HANDICAPPING TIP NO. 1
Workouts – Boon or Bane?
Workouts are an enigma: they do not always reflect how a given horse will perform in a given race. The “elephant in the room” (or better, the “horse in the room”) is, how do we know to what extent for a given workout the horse has been pressed? What if he/she were just breezing?
So, generally, I completely ignore workouts, with two exceptions.
In a race, typically a maiden, where many or all of the contestants have never raced before, then by necessity I pay attention to works. After all, other than rider/trainer combination, or lineage, what else is there to go on? By definition, there is no past performance but for the workouts of the respective horses. So one is necessarily relegated, for the “math” part of handicapping, to look at works. In such a case, bullet works are relevant, and very good ones are too. For example, if six of the eight maidens in a race have never raced, and one of them has a sub one-minute workout or two and the rest are above one minute, then I would favor the former over the latter. Also, if a horse who never raced posts a good six of seven furlong workout, somewhat unusual, and the race is six furlongs, I will favor that horse as well. It is mere common sense.
Even in a race where all of the horses have raced (most races), a very recent “bullet” work will catch my eye. The reason is, the presumption that to achieve a “bullet” workout, the horse must have been pressed to simulate racing conditions. If two horses grade equally, and at the same distance one of them has a far superior recent workout, I will give the latter horse the edge
HANDICAPPING TIP NO. 2
As we handicappers know, there are two essential elements to making a profit in the sport of betting on thoroughbred horses: (I) accurate handicapping, and (ii) betting (or not) in a fashion that generates a greater income than the corresponding outgo.
As those of us who have been at this for a long time know, those are two distinct, disparate concepts. I myself am a very accurate handicapper, predicting over 70% of the winners on dirt races while recommending only three horses (as opposed to those handicappers who recommend four horses, often half of the field or more). That does not automatically mean I find it extremely easy to make a profit at this sport, and I will attempt to explain.
Many of my colleagues and associates believe that the win bet, pure and simple, is the one with the greatest return potential. Well, my problem with that is twofold: (I) in roughly one third of all races, the favorite wins, and (ii) in the other two-thirds of races, the eventual winner is often a horse well outside of the set of horses that “reasonable handicapping” would suggest/predict. If the favorite does win, the payout will not have been worth the risk of the bet. If a horse with horrible speed ratings, lousy workouts, who has never been in the money wins, no “reasonable handicapper” will be able to predict that. (After all, most of us handicappers focus on the same factors when grading past performances, we just give different emphasis to those factors.)
For these reasons, I find that the trifecta bet is the type of bet most likely to provide a reasonable level of success and profit. While admittedly the challenge of predicting the top three finishers is formidable, especially when the field is large (e.g., over seven entrants), the return can be incredibly good, even if the favorite wins the race.
So the benefit of wagering on the trifecta is clear: the fact that the favorite wins does not preclude an excellent return on the bet, and, if you have a talent at grading a race, you can often (certainly not always, of course) hit the trifecta and recover a reasonable return over the long haul.
The next question is: how does one bet the trifecta in a way that maximizes potential return? The possibilities are practically limitless, in that there are lots of choices: trifecta box, key horse or key horses betting, wheel bets and the like.
,br> For example, suppose the bettor grades the race carefully and as a result likes three horses to win the race, the same three horses plus one more horse to place, and the same four and two more to show in a given race. One can make a rather economical bet, by betting, let’s say, 1,2,3 with 1,2,3,4 with 1,2,3,4,5,6. A $1 trifecta bet made in that fashion costs a mere $36. This is far more economical, and sensible than betting a $1 trifecta six horse box, which would cost $120.
Another excellent and profitable way to bet the trifecta (one which has often paid huge returns to me) is to select three horses in the race of which the bettor is “sure” are the top three horses, based on competent grading, such that any two of the three horses will likely finish first and second respectively. Logically, the bet then becomes, for example, “1,2,3 w 1,2,3 with all.” This bet can be very profitable even if the favorite wins, especially if the third horse is beyond the realm of reasonable handicapping prediction.
