be the winner? One thing we should always keep in mind is that the favorite loses 65 out of 100 times. I'm not saying we should throw out the chalk each and every time, but remember who is making a horse the favorite. It's the masses, and they don't know as much as we do. So it would be a good idea to keep a calm head when we see the early odds for a field and not be influenced by them.

So how should these guys have approached the 8th race? Here's how I did it, and how I think and plan before every race on which I'm considering a wager. I have a 3-step process.

First, I ask myself, do I have an edge in this matchup? By an edge I mean is there one or more, up to three, contenders who stand out above the rest of the field? If not, then the race is too contentious for my liking and I pass the race. This doesn't mean I can't use fringe horses, or periphery plays in the second hole in an exacta or the third hole in a trifecta. It means for the most part that I have to have no more than 3 contenders for the win spot. If I think more than 3 horses in any field have a chance to win, I'll move on.

Secondly, I ask myself if there is enough value in my contender or contenders to construct a wager. Since I know well beforehand who my selections are, I can wait until approximately 15 to 20 minutes before post time to go through my 3-step procedure and I can get a fairly good idea of the value present. If my 3 horses are 6-5, 2-1 and 5-2, I can pretty much forget about getting enough value on this race.

But before I throw the baby out with the bathwater, I'll jot down the exacta probable payoffs with my 3 contenders. If any of them are under $24 I'll pretty much focus on seeing if a win bet may eventually be in order. If, however, all six combinations are paying over $24, I'll keep looking at that possibility also. If the payoffs are all over $24, I can be pretty sure that the odds of at least two of my contenders will go up.

Finally, I will consciously go over in my head the wagering options I have to choose from in the upcoming race. Obviously, for each race I have the choice of win, place or show, and for me it's win only from among that group. In our example, the 8th race on 9/11, I reeled off the following choices in my head: win, exacta, trifecta, pick 3, and parlay. I immediately eliminated the parlay as I didn't feel I had the needed edge in the remaining 3 races at Belmont, other than a horse that was sure to go off at 1 to 5 in the next race, and that would not be considered value in anyone's vernacular.

That left win, exacta, trifecta and pick 3 wagering. As it turned out, I also was in agreement with the two players behind me. I thought the 1 horse had a good shot to win, and I also thought that the 4-5 shot, who eventually went off at 3-5, had to be considered an obvious contender, and those two horses were my edge. I thought that the winner of this race would be one of these two horses. Since I in no way consider a 3 to 5 shot to be value in and of itself, I could not consider a win bet on her. But the 1 horse was a different story. She was hovering around 5 to 1 during the final 10 to 15 minutes before post time.

Since I felt the matchup of this field favored the 1 horse pretty well, this was a no-brainer; a win bet was in order. What was the pace matchup? It was a sprint loaded with early speed types, the kind of race where it would be handy to know the speed of the speed. In my book, "Calibration Handicapping", I have a section on how I calculate the speed of the speed, or the horse among many early speed types who is most likely to emerge with the lead at the top of the stretch. In such a matchup, the horse with the lead at the top of the stretch will likely go on to victory. The pace shape of this race was EP-EP and there were six EP style horses and one P style horse, the favorite.

I felt that condition 1 of my 3-step process had been met nicely. Not only was the 1 horse clearly the speed of the speed with an EP running style, but in 4 of the 5 sprints already run on the card, the winner had the lead at the top of the stretch. Condition 2 was also met due to the generous odds on the 1 horse caused by heavy favoritism on the 5 horse. That left only step 3, how to bet the race. I had already decided on a win bet on #1, but what about the other options available to me?

I discarded the trifecta as a viable play, because I would have had to use the 3 to 5 shot in the one and two slots. I didn't feel the value would be there, especially if the favorite won the race. I felt pretty much the same way about the exacta and I could see those potential payoffs. The 5-1 payoff was about $12, which was a turnoff. Should I try to beat the 3 to 5 shot in exactas? I felt not. When I looked at the final wager open to me, I figured why not give the pick 3 a shot? In effect, this pick 3 was a pick 2. Everyone and their brother could see that in the 9th race, Silverbulletday, the best filly in the country, was extremely likely to win; probably at 1 to 5.

The key to this pick 3 was the first leg. If the 1 horse, Positive Gal, won at odds of around 5 to 1, even with the heavy chalk winning the middle leg, it could still be a value bet. So I played the following: 1/1/1-2-4-6. When Positive Gal won the 8th and paid $11.60, I made a nice profit on a horse that I considered to be a pretty big overlay, and I figured I had a good chance to collect on the pick 3. Silverbulletday won as expected, paying $2.40, and one of my 4 picks won the 10th paying $11.80. A $2 parlay on those 3 winners would have brought back $82.20. When the pick 3 returned a healthy $126.50, it proved once again that spending some quality time on the construction of wagers, including knowing all your options and choosing the one(s) with the most potential value, can pay off big time.

