Public Handicapping

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.

Aqueduct December 14

Looks like a competitive day with lots of potential prices.

Race 1      5-1-4

Oh Poggibonsi has the fastest last race figure and should be in front down the backstretch. Mr Amos is the better of the entry, Scattered Dreams ran some quick races two months ago and beat a weak $40K maiden field last out.

Race 2      7-6-2

Kibble has spent most of her career on the turf despite being much better bred for the dirt. I’d like to have seen a workout in the last two weeks but he should have no problems with the distance. Fiery Cat comes in from Churchill where he finished up the track after a troubled start. Before that she ran a good second at this level at KEE. Blinkers go on today for McLaughlin. Black Corona improved remarkedly when moved to the dirt.

Race 3      4-6-3

The East View for two year old state-bred fillies is today’s third race. I’m giving the nod to Freudie Anne. After getting trounced along with everyone else in the Gimma Stakes she came back with a powerful win in an OC $75K. She should be tracking My Super Nova and gets first run in the stretch. Building Permit ran behind Freudie Anne in her last and is another with stretch running chances. My Super Nova is the speed but looks to have better sprint breeding.

Race 4      3-12-10-1

Perchance has been working lights out for McLaughlin and is well bred for the sprint distance. Fortress is the other McLaughlin trainee. She has a long set of works culminating with a quick 4F two weeks ago. The combination with Dylan Davis hasn’t produced a win yet, but she has outs in this field. Lil Lady Big Purse is by Indian Charlie, a horse that is noted for siring sprinters. Shettino is 15% with first starters and Franco is a good choice for the ride. Yes for Success goes first time for Kimmel off a good set of breezes at BEL.

Race 5      3-8-9

North Ocean is by far the best speed and if the track is fair he has a chance to wire the field. State Flag is well hidden given his 12-1 ML He was claimed last out by Danny Gargan who is 20% first off the claim. I never feel giddy over plodders, but he should have some pace to run at. Rap d’Oro is another longshot that interests me. Hes been closing well regularly and that’s enough to give him some outs.

Race 6      5-1-6

Moldavite should have the lead here, but is not a need to lead sort. She’s dropping from MSW and speed with a class drop is always a dangerous angle. Southern Sunshine is listed as the favorite but with 11 starts so far I’m going to be a little wary about backing her for the win. Agate is another dropping to the MCL ranks after being off for almost 7 months. Works are nothing special but Donk is 29% off the long layoff.

Race 7      2-5-8

Saythreehailmary’s has two good figures in a row and a nice pressing style. She’s doe fine at the one turn mile but this will be her first two turn race. We’ll see if she handles it well. Storied Lady has been racing well with state bred stakes runners all year and is 2 for 4 on the AQU inner. Canal Six might be a step below some in here, but has the numbers to compete.

Race 8      6-9-12

In this very competitive Damon Runyon, I’m going to take a flyer with Possilicious. He wired a field a little over three weeks ago but steps up today to the mile seventy distance. His breeding suggests the longer race is within his ability but he may have a future more as a sprinter. He gets a shot today. Bullhead Boy has been in nothing but state bred stakes since breaking his maiden at SAR. Given Pletcher is the trainer, you have to extend respect, although you have to wonder if the horse had a high level future if he wouldn’t be in Florida. Still he’s a state bred and this may be where he needs to stay. Good Luck Gus has been running well but not really good enough to beat the big boys. Still he has plenty of experience and RuRod on his side.

Race 9      5-4-10

Discreet Force is as the right level today after failing to bust into the top three in his last. Still she’s got good numbers and a nice tracking style. Mama Zee is the ML fav off a nice last race run. She’s got two seconds in three starts on the inner. R Girl She Gone has a second on the inner in her last out. The Persaud/Mangalee combo is hitting at 30%.

Aqueduct December 13

Had a late game last night. Championship game in an early season tournament between two top 5A teams that went into overtime, so I lost a little handicapping time, but I got up early to make up for it so I’m looking for another good day.

A few scratches today changed some races for me so we’ll see what happens.

Race 1      3-2

Race 2      4-5-2

Race 3      3-5-1

Race 4      11-9-5

Race 5      2-3-1

Race 6      3-10-8-7

Race 7      4-3-7

Race 8      5-7-1

Race 9      3-12-9

Aqueduct December 12

I didn’t have a lot of insight today. Seems like a number of favorites look good and I struggled to come up with solid longshots. Been tough to find a rhthym for the inner, but if we could get the weather to settle that will come.

