Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Better Bettor

A few years ago I found myself discussing wagering strategy with a friend of mine whose handicapping prowess I respect very much.  I had been reading a book on money management by Barry Meadow at the time and when I brought his name up in our conversation, my friend's response was quite simply "Barry is an okay handicapper, but one helluva bettor." 

What makes someone a better bettor than someone else?  Forget racing for a moment and think of casino games...  someone can play blackjack versus the house using optimal strategy and make money riding streaks, but put the same guy at a poker table and match his optimal strategy versus a table of guys who are bluffing and he'll be read and walk away at maybe a breakeven point.  When do you just throw optimal strategy out the window and go for value?  Back to racing...  you have done your homework, you know the probability of a certain event taking place, you know how the pace is likely to set up... but your returns are modest compared to others?

My wife is a better bettor than I am.  I play very calculated plays and make my modest returns while she finds a way to kill the mutuels.  Is it that I am not a big risk taker?  I would fancy myself a risk taker, heck I used to enjoy running into burning buildings and working as a construction professional I have to bid public projects and try to figure what amount the bid should be to be competitive without leaving any money on the table.  I handicap my competition at work - knowing what they pay their field staff, how they will staff a job, what jobs they have going on locally that they can either share services on or subs that they can lock up to package a deal with...  but why can't I pull the trigger and hit the big one?  Why can't I move off of my 'projected winner' and take the competitor that looks to offer the best value based on my calculated 'fair odds'? 

Have I honed my wagering methodology beyond the point I should have?  With the data I started collecting on every single wager I had placed over 2001 and 2002 I had started to refine my approach based on where I say profit and loss...  I eventually cut out a fair amount of trifecta, superfecta, and Pick 4 (and up) wagers and say my volume go down with my net return increasing the next year... but if your bread and butter is some semblance of WPS, it is a grind to make a buck versus hitting an elusive mutuel.  I guess it is just time to go back and start muddling through the data again, taking a step back and see what I am missing.

Food for thought on a busy Sunday night...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Break

Spring is here, I can smell it!  Alright, so that's not the smell of spring, just one last ditch effort by winter to mess with us - really snow after I was ready to get my golf clubs out?  The road to the Kentucky Derby is starting to heat up with tons of important prep races to either further establish a spot or make a last ditch effort to show that they belong... so what am I doing other than getting ready for baseball season to start?

Since I didn't make the cut for the Monmouth SSC finals (congrats again to Terry at Red Rock or Bust for finishing second in the SSC#3 and making the Finals next month) and with no other events on my radar until May (start of the Public Handicapper Summer contest, TVG NHC freebie, and probably one NHC Qualify event in June), I find myself thinking about what I can do to hone my contest skills over the next month and a half.

Tonight, while contemplating a lot of things and having a Rocky Patel Renaissance (medium body cigar, wasn't sold on the first third, but the cigar finished much better than it started), I found myself thinking about contest play and value.  I am a stubborn son-of-a-gun and still find myself falling back to my tried and true angles and methods.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I spend a lot of time analyzing favorites (strong favorites, false favorites, and my 'Favorite Likelihood Factor' that I figure for all non-maiden races).  I have made a lot of money going with strong favorites as keys in doubles and Pick 3's, while also capitalizing by playing against weak favorites.  My arsenal of angles may find one or two playable races per card (if I am lucky), but if I am given 30 or so races to play, I may find a few playable races and need to start taking some 'shots' to take late (Jagermeister if you are buying).  So what am I not looking at that I should be looking at?  Connections.  The same jockeys and trainers win a lot... for good reason - winners keep on winning in their niche.

Fact - last year was my worst year at my home track (Monmouth).  In the past I have owned that track, knew all the connections, jockey moves, trainer plays.  It appears the arrival of another tier of horsemen threw me for a loop.  Why?  The niches of the horsemen were not the same as what I knew in the past.

Fact - As much as I may hope and wish, the NHC will probably not include Turf Paradise, Penn National, Philadelphia Park (aka Parx), and Hawthorne as any of the contest races...  I need to spend some time with the classier crowd at Santa Anita/Del Mar, NYRA, and the Kentucky circuit where horses are less automatic and better 'placed' - change my mindset for these venues and maintain what I do on a day-in-day-out basis at my bread-and-butter tracks.

Fact - I need to find another 'edge'.  It is too time consuming to track key races or bias on a circuit I don't regularly follow...  finding connections is a little less intense, more observation and gut feel based on 'karma moves'... time to go back and read some of the tabbed chapters of the many books that make up my handicapping library.

Fact - As much as I am still not sure I enjoyed that Rocky Patel, I do have a couple of solid Cohibas in my humidor to assist in further contemplation during my 'downtime' before Derby Day kicks off a few new qualifying opportunities.

Well, I do have a couple of weeks to try to figure things out (again).  I must deviate from my comfort zone...  time to hit the past performances and start crunching some data...

Monday, March 7, 2011

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows...

Thanks to Bob Dylan for stating the obvious... which is how I felt after Sunday's tour event and doing my post mortem this morning.