Sadly, the 2 men behind me spent the last 15 minutes up to post time discussing baseball and football and ripped up their tickets when the horse they liked won at generous odds and the 3-5 favorite they used in an exclusive exacta combo inexplicably ran up the track. The $8 they each wagered could have brought back $46.40 for a win bet or $126.50 for a pick 3 of $2 on the same ticket I had. I'm not knocking them; they have every right to spend their time the way they want, including talking sports instead of looking carefully at all their options and constructing a wagering strategy.

In previous newsletters I stressed going for the big score. I may have given the wrong impression about win wagers. I still think playing to win is an excellent idea much of the time. Rather than having to worry about 2 or more horses, you only have to be concerned with 1, and if the price is right, I highly recommend playing to win. You can even make a pretty good score if the odds are high enough. One reason I like pick 3 wagers is because you are dealing with win only. The same goes for daily doubles and parlays. But with all these wagers, you must make certain that the race or races you will in effect be parlaying into are races in which you feel you have an edge. And you must also have enough value, meaning that you shouldn't have more than one favorite on any one ticket.

In other words, if you really like a horse, such as the 1 horse in race 8 in the above example, it would be a shame to lose her in a pick 3 if you played that wager having no real edge. In my example, not only did I play the key horse to win, but I made sure I felt I had an edge in the next 2 legs of the pick 3. With a standout favorite in leg 2, I could single her also and cover 4 contenders in the final leg. This situation doesn't come along every day, but when it does, it should be taken advantage of. If I like a horse in the first race of a daily double, it would not be very prudent of me to opt for a double wager instead of a win wager if I had no edge or strong opinion in the second half. In other words, I must go through all three steps of my wagering process very, very carefully for any race on which I'm considering placing a wager.

Clear skies and fast tracks.


Horseracing Handicappers' Free Picks Newsletter
Saturday, September 25, 1999

This week's subject matter was brought about by a question I received from Larry S. from the great Northwest in the state of Washington. I encourage subscribers to suggest topics they would like discussed in future editions. Just drop me a quick email if you would like a particular subject addressed. Basically, Larry's question concerned matching up running styles, and in particular a Fast Race shape. As mentioned in my book, "Calibration Handicapping", there are four distinct running styles, one of which all racehorses possess.

These styles, the definitions of which I adopted from BRIS (Blookstock Research Information Services) are: E (Early Speed - wants and needs the lead), EP (Early Presser - can handle the lead, but can also press the pace 1 to 3 lengths behind, P (Presser - doesn't want the lead, but stays in contact with the field, usually running 4 to 6 lengths back, and S (Sustainer - likes to run from way off the pace and make a late rally). In "Calibration Handicapping", I address the 11 Pace shapes and the 4 Race shapes that are created as a result of combinations of these 4 running styles.

One of the 4 Race shapes is called Fast. That condition results when there are 2 or more E running styles present. If there are 2 E horses entered, that matchup has a Pace shape of EE, whereas if there are more than 2 E horses present, that matchup has a Pace shape of EEE. Fast shaped races will be run with quick fractions to the second call due to the presence of multiple E horses which are all trying to get the lead. On many occasions, they will "burn" up each other, and allow a closer to come on and win the race. In this kind of matchup, it is important to look carefully at all the E horses and determine if there is a dominant early speed horse from among the group. If there is, you can effectively eliminate the others from in-the-money-finishes. If there is no dominant E horse in the race, in all likelihood all E horses will finish out of the money. This will then set it up for a good EP or P horse and occasionally an S horse.

The question is, how do you compare the multiple E horses in a particular matchup to see if one of them is the dominant speed that can go wire to wire. In my opinion, sprint races on dirt are the easiest to determine the "speed of the speed." And in an EE or EEE matchup, the "speed of the speed" must have a significant edge over its competitors if we are to expect it to be able to hold off the challenge(s) of any late runner(s). As per "Callibration Handicapping", this process entails a number of things, such as turn times, fraction comparison and degree of track difficulty.

Any way you want to go about it, the trick is to determine which horse in the field, if any, has the ability to dominate his competition and maintain an easy lead to the stretch and then coast home. Since this is a relatively rare scenario, usually we must try to determine if there is a horse in the field that is most likely to emerge with the lead at the top of the stretch after a 4-furlong early battle, and such a horse is what I call "the speed of the speed." If there is no such clear cut leader after a half-mile from among a group of E horses, then there is a good possibility that all the E horses will be out of the first 2 slots, win and place. The most likely beneficiaries of a group of fading E horses are EP horses, followed in order by P and S horses.

