Handle at Santa Anita

The sky is falling and it isn’t just raining. The latest example was the opening day per-capita handle at Santa Anita. 44,873 people bet an average of just $78 each. That’s down from $84 last year and down from $152 in 1986. Let me posit a question. If you were the CEO of a company that is showing those sorts of trends, do you think you are doing a good job?

There are a couple of different ways to look at this. One is that a lot of people are showing up at the track just to hang out with real horseplayers I guess. But a more positive way to look at it is, there there is a lot of money staying in people’s pockets, and the track needs to figure out a way to pry it out without limiting the choices to gambling.

Not everyone agrees with me, but I believe tracks need to make themselves over. Oh, I know Santa Anita spent $30 million a few years ago, but while fresh paint is important cosmetically, it doesn’t increase per capita betting. If you want to get more money from the patrons, either you have to make the gambling part more attractive or you have to have other ways to getting them to part with their money. Of course, nothing wrong with doing both.

I recently did a  piece on attracting millennial gamblers to horseracing and cited how Las Vegas is looking to appeal to them. In the casinos, slot and table revenues are down, to a great degree because millennials prefer games where skill is more important than luck. Horseracing fits that bill, but simply isn’t doing what it needs to do to attract the millennials. Even though gaming revenues are suffering, visitations to Vegas are still healthy. Why? Because Vegas can attract people for reasons other than gambling. Millennials will go for the shows, the nightclubs, and the restuarants.

Racetracks make a lot of the same mistakes other businesses make. They focus too much on getting new customers and too little on taking care of the customers they have. Vegas doesn’t make that mistake. The best customers are treated like royalty. Even the little old ladies playing the slots can earn free meals or other perquisites. Too little of that goes on at racetracks.

I was in Vegas betting at a sportsbook once. At a point, two guys in suits come up to me and offered me an embarassing amount of consideration if I’d keep my action in their book. Even after I told them I was only in town for the day, they still wanted to sign me up. In 40 plus years of going to the track, I can count on one hand the number of times anybody gave me any sort of special consideration.

My advice is two-pronged. Sign everybody up for some sort of rewards card, and when their action reaches a certain level, give them…a reward. You know how on-line places say, spend so much and get free shipping? You’d be surprised how many people try to spend enough to save a $10 UPS charge. Make $100 in bets and get a free soda, and you’d be suprised at how many of those $78 betters will come up with another $22 so they can get twenty cents worth of carbonated beverage (yes, it’s a bit of hyperbole but I’m making a point). Each track should provide every patron with a free version of the past performances, but just for their track. If you want the simulcast edition you can pay for that. Parking, admission, and seating – three other things on the list of rewards. Special days – the “A” customers don’t have to play second fiddle to the throngs that only show up on special days. You get the idea.

The second part of the idea is to refurbish the track to create venues that will further induce people to part with their money. Yes, I know there is a shopping center adjacent to Santa Anita, but it might as well be in Bakersfield for all the good it does. You want shopping that makes it convenient for a guy that just hit a nice Pick-4 to buy something on impulse for himself or the family. You go to the Forum shops in Caesars Palace, and you don’t see a bunch of cheap novelty stores. They have more upscale stuff. I think you also design it so you can enter all the higher end businesses from outside the track (with no admission) or inside the track. You don’t get from inside to the track without a stamp or something. There should be an upscale restaurant that is open the same hours as other restaurants. Maybe a movie theater. There should be a good sports bar, also open normal hours, and maybe a nightclub. After the races the entrance from the track into the bars/restaurants would be locked so you don’t have people wandering around the racing plant. How about a picnic area, like at Saratoga? Patio dining or watering holes. A food court. Free entertainment, and I don’t mean the post race concerts. Saratoga has a daily lineup of anonymous small bands. How about an indoor event venue so businesses can have corporate parties or Christmas parties during the day or at night? Design something so you can take the family to the track and make your bets without having to get a hall pass. I’m just spitballing here, but I’m sure you see the concept.