I myself find it relatively easy to select the horses in a given race who will finish first and second: it is quite often the third horse that is totally unpredictable (and correspondingly increases the payout on the trifecta bet). The only disadvantage of this kind of bet is that it can get rather expensive if the field is large. In a six horse field, this type of $1 trifecta bet will cost only $24. In an eight horse field, the cost will be $36. However, in a twelve horse field, the cost of the bet escalates to $60, a figure which probably exceeds the average payoff for a $1 trifecta bet made in this style.
The latter type of trifecta bet is an example of hedging your bet, where you feel very strongly about the three horses two of which will finish first and second, but you have little or no idea who the third finisher will be.
HANDICAPPING TIP NO. 3
Handicapping Tip: Emphasis on the Beyer Speed Ratings
I once tried to understand the mathematics behind MIT grad Andrew Beyer’s wonderful speed rating system: forget that. The methods are described in page upon page of high-level math, such as integral calculus, which subject stopped me from becoming an engineer and led me in a panic to law school instead.
Be that as it may, one can be a technician, and by that I mean one can certainly implement the Beyer speed ratings in making handicapping decisions, and in fact I believe that those ratings are of paramount importance.
I personally weigh very heavily the ultimate Beyer rating of each horse when selecting those horses which in my mind have the highest probability of coming in first, second and third, respectively, in a given race. While the Beyer ratings are not the only factor that I weigh in handicapping a race, they are, frankly, the most important. (Like most handicappers, I also look at the jockey, the horse’s work at the race distance, recent workouts, the trainer, whether the particular horse has exhibited “early unchallenged speed” on one or more recent occasions, whether the horse is ascending or descending in class, and other factors as well.)
But the most telling stat of all, to me, is a representative Beyer rating. (Obviously, for some maidens, there won’t be any Beyer rating because they have no race history: that is a problem for another day…)
Therein lies the rub: what is a “representative Beyer rating” for a given horse? Easier said, than done.
I subscribe to the “what have you done for me lately” rule when handicapping each horse in a given race. What that means is, I believe that recent history (whether that be in the form of recent Beyer ratings, recent workouts, recent on-the-board percentage, and the like) is far more relevant than past history. I believe that horses resemble NFL running backs, in the following respects: their careers are short (rarely stretching beyond five or six credible years), and their decline is swift.
For those reasons, I tend to look at the last five or six Beyer ratings achieved by each horse. I ignore bobbled or bad starts. I try to establish a trend, though not necessarily an “average” Beyer rating. I keep detailed records of my handicapping, and I found that trying to develop an “average” Beyer rating is a mistake. Again, what is more important is the trend, if any, that the horse exhibits in terms of his/her Beyer ratings.
If a horse has raced both at sprint distance and at route distances, which is not that uncommon, I look most closely at the horse’ Beyer ratings at race distance.
Most horses perform better at one or the other: it is the rare breed indeed that is superlative at all race distances. Obviously, one has to consider the race surface as well. If the race is a dirt race, I try to isolate each horse’s representative or anticipated Beyer rating on the surface of the extant race. Of course, that is not always possible. In many cases, a dirt race will feature several quality horses who have only raced on turf to date. This complicates matters…
So again the quest for me is to assign a single, “representative” Beyer rating to each contestant in a given race. Clearly, and with all due respect to Mr. Beyer, this is an art, not a science.
In assessing my own performance as a handicapper, I have found that the most recent Beyer rating on the race surface and at the distance of the race is the most significant, if there exists such a harmony.
So let’s suppose we have a six furlong dirt race to handicap. We have a horse with the following last five Beyer ratings, all of which arose in a six furlong dirt race with a fast track:
52 (“bobbled” start, or “slow start”)
Since the horse’s Beyer ratings are trending upward, I would assign a “weak 84” Beyer rating.
If another horse exhibited the following five most recent Beyer ratings:
I would assign a “strong 84” rating to that horse.
I am sure you get the idea.
The process becomes far more complex if another horse in the same race exhibits the following most recent five Beyer ratings, and believe me this does happen:
You can see the problem. And, I have found that averaging the Beyer figures does not produce accurate race predictions. Again, it has been my finding that a horse’s most recent performance, all else being equal (same surface and distance, i.e., no bobbled start, tossed rider, etc.) is the best indicator of his/her performance in the race at hand.