Race 1      4-5-1

Race 2      6-1-4

Race 3      1-3-4

Race 4      1-5-4

Race 5      5-7-1

Race 6      2-4-1

Race 7      2-6-5

Race 8      11-9-12

Race 9      9-11-1

Aqueduct December 11

With apologies, it’s supposed to be in the 60’s in Denver today and instead of hanging around all day I’m going to make some bets and head to the golf course. Can’t let these warmer winter days go to waste.

Race 1      4-1-7

Race 2      1-2-3

Race 3      2-1-3

Race 4      4-6-1

Race 5      8-6-7

Race 6      3-2-8

Race 7      6-2-1

Race 8      6-7-3

Race 9    10-3-2

Inside Some Numbers

The other day one of the “Boom” guys got excited when his $28 Pick-3 play paid $165, which sounds pretty good until I pointed out the parlay was $215. Ok, it was a little snippy to say something, but I was always from the Paul Brown school that said, act like you’ve been there, and save the sonic booms for a really major score.

I took a look at the rolling P3 payoffs from Aqueduct last Saturday and Sunday and here’s what I found


  • 1                9.90
  • 2             20.60
  • 3             20.60                  1,050                    551
  • 4                4.40                      466                    413
  • 5                3.60                         81                       80
  • 6                8.50                         33                       44
  • 7                6.50                         49                       57
  • 8             14.40                      198                    252
  • 9                6.80                      159                    389
  • 1                8.50
  • 2             37.00
  • 3                4.20                      330                    596
  • 4             18.80                      730                    998
  • 5                3.50                         69                       99
  • 6                6.60                      108                    174
  • 7                9.10                         52                       47
  • 8             11.20                      168                    127
  • 9                3.30                         84                      77

This is a pretty small and unscientific sample, but there are a few interesting things.

First, only 57% of the P3’s paid better than the parlay and that was a surprisingly low number. Now the superiority of the Pick 3/4/5/6 bets is supposed to be that in a multiple race sequence the “take” is only grabbed once. In the parlay, the take would be applied to three different bets. So, we would expect a premium (say at least 25%) for our P3 wager. Of the eight P3’s that paid more than the parlay, seven paid over a 25% premium. and only 5 paid a 33% premium. And, only one on Saturday and one on Sunday paid more than a 50% premium. Shouldn’t we expect most of the P3’s to pay more than the parlay? All in all, ithe P3 was a marginal bet on those two days from an investment standpoint.

Interestingly, the P3’s that paid more than the parlay on Saturday were in the last four races. On Sunday it was the first four races, so nothing consistent there. On Saturday a sequence with two 9-1 shots and a 7-2 shot paid half of the parlay. On Sunday a sequence with a 3-1, 6-5 and 17-1 paid practically double the parlay. On Saturday a sequence with two 2-1 shots and a 6-1 shot paid more than double the parlay. The one thing both of those sequences had in common was that the biggest price was in the middle of the sequence. On Saturday the lowest pay sequence paid more than the 25% premium we would be seeking. On Sunday, the low pay sequence was actually less than the parlay.

I think this may be something worth studying with a much larger sample because the evidence from two days was ambiguous. But it tended to lean toward what it felt like to me all season – the P3 is not consistently a good bet, at least at AQU.

Let me say one last thing about horizontal wagers. If you have a single in your sequence, you are essentially making a win bet on that horse. Even though the ML isn’t always representative (assuming you don’t make your own line) you can use it to make a rough calculation of your horizontal bets. If you have a single in your sequence, decide how much you want to invest and do your best to determine the return if you placed it all to win on the single versus the P3. It’s a lot easier to sweat one race instead of three, and if your single wins, you are a winner no matter what happens in the other two legs.

If you follow me on twitter, you know I am a big fan of win bets and even two horses to win in the same race. It can be a grind, and you won’t have too many BOOM’s, but at the end of the day the idea is to find the best way to maximize return on investment.

Aqueduct December 10

It’s a sloppy/muddy track after two inches of rain fell yesterday. The inner has played unpredictably (at least for me) when it is wet so I’ll be going very slowly today. Just hope my horses aren’t.

Abbreviated selections today. I propmised a second blog so I’ll be working on that today.