Instead of the track being a five hour hangout, make it so that patrons can continue the day. The track that comes closest in my mind is Saratoga, with its picnic grounds, food trucks, and the Carousel, plus breakfast at Saratoga, continuous entertainment during the day, and event venues. But even Saratoga doesn’t attract people once the races are over. They head to off track venues to have a nice dinner, drinks, or enjoy some nightlife. You have someone that just won a few hundred or a few thousand dollars and you’re going to let him spend it on a nice time somewhere else? Brilliant.

The people who manage tracks are not noted for thinking outside the box and they especially don’t get the new millennial gambler. Things have to change in a big way. You know what they say. Doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

Low Take, Full Fields

Most discussions of how we can improve horseracing start with lowering take and having full fields.

Lowering take is a no brainer. Actually, that may be a poor turn of phrase since tracks that lower take seem to be few and far between. Apparently you do need more brains than we are witnessing. While the majority of horseplayers recognize that lowering take will increase handle, and ultimately profits, most tracks resist the idea. The well known formula for gaming revenue is

Gaming Revenue = Volume  X  House Advantage

Thus, if you want to make more money you have two choices. Increase the house advantage while keeping volume the same, or increase the volume. Unfortunately, increasing the house advantage (or raising the take) usually has the effect of decreasing the volume. The arithmetic is the same whether we are talking about horseracing or table games or fantasy sports, and in the case of horseracing has been well documented. The more you take, the less you make. Unfortunately the only people who don’t know this are the legislature and the racing commission.

No sense in going through this again. I believe the horseplaying community is of one mind on lowering the take.

The full field discussion is a little more complicated. I totally agree that there are too many 4-6 horse fields, but would 12-14 horse fields in every race really be  an advantage for most horseplayers? What exactly do people mean when they say they want more full fields, and why do they believe it would be an advantage for THEM? I suspect it would make the more exotic horizontals (Pick 4/5/6) completely out of reach for the average player (there would be over 7.5 million combinations in a Pick-6 with all 14-horse fields and a hardly more manageable 3 million combinations with six 12-horse fields) and make trifectas and superfectas substantially more difficult to hit. Why? As I noted in my article, Risk Intelligence, most players are poor at handicapping for positions other than win and as you move down from win, the chances of even the longest shot in the race increase. In other words, a horse with a 5% chance of winning may have closer to a 15% chance of finishing in one of the first four slots. In a 14-horse field, there are over 24,000 combinations in the superfecta, half that many in a 12-horse field. In a 10 horse field there are only a little over 5,000 superfecta combinations. Most people can only cover a small subset of the possible combinations, and given a series of 12 or14 horse fields, it’s more likely people will be discouraged and opt out of those pools. You can’t make it too easy, but you can’t make it too hard either.

Yes, it’s likely the average payoffs will jump up with the larger fields, but it’s small consolation if you are one of the majority of players without a ticket. Anyone who has tried to hit superfectas in the Breeders Cup races knows exactly what I mean. Inevitably there is some 50-1 shot that finishes third and forces the overpay.

Frankly, I think the sweet spot for most races would be eight to ten starters, with most races closer to ten than eight. There is no reason to expect that a guy who goes to the track with $100 will suddenly start going to the track with $200 to cover more combinations. Eight to ten starters still gives the average player a fighting chance to hit horizontals and verticals.

Beyond that, I think the number of starters should be limited to ten per race (except stakes) because I believe that will increase churn. Slightly smaller payoffs, but more wins for the average player. The key question is, will larger payoffs attract more players when they are less likely to hit them, or will more frequent, but smaller collections have a greater impact on attracting players and increasing handle? Racing has been trying to compete with the lottery for decades, not understanding that their solid customer would be more likely to be loyal if he was winning more than occasionally. The game is better if it appears beatable with the right amount of skill. Ten starters is the best compromise between looking for big payoffs and making the game hittable enough to keep people churning.

I believe the problem is too many short fields, not too few full fields, if that makes sense. If you want to get into most of the horizontal and vertical fields you should be arguing to get rid of races (except stakes I suppose) with less than eight starters. And at 10 starters tracks may be able to more often split entries into two races instead of having 14 starters and six also eleigibles.

I’d be interested in counter arguments regarding why 12-14 horse fields would be better for racing.