I believe that early pace is a prime determining factor for the outcome of sprints; more so than for route races and certainly far more so than for turf races, for which handicappers should stress the final fraction more than any race type. The majority of sprint races are won by horses who are either on the lead or within two lengths of it around the turn, which for a six furlong race is the 3rd and 4th furlongs or second of three quarters. Since a mile is eight furlongs (each furlong being 220 yards), six furlongs is three quarters of a mile, the middle quarter being the run around the turn. It pays to examine the internal fractions of sprint races (as well as of route races also).

Last Saturday in my weekly newsletter I handicapped and posted picks for some races at Belmont Park in Long Island New York. Among those was race 6, which was the Grade II Jerome Handicap at a flat mile. 5 of the 7 entrants were exiting six or seven furlong races. Upon initial examination of the race and its splits or internal fractions, one race that two horses were exiting jumped off the page. I had witnessed and actually won on the race in question, which was run on August 28th at Saratoga. Check out the fractions for this race, from which #5 Vicar and #8 Doneraile Court were exiting.

7F 21.3 43.2 107.3 121.0

These are fractions you may come across in races run on the Western states' racetracks, but certainly not at Saratoga. As a matter of fact, the horse that set the furious early pace, Five Star Derby, had set the same kind of pace out in California in his last race, which was a victorious effort before he came here to try his luck in the Grade I Kings Bishop. No other horse in recent memory has ever held up after anything close to 21.3 and 43.2 on a New York racetrack. Yet Five Star Derby held second strongly by 3 3/4 lengths in spite of his phenomenal effort.

The fractions that don't show are just as impressive. Since the time of 21.3 and 43.2 respectively represent the 2 furlong time and the 4 furlong time, the difference between the two is the 2nd quarter time, or the time it took the leader to run around the turn (or most of it since the race was 7 furlongs). The second quarter time run by Five Star Derby was an astonishing 21.4. This means that he ran almost as fast for the 2nd quarter of the race (only 1/5th of a second slower) as he did for the 1st quarter of the race, and the second quarter was run partially around the turn. At this velocity, this feat is remarkable, and the fact that he held up for second is even more astonishing.

To figure the 3rd quarter fraction, we obviously subtract his 4 furlong time of 43.2 from his 6 furlong time of 107.3 (which would have been a track record if the race were run at 6 furlongs) and get 24.1 seconds, another fantastic split considering the early pace. Here then are the three quarter mile fractions of the race: 21.3, 21.4 and 24.1. Compare those to any 6-furlong race you can find and you'll see how impressive they are.

What does all this add up to? For me, it meant to take a real close look at the two horses that were exiting this race. For all intents and purposes, with internal fractions like these, the 7th race of August 28th at Saratoga could very well be a key race, which would produce multiple next-out winners or in-the-money finishers. If one matches up just the internal fractions of this race against any other, they can see its superiority. And it was run on a DRF track variant of 9, which is low, but not all that low on a day that featured one Grade II and two Grade I races.

Other than a couple of 6 furlong races run at Monmouth, no other race could come close to matching up with the race that Vicar and Doneraile Court were exiting. Fractions for races at Monmouth should be adjusted, however. The timing mechanism there is not tripped by a horse crossing a beam of light to begin recording the fractions until much further from the gate than most tracks. Therefore, the horses are actually running pretty hard before the timer is tripped, which creates faster early fractions than most tracks.

My mind was made up to play an exacta box between Vicar and Doneraile Court if I could get any kind of price at all. In hindsight, in my picks section, I could have mentioned those 2 alone, but the horse I listed as 3rd did complete the trifecta of $94.00. I must admit, I didn't fool with the trifecta because I didn't want to lose the exacta if it came in and the trifecta didn't. I could have played both, but I felt real strongly about the exacta. Vicar and Doneraile Court ran similarly on August 28th, but with the former running 4 wide and the latter skimming the rail on the turn. As it turned out, Doneraile Court nipped out Vicar by a head, the two of them emerging from the pack in the late stages, producing the larger of the 2 exacta payoffs, $18.40.

Am I saying that we should blindly bet horses exiting strong-looking races? No. What I'm saying is that when you see a significant superiority in early fractions, check out the horse or horses exiting such a race. Figure his spits; look at the invisible Beyer speed figure for the race to confirm superiority (which in the above example was 114, which towered over the other sprint races); see how he fits the Pace shape of the race. In the example race given, it was an E-EP Pace shape, Honest Race shape. Doneraile Court was the E horse and Vicar was one of 3 EP horses. Vicar had the better turn time and Doneraile Court had the better final fraction. It was pretty much a tossup, and both horses fit strongly if you reviewed their past performances, with Vicar having won 2 Grade 1 races already in his short career.

As a side note, Five Star Day returns today, Saturday, in the 8th at Turfway Park, along with the horse that ran third to him in a nice closing effort, Successful Appeal.

Clear skies and fast tracks.






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