I would look for reasons to try to explain that last horse’s inconsistency, Beyer-wise. Did his trainer change? Was the horse raced too soon after his/her last prior race? And so on and so on. So I am looking for reasons to discard the “56” Beyer rating and the “68” Beyer rating as well. If I find such justification, I will rate this horse a “weak 92,” and if I rate my next highest horse as an “82” (weak or not) I am going to select the horse with the “weak 92” rating to win the race.
Obviously, this example is a bit of an oversimplification, because most races involve many variables, such as horses which have never run on the particular surface, or at the race distance, horses which have not raced in this country so they have never had any Beyer ratings, etc.
But my key point remains: based on my handicapping experience, if one can establish a true “representative” Beyer rating (and it ain’t always easy) for each horse in a given race, comparison of those figures will tremendously increase one’s chance of success at handicapping that particular race.
Try a 30 calendar-day subscription—for only $20—less than the cost of a $1 daily bet!
HANDICAPPING TIP NO. 4
What is the most significant predictor of future performance in the Racing Digest or Daily Racing Form Page?
People often ask me, “What exactly do you look at when attempting to predict the outcome of a horse race based upon past performances?
The answer: everything on the page. That is correct, I look at every scintilla of past performance for each and every horse. While to reach my conclusions I may emphasize certain aspects of a horse’ past performance, I do not use a “formula” based on Beyer ratings, earnings, win percentage, or any other factor, nor do I limit my review to any single factor or group of factors.
By looking at everything, I tend to get a “feel” for the race. Now, let’s not kid ourselves, we handicappers know that handicapping is not a science, it is an art. And, a difficult one…
By the way, let me make it perfectly clear that this is not a tome on “how to win money betting horses.” Handicapping a race is only Part I of the effort to win money, and Part II, Betting in a Way to Win Money, is Part II, and a whole discrete discipline, to be discussed in my next handicapping tip.
Anyway, the point of this epistle is that most handicappers look at the same things, and the good ones look at everything about the horse. This is the reason that favorites win one-third of all races, and that the second and third co-favorites in each race often wind up at the front of the race. The real challenge for a handicapper is to find the longshot, or medium range longshot, to satisfy Part II (“making money”).
To give you an idea as to how I handicap a race, I do all of the following:
1. Look at everything on the page, even down to equipment changes, sex changes (g., colt to gelding), and the like.
2. Isolate myself and shut the phone off so I don’t get distracted.
3. Spend about fifteen-twenty minutes handicapping each race, and if there are more than eight horses, I take longer. No rushing allowed here…
4. Mark up that past performance page with everything relevant.
5. Use a scoring system to help me to arrive at my conclusions, but I do not make final decisions based purely upon the relative scores. 6. Most important, I make my selections in the blind: I make sure I do not see any M/L predictions before I make my selections, or anyone else’s handicapping selections for that matter. I do not want to be influenced by M/L odds, for example, when making my selections. If the best three horses are the favorite and the co-favorite and the second co-favorite, so be it. Maybe, if that happens, I won’t bet that race, but that is a subject for another day.
I hope this brief, common sense advice helps you with your own handicapping. Mostly, remember that successful handicapping is only half, the first half, of the art of winning money at the race track.
Handicapping Tip: “Probabilities”- The Pick 6
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let’s revisit some of our college-learnt principles of statistics for a moment, and apply those principles to some aspects of the handicapping/betting of horse races.
First, let’s deal with a very popular bet, the Pick 6, a bet which remains such because of the enormous potential payoffs involved (potentially, in the millions). If I am preaching to the choir here, then you are indeed a sophisticated horse player.
For the purpose of our study, we are going to assume that Race Track X has six initial races comprising the “Pick Six” bet. And we are going to further assume for simplicity’s sake that each of the six races will have exactly eight horses competing, that means horses actually racing after accounting for all scratches, the number 8 being a reasonable average field.
This particular bet is usually “expensive”: that is to say, it costs $2 for each bet, unlike the ten cent Superfecta, Fifty Cent Trifecta, etc etc.
In our hypothetical scenario, there are exactly 262,144 possible different ways that eight horses in each race can win six different races. The possibilities are 86, or 8x8x8x8x8x8 (262,144).