Daily Handicapping

One of the people who follows my blog asked me about how I prepare for a daily card. Interestingly, the first article I ever wrote for American Turf Monthly was on that subject. I used the example of a golfer preparing to hit a shot. The best golfers have a routine they go through on every shot, and the routine doesn’t vary much from shot to shot. That consistency allows them to execute with maximum results. The advice I gave horseplayers – develop a routine that works and stick with it.

Here are some brief thoughts on various handicapping elements and how I view them.

If you need to spend two hours handicapping a card, either spend the time or don’t bet. Looking at past performances for two minutes before a race is a surefire formula for losing in the long run.

Before you dig into the race study the conditions and determine which horses fit the best. Know the class risers, the class droppers and be able to tell the difference between a positive drop and a negative drop. I love to look for horses with back class that are cycling up after being down for a while. Improving horses rising in level shouldn’t be discarded without proper consideration.

First, every race is it’s own puzzle and there is always a key to the race – just not necessarily the same key. Second, there’s nothing wrong with being a specialist – like only doing turf routes – or avoiding certain races – I know people that avoid maiden races. To be a good handicapper you have to be able find the right key in the race you are handicapping. I think of myself like Michael Phelps. His main stroke is the butterfly – mine would be turf races – but he can still kick butt in the individual medley. I believe I am just about as proficient at maiden races of all sorts, two year olds, and dirt routes. If there are races where I am weaker, it would be dirt sprints, but I’m still pretty good. Finally, if you are too mechanical in your handicapping you will miss a lot of opportunities. You have to be flexible and open to be a great handicapper.

I’m not going to tell you there is a single right way to handicap. I’ve been a pace handicapper for most of my career. Before handicappers had the depth of information available today, I custom made par times for the tracks I bet. It took hundreds of hours, but it was a great project for the winter. Par times allowed me to make daily variants, which allowed me to compare fractional times from one race to another. It allowed me to know that a horse that ran a 1:11 on a day that was four fifths slow was faster than a horse that ran 1:10.3 on a zero day. It allowed me to see that horses that ran adjusted times of :44.1 for the half and finished in 1:11.1 were likely better bets than horses that ran :45.3 and finished in 1:11, especially when all the crowd could see were the raw finish times in the Racing Form.

One of my favorite angles – the hidden fraction. Horses that run superior interior times – say from the quarter call to the stretch call in a sprint – without winning or fading disastrously are great horses to upgrade.

It has always been my approach that the final time a horse runs is a function of the interior pace of a race. That is why I believe the best friend a pace handicapper has are final time figures. Taken without context, they may or may not have value, but they often wind up pushing horses to lower odds. I love betting against horses that have good finish times off soft fractions.

When I first started handicapping there were no Beyers figures. The Daily Racing Form published a speed figure based on track records and a daily variant. I had some amazing years betting horses that I believed were the best in the race, but were ignored by the crowd. It was so much easier to beat the races back then!

Even if a figure gives you a leg up, you still have to handicap the race. I use two products to do my handicapping: DRF Formulator and Timeform. I print out the DRF past performances and the Timeform condensed sheet. I only buy one formulator card and one Timeform card because I only handicap one track in a day, almost always a NYRA track. I wind up spending less than people who have to buy an $8 racing form with multiple tracks.

I’m not going to talk anybody in or out of playing multiple tracks in a day, but I learned (the hard way) that I can only effectively handicap a certain number of races in a day. I also decided that being an expert at one track gives me an advantage over being merely above average at multiple tracks. I know the trainers, the riders, the biases intimately.That gives me an edge, and if there is one piece of advice I believe is critical it is that you have to have an  edge over the other players. I get why people like to play multiple tracks. When I did it I loved the action, but I also realized there were too many races where I was throwing money away. I remembered early in my career when I was winning consistently, I was only betting one track. I guess I’ve come full circle and I’m winning consistently again. If you can bet 20 races a day and stay afloat, I tip my hat to you, but I can’t.

You have to make up your mind. Is the payoff for you profit or the thrill of the action?

When I was a teaching Introduction to Geomorphology in college, one of the modules was mapping. If you’ve ever seen a USGS map, it has elevation countour lines that define relief in an area. I found people fell into two categories – those who could look at the map and actually “see” the landscape, and those who just saw lines on a page. The DRF works like that for me. I can scan the page and “see” different things, including patterns. I believe it is simply a function of having looked at thousands of racing forms. It’s an old habit and one I’m not likely to change. I also like that you can view charts and race replays with a click.