Nailed 1,158th place on Sunday and I do have a few thoughts on how the NTRA set this contest up.  First off, please don't mention on your site that the contest tracks will consist of four tracks only to not have two of the mentioned tracks (Aqueduct and Santa Anita) be part of the contest (which I bought, downloaded, and printed - only not to use).  Secondly, amazing advances in weather forecasting technology have been established within the last century...  the weather looked lousy for the weekend in Louisiana and Florida... couldn't alternate, better weather tracks, have been selected... OR why did they have to select five races between the Fair Grounds and Gulfstream that were likely to come off of the turf and result in fields smaller than what we could have had from a fast track at Santa Anita or Aqueduct?  Thanks for all the scratches and changes...  chaos did not yield any huge payouts!  Last time I checked, there were several other NTRA tracks running on Sunday which could have also yielded open fields with minimal changes...  but what do I know?

This weekend was busy and honestly knowing that 1,816 people would be trying for four spots over two tracks I don't follow (Oaklawn and Gulfstream consisting of 60% of the race) and the weather being questionable at the Fair Grounds and Gulfstream, I figured I would need to have some considerable luck on my side.  I checked the early changes on Sunday and saw that the Fair Grounds was off the turf and Gulfstream was 'good'...  later to be taken off the turf which totally killed me.  Oaklawn for me was a waste... a circuit I have never followed at all.  Sam Houston was the bright spot I thought it would be and cashed in both races selected... but all in all, the contest yielded three winners of 5-1 and over...  hard to find a lot of value and make up lost ground.  Late scratches from the Gulfstream surface switch took out another play where I was stuck with the post time (losing) favorite.

My 'consolation prize' was a solid Monday at Turf Paradise doing what I do best... killing the cheap claimers at minor tracks.  On a positive note, I have started working on a couple of promising new angles and am closer to getting enough data on one I have been tracking for while to add to the arsenal.  I will take a few weeks off from the NHC events, enjoy a nice (and much needed) night away in Atlantic City with my wife, develop a few theories, keep trying to add to my bankroll on Public Handicapper (currently in 211th place out of 2,921, and gear up for the tentative events over the summer at Monmouth Park. 

I do have a few plays I like tomorrow between Turf Paradise and Penn National...  winning always makes me feel better. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

'Twas The Night Before the Qualifier

'Twas the night before the NTRA NHC Qualifier and all through the house,
Not a thing was stirring, not even my mouse.
The PP's were printed, handicapped, and set in order with care,
In the hopes that a trip to Vegas soon would be there.
The winners were nestled, all snug in the races,
ready to be found by some handicapping aces.

I know it is not quite the holiday season... if anything it felt like spring today and baseball season is almost upon us, but my daughter insisted on singing Jingle Bells before... and it kind of got stuck in my head.

Will one of those aces that snags one of the four spots that are up for grab be me?  I hope so.  This weeks contest features races from Gulfstream (one of my worst tracks), Oaklawn (I haven't handicapped a race from this track in at least ten years), Fair Grounds (two turf races that appear very likely to be on the main track, if they are run at all - Saturday's card was cancelled part of the way through), and Sam Houston (finally a track that I have historically done well at).  I nice sampling of races as well - several maiden races, a couple of lower and mid level claimers, a few optional claimers, and one minor stakes race.  Sam Houston has always been a track I have enjoyed playing and done well with... decent field sizes, competitive races, and a good mix of turf and dirt races.  I used to cover the Fair Grounds online for a couple of meets - I don't think the track bias has changed too much, and some of the same horsemen are still hanging around that circuit.  Oaklawn... other than I have heard the Hot Springs are very enjoyable, I know I have no turf races to deal with.  Gulfstream - maybe I should just adopt the 'play anything that Jersey Joe Bravo is riding' strategy... that has worked for me when he has ridden at Delaware Park on occasion in the past.

I could have sworn that the NTRA site had originally said the races would come from Aqueduct (which maybe after the lackluster fields offered at the Monmouth SSC last week, they had some reservations), Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, and Santa Anita.  I managed to kill a few trees in an effort to get ready, only to find that I had a couple of the wrong tracks printed out.  The contest site for this event did have a couple of wrong dates listed and said that the contest races would be posted on Friday afternoon - I guess 4:45 PM is better than nothing... technically they did sneak that in before the EST 'end of business' for the day.

How do I feel this week?  I honestly can't really tell you.  I felt pretty good about the Monmouth event last week and 'crashed and burned'.  Again, not thrilled with the selection of tracks, but at least feel I have a shot with some of them.  I have several new ideas in my head that I want to pursue and refine, so after the qualifier tomorrow, I will take a couple of weeks of limited handicapping and spend more time researching, refining, and analyzing data (and spend a much needed night away with my wife in Atlantic City at the Borgata - the best racebook in Atlantic City and the home of Bobby Flay's!)  It will be a nice breather before I get ramped back up for the Public Handicapper contest over the summer (which does offer a few spots to Vegas), maybe another shot at a live event at Monmouth (if/when they are actually running), and another online qualifier at the NTRA site.

I will report how I did, time permitting I may even give a race by race analysis of what went right for me... and with some better luck than I had last week, it will include how I made the top four and what I plan on doing between now and the finals in Vegas in January!  We'll see how this one ends....

But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight,
"You won your way to Vegas, and to all a good night!"