So, for your single $2 bet, you have one chance in 262,144 of hitting this hypothetical Pick 6, based on pure statistics. Now, I know that you will say that good handicapping should, as a practical matter, eliminate some of the eight horses in each race, but I am speaking here of mathematical probability. Again, you are betting $2 to cover one possible outcome when in fact there are 262,144 possible outcomes.
Let us expand our hypothetical to assume that there are ten horses in each race for this six-race Pick Six. Now your chances, if you make one bet, are one in 106, or 10x10x10x10x10x10, which is one in a million. So again if you make one $2 Pick Six bet on six races where each race has ten viable contestants, your mathematical chance of hitting that Pick 6 are one in a million. Now do you understand why there is almost always a carryover of the Pick 6 pool? And why most tracks offer a (very “discounted”) consolation prize if you should be lucky enough to have bet the Pick 6 and managed to guess the winners of five of the six races?
Let’s say you are a really good handicapper and are very confident that you can narrow down potential winners in each of the six races in the Pick Six to three viable candidates per race. To cover the three potential winners that you foretell in each of the six races, you will have to make 36 $2 bets. That is 3x3x3x3x3x3, or 729 bets at $2 per bet, costing you a hefty $1,458.00.
And, if each race has eight contestants, this rather expensive bet covers only 729 of 262144 possible outcomes,
that being 2/10 of one per cent of the possible outcomes! Now you can understand why no mere mortal will likely hit a Pick Six in his/her lifetime. And you can see why I think it is a bad bet to make, unless you view it the same as you would buying a Mega Millions ticket: “I will invest $2 because if I have no ticket I cannot win, however I certainly do not expect to win.”
Sorry if I have depressed you. Stay tuned for “Probabilities” for other types of horizontal betting, and for vertical betting as well. I will show you why the trifecta bet probably makes the most sense of all from a statistical standpoint. Thanks!
Handicapping Tip No. 6: “What If It Rains On Race Day?”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Many of my colleagues proclaim as follows:
“Real men don’t each quiche…” (an actual book, circa 1982, which purports to set forth indicia of “masculinity”)…
“Real men do handicap horses who are running in rain, sleet, snow, etc.”…
Well, I love quiche Lorraine.
(I guess we now realize why I am twice divorced…)
And, here is my advice when your favorite track is rainy/muddy/snowy: DON’T BET! Stay home, or find another channel other than TVG…like The Golf Channel, or The Smithsonian Channel…
I am a top-drawer handicapper, who had previously spent many a frustrating day trying to figure out Aqueduct for example, when there is two inches of snow on the track in February…or even the “tropical” (by comparison) Gulfstream Park during summer and fall “monsoon season.” Not to pick on those fine facilities needlessly, but weather is a factor in handicapping, and one that can and should be avoided.
Now you know one of the reasons why I am so successful handicapping for Southern California race courses like Santa Anita and Del Mar, where but for an uncommon few weeks this past January and February, weather is almost never a factor. Thus, by avoiding weather, we eliminate one of the variables we face in handicapping, a variable with respect to which there is almost always insufficient past performance data to deal with.
Handicapping is an art, not a science, and it is something we get better at with practice, especially if we (i) review each race that we handicap AFTER the race, to attempt to figure out why we did not make the right selections (if we have not picked the top three horses, for example), and (ii) keep copious records of the type of race we have handicapped, with pertinent details as to surface, distance, and class of race, so that we know where our weaknesses lie. I do both of these things, and I trust that you do, also.
“Handicapping” per se, by definition, is not playing a hunch, looking at the colors of the horse or the jockey, playing the wife’s birth month and day, or contemplating the jockeys’ relative posteriors. Handicapping is attempting to predict the outcome of a race based upon the contestants’ “past performance.”
Different handicappers emphasize certain elements of past performance (“PP”) more than others, but essentially we all look at the same things. Hopefully, a handicapper is looking at everything on the page of his Daily Racing Form or Racing Digest, or other statistical summary (the “Dossier”), as the case may be.
Now here is the rub about attempts at what I will dub “sloppy weather handicapping” : for the most part, the information we need is NOT in the Dossier.
To prove my point, think about the typical PP information that appears on the Daily Racing Form (“DRF”), my publication of choice. As you well know, there is all sorts of information on a page, about the horse, the trainer, the owner of the horse, the jockey, and the horse’s parents.