Remember pattens. I ask two questions: how fast is a horse, and do I think it can run that fast today? You can’t tell that simply by looking at the last race. You have to look at all the races, and decide which one is most representative of today’s race. I’m trying to figure out the race my horse is most likely to run today and whether that will be good enough to win.

I look for horses that are what I call “win types.” I often dismiss horses that are 2 for 36 out of hand, even if they have good figures. Usually 10% wins is the minimum I’ll accept on a horse. In maiden races I’ll often start by looking for horses that have four or fewer starts. And as horses get up to 10 starts without a win, I’ll downgrade them substantially, even if they have good figures. Same for winners – as they get to zero for their last 10, they’ll get downgraded regardless of numbers.

While I don’t consider myself much of a trip handicapper, there are two things I especially look for – trouble at the start and horses that break slow, rush up, and fade in the stretch, but not disastrously. Horses that have trouble out of the gate often are left with no winning strategy. That’s usually visible by looking at the comments and the running line. One of the best recommendations a horse can have is that it tried hard during the race, especially if he had the kind of trouble that would discourage most horses.

Still, it helps to watch replays of every race. You can often pick out subtle things that don’t show up in the comment line. During the 2015 Saratoga meeting I kept a daily log of horses to watch based on the replays and it produced some high priced winners. If nothing else it makes it easier to determine when the track is biased with regard to speed or running path.

I like the Timeform condensed printout because it allows me to see patterns at a glance. I can immediately spot a horse that ran figures in a recent race that don’t seem to fit, either way above or below its ability, but are likely to influence the crowd. I also think the Timeform pacefigures are as good as any numbers out there. But just like the Beyers, the horse with the highest figure doesn’t always win, and that is why you have to handicap. I also like that with Timeform you can see actual interior fractions for a respective horse at a glance.

I do look at the trainer. Trainers like Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher win a high percentage of races, and you have to make an evaluation of any horse they enter. There are also trainers that are consistently poor. Some trainers are great first off a claim. That will upgrade a horse. Some trainers do very well with first time starters, others rarely win with first timers. I’ll pretty much ignore Bill Mott first time, unless his horse is getting unusual action. Most trainers, like most people, will find patterns that they think are successful and repeat them, and it is up to the handicappers to identify them. Jockey switch, fast pre-race work, sprint to route – any of them could be the key to identifying a respective trainer pattern. Formulator can be great for finding those stats. I will upgrade or downgrade a horse based on the trainer.

I don’t place a lot of stock in who is riding a horse. I will look for jockey switches from a low ranked rider to a higher ranked one, but mostly for purposes of gauging trainer intent. You don’t engage a top rider unless you think your horse is live. But I have always believed it is 90% horse and 10% jockey, and that the jockey is more likely to lose on a live horse than win on a lesser animal. I’ve asked the question, how many jockeys could have ridden American Pharoah to victory in the Belmont? I suspect the answer is in the dozens. Pretty much the same with Runhappy in the Malibu. On the other hand, I don’t care who you put on Frosted in the Travers. He wasn’t beating AP. And giving Junior Alvarado more than 10% of the credit for Moreno’s victory in the 2014 Whitney won’t do. Plenty of jockeys could have sat on that horse on easy fractions and won the race.  If there is an advantage the best jockeys have, it is that they get the best horses, and vice versa. I would agree that the best jockeys don’t make as many riding mistakes – in other words, they don’t lose on horses that should be there at the wire. They can be physically superior – sitting chilly on a horse or helping it hold a line – but I still won’t overestimate the contribution of the jockey. In general, riders in the top 5-10 at a meet are indiscriminately backable if you think the horse they are on is the best in the race. One other thing I might consider – when a jockey has his choice of horses, I upgrade the chances of the horse he selects. I also believe any jockey that has successfully ridden a horse in the past can be backed regardless of where he is in the standings. In short, bet the horse, don’t worry too much about the jockey.

