JC / Railbird

Handicapping

Unfair

Mike Watchmaker on the Super Saturday Santa Anita main track bias:

Look, horses like Game On Dude and Executiveprivilege were probably going to win Saturday whether or not there was a bias, so I don’t think they should be penalized for riding the crest of the way the track was playing. I am less convinced about Love and Pride and Power Broker. But I do know that the way the track was playing, well bet closers such as Richard’s Kid, Include Me Out, Amani, and Capo Bastone had absolutely zero chance. And that’s not fair.

Come the Breeders’ Cup, will we have reason to miss the Santa Anita synthetic?

Belmont Bombs

Andrew Beyer mentions something that’s been on my mind as I start thinking about how to play this year’s Belmont Stakes:

Forget about handicapping; if you bet every starter in every Belmont Stakes for the last 15 years you’d have almost doubled your money.

Last year, I looked at the win payouts for each of the Triple Crown races and the five Grade 1 Kentucky Derby preps over a decade, and the Belmont was the race that offered the greatest opportunity:

Only one favorite has won the Belmont Stakes in the past 10 years, and that was Afleet Alex in 2005. Handicappers look for longshots in the Derby, but the Belmont has delivered a higher average price ($43.61) and a healthy ROI in recent years — if you had bet $2 to win on all 110 Belmont starters since 2002, you would have almost doubled your money.

There’s a lot to like about I’ll Have Another on Saturday, but the Belmont is the classic race to look for an upset with a rewarding payoff.

This Again?

OMG:

“They’ve turned the Kentucky Derby into a guessing game,” [Thoro-Graph proprietor Jerry Brown] fumed. “The introduction of synthetic tracks has created mass confusion among handicappers. In the Derby, you’re left to guess whether a horse can handle dirt after running on synthetics.

“This is an absurd situation to create for people who bet the game seriously. It’s tough enough to beat it with good information and rational thinking, but now you have situations where it turns a race into pure guesswork.”

Actually, the synthetic-to-dirt surface switch seems to be one of the more predictable elements in handicapping the Kentucky Derby in recent years.

1:30 PM Addendum: Dean smartly notes on Pull the Pocket that when it comes to assessing surface changes, handicapping principles still apply, but “the questions you have to analyze just might be a little different.”

Tools of the Trade

Bill Christine’s search for a Kelco put me in mind of my favorite piece of handicapping ephemera, a volvelle for assessing value called the Raceometer:

The 1940 Race-o-Meter

“The more green the better the bet!” Handy, but at 10 cents a race, pricey.

The 1940 Race-o-Meter

I’ve been on the lookout for more Raceometers, but all I’ve found so far is a similarly named wheel chart, the Race-o’Meter (note the odd apostrophe), produced by the Southern California Research Company in 1948:

The 1948 Race-o-Meter

Unlike the Raceometer, a tool for betting, the Race-o’Meter considers eight factors to create individual horse ratings. “Be sure you have a racing form before you when use you the Race-o’Meter,” advises the instructions:

The 1948 Race-o-Meter

It’s science! Beginning in the 1930s and continuing into the 1970s, “scientific” and “scientifically” were favored adjectives of marketers hawking handicapping systems and methods. In 1933, as defined in “Systology: The Science of Wagering Upon Horse Races,” a compendium of eight chart-heavy betting systems, “scientific” meant the complete eradication of individual judgment. “By the use of ‘Systology,’ the human equation is removed from wagering,” wrote the authors. “It leaves nothing to the imagination.” (How dull.) In 1961, “Science in Betting” assured its readers that it would tout no “miraculous betting-system,” instead, it would teach bettors how to use “scientifically collected” data, “which if applied intelligently can work consistently and accurately.” Just like the Race-o’Meter claimed, and most likely, the Kelco.

Confusing Conditions

As racing secretaries scramble to fill cards, under pressure from year-round racing and declining horse populations, deciphering complex race conditions is becoming more difficult for handicappers, writes Bob Fortus:

Little by little, claiming races with restrictions started creeping into the programs. The ‘B’ races, which started on the East Coast several years ago, are the latest form of restricted claiming. In those races, it can be particularly difficult to single out horses as serious contenders.

Optional claiming/allowance races are common everywhere, too. Handicappers suddenly are confronted with questions they rarely would have encountered just a few years ago, such as, Can a sharp and capable 3-year-old with only two victories in his career beat a tough, old claiming horse with several career victories.

Steve Davidowitz wrote about how to spot live horses among “gobbledygook” conditions in a 2009 DRF+ column (via HRF). For more in-depth treatment, nothing beats James Quinn’s “The Handicapper’s Condition Book.”

“A Unique Problem”

From the January 15, 2011 Santa Anita stewards’ report (PDF):

Trainer PETER MILLER came to the office this morning to review the last race from Sunday [race nine on January 9, 2011] in which his horse seemed to suffer some interference. This was a race down the hillside turf course with the rail at 24 feet on the main portion of the course. This configuration creates a unique problem in American racing in that the inside lanes tend to disappear after crossing the dirt course.

Something to keep in mind when handicapping the downhill turf.

Looking for a Price

Mike Maloney on how he plays superfectas:

I’ll structure bets with my key horses in third and fourth. There’s probably as much probability in the third and fourth spots as in the first and second. If you’re lucky enough where you get a price horse to win along with a key horse for third and fourth that is also a price — and a lot of them are — you’ve got a great chance to cash a monster ticket. Sometimes a dime super can pay into the thousands.

That’s from an interview with the noted big bettor in last fall’s Horseplayer Magazine, available as a PDF via HANA. Looking past the top two for wagering value is also an approach I enjoy, as I wrote on Hello Race Fans last year.

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