Of import here, there is a row of information entitled “wet,” which is in the rightmost portion of each entry. This shows each horse’s placement in any sloppy races (IF ANY) and the horse’s earnings on the slop plus the horse’s top Beyer rating in the slop. In addition, there is a Tomlinson rating which I will discuss in a moment here.
At the moment, by way of illustration, I happen to be looking at the DRF for Race 8 at Santa Anita this Thursday, May 4, 2017. This is a report for a largely “typical” Santa Anita turf race, in that there are fourteen entrants, four of whom are “also eligible.”
As to all fourteen entrants, there are only two, count ‘em, two horses out of fourteen that even have any information under the “Wet” category!!!! Two of fourteen!
So to carry this example further, let’s say that the heavy rains that afflicted Santa Anita last winter paroxysmally appear Friday at post time for Race 8, about 4:30 p.m. PDT. If you insist on handicapping that race under those circumstances (and, presumably, betting on same) you have the necessary soppy weather information on two of fourteen horses, and are information-blind as to the performance in the slop of the other twelve horses!!!
Now as you know, a horse who experiences slop, albeit rain sleet or snow, for the first time, or, for that matter, at any time, can become “upset” and not perform well for a number of reasons, among them: he/she doesn’t like the rain/sleet/snow in his eyes or on his face, he/she doesn’t like the rain/sleet/snow being kicked up at his face or body by the horses around him, and he/she doesn’t like the feel of the rain/sleet/snow under his feet. He/she may become rattled or even fractious for any or all of the foregoing reasons.
So, taking my hypothetical one step further, if it pours rain at 4:30 p.m. PDT on Friday at Arcadia, California (I presume we need not concern ourselves with snow, in light of “global warming”) we have no idea at all as to how twelve of the fourteen eligible horses will respond to the bad weather. And you want to actually bet that race? If this inclement weather happens as described, I will bet the race under one condition: that I am using the contents of your wallet to make my bet…
And, so you say, what about the Tomlinson rating in the DRF, “Wet” category (appears right after the word “Wet”)?
With all due respect to Mr. Tomlinson, I do sometimes look casually at his “Turf” rating for horses who find themselves in a turf race, but have never raced on the grass before. I glance at it…I don’t rely on it. It would be one of the usual many factors I consider in handicapping a race, and a minor one at that.
Mr. Tomlinson’s ratings for “Turf,” “Wet,” etc. purport to be based on a given horse’s ancestry (including siblings, I suppose). If his/her ancestors performed well on turf, the turf rating is higher, if not, lower. The same goes for the “Wet” rating.
Here is the problem I have with the Tomlinson “Wet” ratings, again with all due respect to Mr. Tomlinson: I have found races where the Tomlinson rating conflicts with the actual wet performances of the horse(s) in question.
It is not uncommon to see a high Tomlinson “Wet” rating for a horse that has never seen or felt a single raindrop or snowflake. That I can understand…
What I do not understand is, I have seen races where a horse who has raced twice in the wet and placed, for example, in both races, has the lowest Tomlinson “Wet” rating of all of the contestants. I don’t understand that, and I don’t want to try.
So, my friends, colleagues and fellow handicappers, take my advice: if it is raining, sleeting or snowing at post time, find another track, or put your wallet in the refrigerator (or, better yet, send it to me).
A handicapper never flies blindly…
Handicapping Tip No. 7: “The Ten Best Reasons that Serious Horse Players Should Bet Only Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Los Alamitos Thoroughbred, and Exclude All Other Thoroughbred Racing Venues From Their Betting Itinerary”
The following are the Ten Best Reasons that Serious Horse Players Should Bet Only Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Los Alamitos Thoroughbred, and Exclude All Other Thoroughbred Racing Venues From Their Betting Itinerary,” a la Lettermen style, with the most important reason being number 10 (no skipping ahead, that is cheating!):
1. These facilities are extremely diligent about posting racing information
For example, did you ever notice how promptly Santa Anita Mobile lists its “Flash Results”? I have seen that very often, a race result is posted at that page within about five minutes after the conclusion of the race in question. Race results (as well as scratches) are posted far sooner at the Santa Anita Mobile site than on the “Today’s Racing” app (an excellent Equibase product in its own right). “Santa Anita Mobile” is very easy to use on your smart phone or similar device, and you can even access that fine app on your PC or laptop at home if you wish.