I always look at workouts, not so much for the times, but to demonstrate the health of a horse. There are trainers that like to work fast, and trainers that like to work moderately, and you have to know their patterns. One pattern I look for in first time starters is to see a quick work early in the sequence and conditioning works later. That tells me the horse has speed and should be in condition.

In turf races I give extra consideration to horses that have done well on a respective surface. Pace is also less important on the turf. The final fraction is important, but you have to be careful not to overrate it.

I like to assess where horses are in their form cycle. Horses cycling up get extra consideration.

Post position may or may not be important. I’ll downgrade horses breaking from the inside  that are likely to get buried on the rail. I don’t mind speed horses on the outside in sprints. They have a lot of run to get into position. I might downgrade outside horses on tight courses like the Saratoga inner turf.

Lone speed is still dangerous, turf or dirt. And track biases do develop on dirt. Pay attention to the early races and adjust for the later races if necessary.

I look for races where I can get down to three contenders. If I have five or six contenders in a race, it’ s not likely to be a good race to bet. Once I have my contenders I assign them win probabilities. Probabilities will vary based on the field. For example, the three horses may be assigned odds of 6/5, 3-1, 5-1. In that race, I think the top horse is very likely the winner  and I may be looking more at vertical bets, unless the crowd misses the top choice. The three horses may also be 5/2, 3-1, 7/2 on my line. In that case I’ll be looking for an overlay on any of the three horses.

I’ve said this on many occasions, but if you are selection oriented instead of value oriented, you have a far smaller chance of making profit. You have to be willing to bet the overlay even if it is not the top choice. I’ve had plenty of huge hits where my odds were 3-1. 7/2, 4-1, and the crowd sends the horse off at 2-1, 4/1, and 13-1 respectively. I’m pounding the 13-1 even though I think two horses have higher probabilities of winning. A lot of people don’t get this, but it is purely mathematical. If you are good at assigning probabilities (and after 40 years I’m very good at it) you are simply playing the odds. If your pick goes off at 13-1 and it has a 20% chance of winning, you have to win money in the long run. Stop trying to pick one horse and bet the overlay.

I’ve advised average players to distribute their bankroll 50-25-25, win-exacta-any other pool. You may not get rich quick, but you can win in the long run. The win and exacta pools are usually the largest pools in a respective race and have the lowest take. The final 25% allows you to get into some higher paying horizontal pools, but the overal ratio makes for much better bankroll management. Frankly, unless you are highly capitalized, you have no business in most of the Pick-5/6 pools. Betting this way, you don’t need a huge bankroll to play from week to week, and you can focus your money better. I’d much rather have $100 in the win and exacta pools on an overlay than have it in a Pick-4 pool that I have a 10% chance of hitting.

Handicapping a race requires a lot of what I think of as muscle memory. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and there is no substitute for putting in the time. It is also frustrating. You’ll have a lot more failure than success, but if you stick to it eventually that turns around. You have to learn to see things that others do not in the data, and you need to put the information together in ways the crowd doesn’t in order to separate yourself.

My hope for the new year is that everyone gets better at handicapping and betting. If I can help I’m glad to.

Aqueduct December 27

This is a very difficult day. Many of the races have quite a few contenders, and few of the races are singles. I’m going to approach the day cautiously.

Race 1      3-1-6

Race 2      7-6-5

Race 3      4-5-6

Race 4      9-5-7

Race 5      8-2-5

Race 6      5-8-7

Race 7      11-10-4

Race 8      4-13-2

Race 9      11-7-4

Aqueduct December 26

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and is enjoying boxing day. Picks for AQU posted below.

Race 1      8-6-2

Race 2      3-2-1

Race 3      8-9-6

Race 4      6-5-2

Race 5      7-6-4

Race 6      8-1-4-2

Race 7      3-11-8

Race 8      3-2-6

Race 9      8-4-7

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

This will be my last blog for a while. Not because I have run out of things to say – that’s not likely to ever happen – but because for a few days I won’t be in any shape to see the page. Don’t worry. I won’t be gone long.

