I had an interesting discussion this morning with some other handicappers about selection sites and making claims. It mainly came down to whether you can claim you “picked” the winner if it wasn’t the horse you put on top. There really isn’t a definitive answer (well, that’s not totally true – individually everyone was sure of their position), at least if that is the question.
There seem to be two general classes of public handicappers: those who make a selection in all races and those who zero in on a few races. There are plusses and minuses for both.
Being realistic, if you are picking nine races at a respective track, and you hit any better than the crowd percentage for winning favorites with your horses on top (around 35%) you’re doing pretty well, and if you have a positive ROI you are doing really well. If you are picking a limited number of races at a track and you have any sort of positive ROI you are also doing really well.
I focus exclusively on Aqueduct (for now anyway) and provide selections for all nine races a day. I’m going to make a confession. I don’t bet a horse to win in every race. There are some races where I have a higher level of confidence and races where I’m only a step or two above taking an educated guess. I guarantee there isn’t a public handicapper out there that would tell you any different. I’ll make another confession. If I have given my top choice a 25% chance of winning and it is 2-1, I’m not going to bet the horse. If I have given my second choice a 20% chance of winning and it is 7-1, I may bet that horse to win because of the value proposition.
Part of this morning’s discussion was whether people following a handicapper are ever betting any horse to win other than the top selection. I suppose if you are a bettor doing no work at all, you might see the top pick as coming from an oracle, but I am more optimistic and I think most people look at my picks and make an evaluation. If a handicapper wins with 35% of his top choices, people should understand that means on a normal day they had three or four winners in nine or ten races, and to make money the winners have to average a little better than 2-1. I expect them to understand that from a pari-mutuel standpoint, the second or third choice may be a better bet. I’ve often said, I’ll identify the most likely winner and any legitimate contenders for the win, but how that information is used is up to the individual handicapper.
I suppose assigning odds to each horse like some handicappers do would be helpful, and I may consider doing that in the future. But the important point is that not all top choices (or second or third choices) are the same and not all of them should be bet. If you’ve handicapped for any length of time, you know exactly what I mean.
I’m most interested in three bets: win, exacta, and the horizontals (pick 3/4/5/6). I rarely bet the Pick-6. I’ll bet the Pick-5 a little more often, but am very interested in Pick-3 and 4. If you are betting horizontals it is fairly common to use multiple horses in some of the events, so having three horses to choose from makes sense. In a later blog I’ll comment on strategies for betting Pick-3/4.
I’ll share one other thing about the way I pick. I’m looking for horses I think can win the race, which means I’ll often eliminate horses that are 1 for 30 in the win slot, but 50% place and show. These horses often will make up the exacta or trifecta, but I simply find them difficult to back as winners, so rarely will they show up in my top three. If they do show up, it is because I am not seeing any other win prospect, and generally I’ll mention my concern in the write-up.
For me, the point of public selection is to tell people who look, I think Horse A has the highest percentage chance of winning, Horse B has the second highest percentage, and Horse C has the third highest percentage. It doesn’t imply that Horse B has the higher chance of finishing second, and if you want to understand that go back and read my blog piece, Risk intelligence.
I will continue to most often offer three selections per race but I will consider the best way to differentiate races so it will be clearer which of the horses on top I think are most likely.