Did you know that Del Mar also has a fine app, which is updated constantly, which even features Race Replays? This is an actual app that you can download onto your smart phone of similar device. Like Santa Anita, they do an excellent job of updating as to current weather, track conditions, and other pertinent information.
2. With the obvious exception of Los Alamitos, which has no turf track, for turf race lovers there is an abundance of turf races for you to contemplate, handicap and get excited about.
Let’s look at the current Santa Anita meet, for example. Since January, there have been approximately 925 races run, and approximately 298, or roughly one third of all races, were run on the grass. Certainly enough for those who are turf aficionados.
3. These racecourses feature a goodly number of America’s best jockeys, and some really good ones as well.
We all know Tyler Baze, Flavien Prat, Rafael Bejarano, Victor Espinoza, Gary Stevens, Joe Talamo and Kent Desormeaux, to name a few, who are “frequent riders” in this circuit (most of them are in the circuit more often than not, and are not there only when a notorious race calls them to duty in another part of the country, or world). These jockeys normally have win percentages of 20% or even better, and while I do believe a lot of their success is aided by the great trainers for whom they ride who provide them with superior horses, that is not to take away from their superlative riding skills, due in part to their rigorous study habits and efforts to get to know the behavior of their mounts.
We also have some very talented up-and-coming young jockeys to look forward to as well, such as Eddie Roman, Austin Solis, and H J Theriot, to name a few. It will be lots of fun to watch these guys sharpen their game.
4. The meets are long enough (exception: Los Alamitos Thoroughbred) for us handicappers to gain more than ample familiarity with the trainers, riders and horses.
Take Santa Anita, for example. Although technically we are nearing the end of the second 2017 meet here, the first meet began around January and since that time, we have had over 100 racing days without interruption (except by non-racing days). Del Mar will soon occupy our summer race play, with racing from July 19 to September 4, 2017.
This kind of continuity provides a virtual plethora of updating data/tendencies, a boon for us handicappers.
5. The turf tracks at Santa Anita and Del Mar are impeccably kept.
For those of us who enjoy turf racing at its finest, we can see on TVG (and even better if you are fortunate enough to be physically present at one of those fine facilities) that, compared to other venues’ turf tracks, the latter two are kept like a West Palm Beach mansion’s finely manicured lawn. This is not the case at many other racing facilities (who shall remain nameless) with turf tracks, as one can readily see just by watching TVG or other horse racing programming.
Handicapping is tough enough: we don’t need to be worrying about potholes in addition to all other factors.
6. The California Horse Racing Board (“CHRB”) and the local Racing Stewards protect out treasured equine athletes from abuse and help to sustain the integrity of the sport.
Did you know that a horse who performs “unduly poorly” in a race (30 lengths or more behind) or for whom no recent timed work has been reported and submitted can be placed on the “Steward’s List”? If that happens, the horse is suspended from racing until further facts are developed.
We are all familiar with the listing of reasons on the California track’s respective websites which often describe a given scratch as for “Veterinary Reasons.” This might occur because of undue bleeding, for example, or other apparent injury. When this happens, a horse is placed on the “Veterinarian’s List,” which could result in a suspension from racing for a period of days, or even months.
Under CHRB rules, after each race, the winner’s blood, and urine, is tested for unauthorized medication or signs of bleeding, etc. This practice helps to protect not only the health of the quine athlete, but also the integrity of the sport in California.
Once a horse is placed on the “Veterinarian’s List” for any reason, the horse must pass a performance test: he/she must complete a five furlong workout in 1:03 or less, or else he/she remains on that list until he/she can meet that performance requirement.
7. In Southern California racing, we are privileged to have some terrific, legendary trainers and a lot of very good ones too.
When I think of “legendary” West Coast trainers who we see a lot of, of course Bob Baffert, Robert Diodoro, and Jerry Hollendorfer come to mind, to name a few. Then we have excellent trainers in Jeff Mullins, Eddie Truman, Bill Spawr, Richard Baltas, Phil D’Amato, Steve Miyadi, Peter Eurton, and Peter Miller, again to name a few. I am sure that when you handicap, you have the same problem that I do: it is extremely difficult in any race to exclude a horse trained by one of those named, and certain others, no matter what the past performance of the horse looks like: these folks are that good.