It is ironic that the theme of Christmas is Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men. Based on world events, it feels like we’ve never been farther from those ideals. There are many reasons why we find ourselves in what seems to be a depressing time, some obvious some mysterious, but the solutions involve radical commitments from everyone on all sides. I’d give up all the Christmas presents and my favorite meal of the year – spiral ham and lasagne with Sicilian Cassata for dessert – for just a few things on my world Christmas list:

Tolerance. As long as you believe anyone with an opposing view is wrong and deserves to be villified, you will resolve no problems. It is trite, but you can disagree without being disagreeable. And you can certainly disagree without mass shooting innocent people to make your point.  There are far too many sins committed in the name of intolerance, and far too many times we embarass ourselves by our poor behavior toward others. Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. That being said,

Facts must count for more than opinion and ideology. If there is anything that can be put in the “just plain dumb” bin it is arguing that facts and opinions are equivalent. History is full of such examples, and modern people laugh at the foolishness of our ancestors. Galileo proved the earth revolves around the sun, but that did not stop the Church from threatening him with heresy for publishing such lies. The earth was proven round at a time when the vast majority of people believed it was flat. The list goes on and on, and had the people who believed that evil spirits caused disease prevailed, we may have never realized modern medicine. In the world today, discussions surrounding the possibility of long term climate change regularly deteriorate into name calling diatribes; yet in this case there are observations and facts that should form the basis for any debate. And a snowball brought to the floor of the Senate in the middle of winter does not consitutute relevant fact or observation. Do I have a solid idea whether the national debt will destroy America? Am I certain raising the minimum wage will increase or decrease unemployment? Do I have a clue whether bombing ISIS into dust will solve all of America’s security problems? No, but I believe there are some really smart experts who would provide facts to inform a debate, if not give us a definitive answer. If you’ve closed your mind to facts because they conflict with your opinion, then you are the problem. That being said,

Education and training are the answers to a lot of problems. Look, the educational system in America is not broken beyond all repair. We still turn out some incredibly bright and capable people. Foreign students still come to America to study. But what we don’t do is prepare every student for the world in front of them. We are finally coming to the realization that you cannot test kids into performing better in school. What we haven’t realized is that school does not have to be so heavily focused on preparation for college. How about a system where after a student’s high school sophomore year, he or she gets to declare for the final two years, either college prep or a vocation? Now we know if we had the school districts be fully responsible for vocational training the options would be as limited as they are now. Instead, how about we use the existing private technical schools and community colleges that offer a wide suite of options. If you’ve ever watched daytime TV (which apparently the unemployed do) there are lots of commercials for schools offering just about everything you can think of, including free placement. Even if only two students in the school district want to be dental hygienists, they can go to the vocational school that offers it. The school district makes a deal with the vocational school to pay a per pupil fee, and it certainly would be a lot less than normal tuition. Here are the plusses:

  • The student has the absolute ability to decide which path he/she takes. The interminable testing is irrelevant. You want college prep? You’re in. You want to be a legal assistant, you’re in.
  • Let’s say 25% of the kids opt for the vocational path. That’s potentially fewer teachers (I won’t say 25% fewer because it can correct poor teacher/pupil ratios), fewer buildings to maintain, fewer school busses, and maybe even lower taxes.
  • The dropout rate has to decrease substantially. Those last two years when students turn 16 are the critical times. If they see school as a waste of time, they will drop out with no skills and lower prospects. By offering them vocational training you have a chance to make their futures much brighter.
  • School districts could offer specialized arts schools that are beyond current budgets. In larger metro areas multiple school districts can combine on schools for dance, music, art or theater.
  • The vocational students can get training without undertaking the burden of crushing debt.
  • Classrooms can become more challenging places because the remaining students will be highly motivated to be there. Teachers can challenge students more. They can better prepare them for college, or even offer more college course so they can graduate from college in less than four years with less of the debt students are accumulating.

You see the point. Under that sort of system you cater to closer to 100% of the kids than just the college prep students. What could make more sense? Doesn’t cost more, has better overall results.

Education is the great equalizer. It opens doors and creates opportunities. But you cannot force everyone into the same channel. You have to create options. There are many really good jobs that don’t require a college degree as long as there is opportunity.

Of course the greatest value of education and training is that it is harder to be purposely ignorant. You up your chances of making better decisions. Chances are increased that people will see which solutions to problems are best. And you up your chances of not having to rely simply on rote ideology to drive your positions.