Race 1     4-1

Race 2     7-6-8

Race 3     7-2-4

Race 4     3-8-4

Race 5     4-1

Race 6     6-5-2

Race 7     4-3-2

Race 8     6-5-2

Race 9     7-9-8

At NYRA It’s 1984

“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently…We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
     – George Orwell, 1984
Eric Arthur Blair was an English novelist and essayist who spent his life in critical opposition to social injustice and totalitarianism. He is probably most remembered for his dystopian 1949 novel, 1984, written under the pen name George Orwell. He wrote the book in the elongating shadow of a post-World War II Europe that had seen the meteoric rise and fall of fascism and the burgeoning threat of a communist Soviet Union controlled by Big Brother himself, Josef Stalin.
The frightening theme that weaves throughout the book is censorship, the endless doctoring of photographs and the erasure of “unpersons,” so that no record of their existence remains.
In a move that at least provides a whiff of 1984, NYRA has decided that the video replay for the 8th race on Friday December 5 will be forever deleted from the archives, or as Orwell may have put it,
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
In a Daily Racing Form article, David Grening described the incident this way:
“Friday’s incident occurred when Quick Money, ridden by Angel Serpa, clipped heels after American Creed, ridden by Manuel Franco, drifted in and Sol the Freud, ridden by C.C. Lopez, came out, closing what was a narrow hole. Quick Money went down, and Laila’s Jazz fell over him. Half Nelson, ridden by Israel Rodriguez, fell over Laila’s Jazz. Quick Money died as a result of the impact, which caused him to break his neck. Half Nelson was vanned off but shortly thereafter was euthanized due to a fractured shoulder. Laila’s Jazz got up and ran loose before being caught by an outrider and was not reported to have suffered a serious injury.”
It was an ugly scene to be sure, but the decision not to show the replay after the race, especially considering there was an inquiry, was – and there is no other way to put this – wrong. And the further decision to expunge the race from the NYRA video library only compounded the mistake. NYRA’s policy is not to show race replays where there is a death involved. They would like you to believe it is in the “best interest of the sport” to bury fatal accidents, but it stretches credibility to believe that argument. If that is, in fact, a reason, it can be no better than a minor part of the decision.
Someone suggested that the NYRA spokesperson was being politic, but offering it was in the best interest of the sport was as lame a non-answer as we could have imagined. Why is it in the best interest? Was it too violent for normal sensibility? Are we honoring the “memory” of the horses who perished, exhibiting some surreal sensitivity to the horses as we might to the families of the human victims of tragedies? NYRA seemed to either be acting imperially (the object of power is power after all) or assuming we were all incapable of objectively watching the video.
I’ll give you the likely reason. Between Joe Drape, PETA, Real Sports and the other groups making a living from sensationalizing race track accidents – and fatalities – the idea of handing them what seems like another bullet for their firearm can be seen as self-destructive. But the other sports that tried to keep their problems closeted learned the hard way that it has the opposite effect on public opinion. If you need an example, go no farther than Roger Goodell and Ray Rice. Put simply, if you act like you have something to hide, everyone concludes you have something to hide. Either that or you think you are beyond the effects of criticism, and even the exalted NFL found out how fast the worshippers can turn.
Horseracing is different than other sports because it is driven by the betting that occurs on each event. If NASCAR decided not to show horrific crashes fans might be disappointed, but it’s not a pari-mutuel sport where fans have the right to review the races they pay to watch. Football fans may look away when a vicious hit results in a stomach-turning injury, but unless the hit is illegal, it winds up being just a part of the game. There is not a sport played where injuries are not inherent, and sometimes repulsively ugly. Every fan understands and accepts that.
Yes, fans have an absolute right to view race replays, both to make their own assessment of the fairness of the outcome and as part of handicapping. There can be no argument about this. If we need to have a discussion it should be about how those of us with a need to make assessments can gain access while keeping those whose sensibilities would be offended from accidentally stumbling upon a video of a horse breaking its neck during a race. But at the end of the day, if someone wants to use the video to “prove” the cruel nature of horseracing we can’t stop it. All we can do is what every other sport does – demonstrate how we are proactively working to make the sport as safe as possible. If that is not what we are doing, then horseracing does not deserve to survive. Anything less than ensuring trainers who improperly care for their horses or put unsound animals on the track, jockeys who ride recklessly, veterinarians that do not provide absolute assurance of a horse’s ability to race safely, and maintenance supervisors who do not absolutely ensure the safety of the racing surface are separated from racing is unacceptable. THAT is how you fight against those who wish to bury racing.
NYRA is not acting in the public interest but their own. Or as Orwell put it,
“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

Aqueduct December 7

Poured yesterday, so the track will be muddy today. The form is still settling and the turf horses that decided to stay for the inner dirt are adjusting. The biggest issue with racing on the inner is that horses can unexpectedly pop up and run big, and it isn’t always obvious on form. Speed did not do well yesterday, although the track seemed fair from the rail to the middle.