8. We tend to have the honor of watching mostly “high-end” horses, relatively speaking, race at these facilities, and I am not speaking exclusively of graded races.
Have you noticed that it is not that uncommon for us to find $100,000 Maiden Claimers in our list of entries? Doesn’t that seem like a lot of money to spend on an unproven horse? But not if the horse is just that good…
I am looking at a current race card for an upcoming weekday, June 1, at Santa Anita. The following are the claiming races scheduled for the coming day: “Allowance Optional Claiming, $62,500”; “Claiming, $25,000”; “Maiden Claiming, $50,000”; “Claiming, $8,000”; “Allowance Optional Claiming, $16,000”; and “Maiden Claiming, $50,000.”
I am far from a mathematical genius, but I tell you true that the average claiming value for the actual six races listed above is $ 35,250.
Now let’s look at an upcoming weekday entry card for a very popular East Coast racecourse, Gulfstream, which is very popular in the Simulcast parlors with which I am familiar. I will once again give you data for six claiming races, and these are actual data for June 1, 2017 (six races once again): “Maiden Claiming, $12,500”; “Claiming, $10,000”; “Maiden Claiming, $12,500”; “Claiming, $6,250”; “Claiming, $10,000”; and “Maiden Claiming, $20,000.”
The average claiming value for the Gulfstream card is a mere $11,875.
If you were to repeat this kind of analysis for any other race day with almost any other race track, you would find that the Santa Anita average claiming price is substantially higher than that of almost any other race track to which you were to make the comparison. That would apply for almost every other track in the U.S.A., I assure you, with the possible exceptions of Churchill Downs, or Belmont/Saratoga which facilities also attract top horses. Even with respect to those three tracks, I am confident that the average Santa Anita claiming prices on a given day would be on a par with that for those other tracks.
Why does this matter to us handicappers? I, for one, believe that the “better” horses tend to be far more consistent, and thus far more likely to repeat their past performance, which of course is the be-all and end-all of handicapping.
9. All of these very nice praises I said about one track in particular, Santa Anita, are transferable to Del Mar and Los Alamitos Thoroughbred (of course, except for turf racing which does not exist at the latter).
What is about to happen after the end of the current Santa Anita meet on July 4? A couple of weeks after that, the whole racing complex transfers over to Del Mar for the summer. That is, the jockeys, the trainers, and, most of all, the talented equine athletes. And the complex goes back and forth ad infinitum between Santa Anita and Del Mar, with a very brief jaunt over to Los Alamitos (thoroughbred) for many of the jockeys, trainers and horses who are not expecting to run any of their turf horses.
The advantage to us Southern California handicappers is starkly obvious: we gain quite a bit of familiarity with the tendencies and performances of the finite body of horses that we have had an opportunity to observe over a long period of time. This is invaluable, as we get to watch and evaluate up-and-comers as well as those equine athletes who are coming to the close of their racing careers.
10. THE WEATHER!!!!!
You have all probably seen my last prior Handicapping Tip on californiawinning.com, which provides cogent reasons to support the theory that it is self-defeating to attempt to handicap races in the slop, so I won’t bore you here by repeating those reasons to stay away, except to say that, generally speaking, if you try to handicap such races you are probably flying blind, since you will find that many, or even most, of the horses running have never run in the slop, or have very limited experience in the slop. To my way of thinking, the “slop” changes all and negates most sound handicapping principles.
Have you ever tried handicapping Aqueduct, for example? Not to be unduly unfair to that fine facility, but the fundamental problem is beyond their control: it is either raining, or snowing, seemingly every day (it has to do with the very bad East Coast weather which commonly affects Aqueduct in the winter, most of their season).
Except for a sustained period this past January and February, the likes of which I have never seen and will probably not see again, we can count on the weather at these fine facilities not becoming a threat to our handicapping prowess.
Weather is a negative factor that we pretty much have the absolute power to avoid: just limit your handicapping and wagering to the fine Southern California racecourse, the finest in the world in my humble opinion.