This is no less the solution in places like Afghanistan or Syria. You are going to have a much harder time recruiting someone to die if they have potential and opportunity. Regardless of how you figure it out, education from kindegarten to college should be affordable enough that no one who wants the opportunity would be denied based primarly on cost. That being said,

Do not let fear drive you. Yeah there are people in places like the middle east, Pakistan, Afghanistan and even in our own country who wish us the worst, and we should be serious about keeping ourselves safe. But how likely is it that you’ll make a good decision when you are in the throes of fear? It has been said many times that the object of terrorists is to instill fear, to make us give up our rights as Americans, and to act out of panic. If we choose to let non-specific, over the top rhetoric drive the disccussion we are likely to create more problems than we solve. Yes, anything can happen to anybody at any time, and it is good to be aware, but it is far more important to show fanatics that they will never win by scaring us into abandoning the values that still make America the destination for those seeking a better life. And those mongering in fear should be seen as far less concerned about the forces of evil than they are about gaining or expanding their own power. You cannot kill an idea with all the guns and armor in the world, especially one as strong as that embodied by the poem on the statue of liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And that being said, finally,

Remember you aren’t here all by yourself. I hope you aren’t one of the people who will have a rough Christmas because of some adversity, but especially at this time of the year it is important to remember the less fortunate. There are so many great ways to share your good fortune with others and I hope you take the time to show someone less fortunate that the Christmas spirit is alive and well.

For all those who enjoy following my blog, I wish you a wonderful holiday season, and health and prosperity in 2016. Be back soon.

Betting Horses for Profit

Good horseplayers bet to win. Bad horseplayers bet not to lose.

Statistically fewer than five percent of regular horseplayers win in the long term. There are two things within the horseplayer’s control that determine winning or losing: handicapping and betting. In this book there will be very little discussion about handicapping. There are many horseplayers who are adequate, if not very good handicappers, and in my opinion handicapping deficiencies are secondary to betting deficiencies. If nothing else, there are scores of exceptional public handicappers that publish selections daily if you’d prefer to get a head start on the selection process. Bankroll mismanagement, being in the wrong pools, and poor betting strategy are far more responsible, in my opinion, for money loss than poor handicapping.

There are also things beyond a horseplayer’s control that can affect the outcome of races: the ride a jockey gives the horse; illegal, performance enhancing medication; decisions by the stewards; and something I’ll call bad racing luck. Even given the presence of these external factors, the greatest part of winning and losing is within the control of the horseplayer.

The first part of the book will deal exclusively with external factors. Some of America’s best jockeys will talk about race riding and answer these and other questions all horseplayers have. How much of success or failure goes to the horse versus the jockey? How often are winning horses stymied by poor racing tactics? What are the differences between the top riders and the ones lower in the standings? What are the differences between riding on the turf and the dirt?

Racing stewards from different jurisdictions will discuss how decisions to disqualify (or not disqualify) are made and what they look for during the running of a race.

Owners, trainers, racing officials, veterinarians, scientists, equine pharmacologists, and veteran horseplayers will provide the basis for a discussion of drugs in racing, including the most discussed medication, Lasix.

Bad racing luck – stumbling at the start, losing a jockey, taking a bad step – is nothing the horseplayer can control, but I’ll talk about how often those sorts of things affect a race outcome.

The second half of the book will focus on bankroll management, which pools are best for your bankroll, and the most effective way to bet once you’ve selected a pool – everything you need to turn yourself into a consistent winner.

I’m busy working on the background now and I hope to have it to the publisher by late spring. For now, anyone who has questions they’d like to see answered or input on any of the topics feel free to contact me.

The Lasix Wars Continue

I get it. I really do. The people who believe Lasix is the great scourge of racing are absolute in their conviction that Lasix must be banned. The people that believe Lasix is a necessary therapeutic drug are equally convinced they are on the right side.