Race 1     5-6-4

Home to Carrowkeel has two good learning races on the turf, and is dropping substantially for Michelle Nevin. The works are nothing special, but she is deadly with horses off the layoff. Hot on Ice should be the speed here. Crystal Rocket has been off a year and returned for Contessa on a sloppy track. Race wasn’t much, but surely she needs one or two to get back in the swing.

Race 2     2-3-7

Frosty Bay is another turfer looking to hang out on the inner for a while. She has a win on a wet track, is dropping in price for Schettino, has a win in three tries on the inner. Sidisinforthree has a good lifetime win percentage and jumps up a little for high percentage trainer Michael Pino. Ocean Boulevard just won for Violette, comes back with a decent maintenance work. Has a couple of thirds on the wet track.

Race 3     6-5

Silver Silence drops back to his winning level today. Has a win and a second on the wet track. Andromeda’s Rish should be the favorite but is about the same on paper with the 6.

Race 4      6-3-1

Bert Stone ran greenly last out but with the race under his belt and the trainer change to Gullo he looks to improve all the way today. Bensational was claimed last out by Quartarolo and he jumps him up today. His race in the mud first out was not bad considering he was off a beat slow. Better break puts him in the race. Mark My Style takes the blinkers off after showing a front running preference. Contessa is 13% with that move.

Race 5      5-7-2

Sweets Galore has a good wet track record and is good at the distance. Has the top number going into this one. Hoopskirt is 8 of 9 on the inner and has a high wet track rating. Taylor Jagger was claimed last out by Nick Esler. She is 2 of 4 on the inner and while she hasn’t won on the wet, she’s 4 of 5 in the money.

Race 6     7-1-6

Read the Mirage is 10-1 ML had some big numbers on the inner last year and was taken in a turf race by Thomas Morely. He came back on a good AQU track and ran toward the front early, weakening toward the end. Jose Ortiz stays aboard and if he shows the same interest on the inner as he did last year he looks best. Boss Daddy just missed in the slop in October and came back to finish within a neck of winning at AQU. Perfect American has 10 starts but has a second and third on the wet track and a third in two tries on the inner. Seems more likely to make the exotics than win the race though.

Race 7     2-9-7

Brother Ralphie broke his maiden on the inner and ran a nice third coming off a five month layoff for Linda Rice. She is 25% with second off the layoff. Sun Storm has been showing speed but no ability to stay strong in the stretch, but he drops to his lowest level and that may give him enough of an edge to stay in front. Blue Chips only is dropping way down for this and Englehart is 36% with the turf to dirt move.

Race 8     5-7-8

Lunar Rover has a win and a second on the wet track, including a nice muddy run last out. Led in the Ontario Derby into the stretch and is not facing nearly that competition today. Casiguapo was competitive in the Amsterdam then tailed off slightly. Came back at Parx to run a nice second in a NW1X. 2 of 4 on the wet track. Sassicaia broke his maiden on a sloppy track last out and will be one of those battling up front today. Having Chad Brown on your side counts for something.

Race 9     8-4-6

Socialasul looks far the best for Jacobson who is having a mediocre inner meet by his standards so far. Still, not so much to beat here. Lubango has a win over the inner and is 3 of 4 in the money on the wet track. Irad Ortiz replaces Izzy Rodriguez and that is a major bump up. Star of New York looks good enough to fill out an exotic ticket.

Aqueduct December 6

This will be an abbreviated version since I’ve been working HS BB tournaments this weekend. Besides, the track is a mess and there were a ton of scratches. I’ll monitor the card, but if I play it will be cautiously.

Race 1     1-3-6

Race 2     8-6-2

Race 3     1-5-3

Race 4     1-8-7

Race 5     1-5-3

Race 6     11-8-7

Race 7     2-4-7

Race 8     1-4-6

Race 9     7-11-4