Handicapping Tip No. 8: “The Relationship Between Handicapping and Successful Wagering”
Let me begin by saying that it is said that only 5% of people who routinely wager on horse racing actually profit from it, on a long-term basis. Due to the difficulty involved, while I think that percentage might be a little low, I have a feeling that it is not far off the mark. I tend to believe that statistic based on circumstantial evidence: after a race ends at The Borgata Race Book, for example, or Favorites, the local OTB franchise, I hear 500 curse words for every “hurrah!”
Now I am going to possibly impress you with “Frye’s Theorem”: successful wagering has two equal elements, successful handicapping and wagering for value. Notice I said that these elements are equally important, and, in my view, equally challenging.
Now I am not prone to giving out wagering advice per se, because I am not in possession of your wallet/purse, nor do I want to be. My mission, and my duty to you, as I see it, is to provide you with the three horses in a given race who are most likely to be the top three finishers, and among the three I grade them from number one to number three. If I do that correctly, I have accomplished my mission.
From that point on, how you choose to wager to turn the top three finishers into a profit, is totally up to you. You may bet vertically (exactas, trifectas, superfectas and the like) or horizontally (doubles, Pick 4’s, Pick 5’s, and the dreaded Pick 6 (see my earlier Handicapping Tip as to why not to bet more than $2 on a Pick 6, the odds are astronomically against you). Or, you may simply bet a horse, or horse(s), to win, and I have heard many a handicapper say that in the long run, the latter is the best way to go.
And the best way to go for you? The answer is: bet in a manner that you have the most confidence in, and one that is consistent with your budget.
So, keeping in mind that I am not in the business of providing wagering advice per se, write this tome to pass on to you what I have observed as to the concept of “wagering for value.”
As noted above, wagering for value means wagering within your budget, so that you can at least “live until tomorrow” to wager yet again.
Wagering for value is a simple premise: it’s all about risk –reward, as in bet lots of small bets that have a potential for a high return. That way, when you lose, who cares if you lose $2, $ 3, or even $8 (Pick 4) or $16 (Pick 5), because (a) you could win huge, and (b) now you have plenty of money left to bet lots of other “small” bets which offer a high return potential.
I will give you a personal example. I used to bet trifectas only. And, I would wager, say, $50 on one trifecta wheel (on a race with a lot of horses). Now I would win fairly often, but my outgo was too huge in proportion to my wagering income. I was doing little more than breaking even.
I have completely changed my strategy, and the new strategy is far less stressful and far more rewarding. A sensible wagering strategy for one on a limited budget (as am I) is to make a lot of smaller bets which have a high potential for a big reward.
Let me give you an example, my strategy today (Friday, June 17) for Santa Anita.
Here is my specific betting strategy today:
1. I am going to bet a $.50 Pick 5 comprised of my top two selections in each of Races 1-5, which will cost a mere $16. I hit a Pick 5 last week for $200 in that way.
2. Correspondingly, I am going to (of course) bet a $.50 Pick 4 in the second race, again with my top two picks in each race, at a cost of $8.
3. Whenever one of my top three selections in a given race shows a M/L of 6/1 or more, I am going to put $3 to win on that horse. I won $50 for $3 on one of my picks last week by betting in that way.
4. I am going to bet 8 with 2-4-6 with 2-4-6 in Race 7 (NOT that I am suggesting that you bet this race in that way- I don’t provide wagering advice). This is just an example of “wagering for value” as it represents a low risk bet with potential high reward.
5. So, I am going to bet a Pick 5, two Pick 4’s, and a bunch of low-grade ($3) win bets, seven or eight of them, and a couple of trifectas, yet my wagering budget will not exceed $100. As for me, I am tired of spending my entire wagering budget on one bad day at the betting parlor (happens to the best of us).
I would rather have funds left to go back again, maybe tomorrow or the next day, as luck does indeed go in cycles.
With the above kind of wagering strategy, I will risk no more than $100. However, it is not inconceivable that I could walk home with $500 or more, I have seen it happen more often than you might think.
Wagering for value as a principle can be applied to any budget, even those of you who are high end bettors. For example, a high-end bettor might bet three horses per race in a Pick 4 or Pick 5.
Meanwhile, good horses, good handicapping, and wager for value my friends.