Objectively, the weight of medical studies seems more convincing on the pro-Lasix side, although more study needs to be done. While few horses bleed to the point of epistaxis (visible blood coming from the nostril), the majority of horses do show signs of bleeding in the tracheal region after exercise and most show improvement in the level of EIPH (exercise induced pulmonary hemorrage) when treated with Lasix. You can argue the evidence regarding what percentage of horses are in fact helped through the administration of Lasix. You can argue if Lasix has performance enhancing effects beyond reduction of EIPH. But Lasix, for the most part, works as advertised. You might not like it, but facts are facts.

Many pro-Lasix people emphasize the lack of alternative treatments. There is concern for the horse in the sense that if Lasix was banned trainers would revert to denial of food and water. I have no doubt that at some tracks, that would be exactly the case. Many anti-Lasix people suggest if trainers applied better horsemanship techniques they could overcome the limitations caused by EIPH. If they are offering an answer beyond that, other than the worst bleeders should not be racing, I’m not sure I know what it is.

I don’t believe it is arguable that the Barr-Tonko legislation is in part motivated by the idea of identifying a single, federal panel that will be sympathetic to banning raceday Lasix. Just check the list of supporters of the bill if that doesn’t sound right. For both sides, federal legislation is not simply a subject for intellectual debate. It is about the viability of racing.

I’ve previously come down on the pro-Lasix side for three reasons. One, I believe the medical evidence shows it is an effective treatment for EIPH, and currently the best medical alternative. Two, I believe that any alternative that involves denying water and food may be a worse for a horse than applying Lasix, and if you believe trainers won’t do that, or that they will turn a big corner on horsemanship, then you’ve never been to a C-level track. Three, there is a high probability the availability of horses will decrease at smaller tracks, and may ultimately render those tracks not viable. If your racing world is NYRA or Santa Anita this may not resonate, but a lot of states would lose horseracing if stock goes down in large numbers. Even if you believe we already have too many racetracks, the solution to that problem is not to try to delete them through the back door.

There are two nagging problems in my opinion. First, there doesn’t seem to be anyone looking for the middle ground. As far as I can tell the anti-Lasix people are fixed that Lasix should not be allowed on raceday. The pro-Lasix people see it as the safest, most effective medical treatment for EIPH, and thus a necessity to allow many horses to race. Perhaps both sides fear that if they gave an inch, they would lose their argument. Second, the anti-Lasix people often conflate supporting the use of Lasix with having a support for use of drugs in general. It’s an ugly tactic designed to reinforce the position of the pro-Lasix people that Lasix supporters are wrong. But what if we lowered the dose from 10 cc’s four hours before a race to 3-5 cc’s? The change can certainly be tested and studied. All or none only works when the decision makers have homgeneous beliefs.

There is certainly a substantial subset of racegoers who believe illegal drugs are rampantly used by trainers. While it makes for spirited discussion, trainers who use illegal, performance enhancing drugs are an entirely different discussion than trainers who use Lasix, and the issues have to be dealt with separately. Lasix is not the “marijuana,” the gateway drug to Class 1 and 2 PEDs, and I for one am tired of the anti-Lasix people clouding a necessary discussion by lumping anyone who supports use of Lasix with someone who would use PEDs to gain an illegal advantage. Good people with good data and good intentions should be able to find good solutions without reducing the arguments to exaggeration and misrepresentation. And maybe without involving the Congress.

I think the category of horsemen and horseplayers who are fine with the use of raceday Lasix but have zero tolerance for illegal PEDs is substantial. I count myself in that group. A trainer like Roy Sedlacek who admitted using a supplement in the hope of gaining a performance edge should be dealt a harsh punishment. As you can read for yourself in my blog, I gave him no support for his actions.

I’ve grown weary of trying to convince those who despise Lasix and see drug conspiracies behind every winner that you can only have a serious discussion by finding the areas of agreement and building from there. You have to believe both sides are willing to work toward the best outcomes for racing overall. But if you see the other side as deluded and wrong-headed, you won’t have a productive discussion. You won’t solve any problem by telling people who have a legitimate, intellectually honest position that they are simply wrong. If you sincerely want to solve this problem, step one is to understand the position of the other side and treat it respectfully. If you can’t do that, at least get out of the way of those who will.

Meanwhile get this right. Illegal, performance enhancing drugs have no place in racing. And you can tell everyone that is my unequivocal opinion.