Friday, December 6, 2013

Getting Ahead

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started." -Agatha Christie

However in my case, it is getting restarted.

Over the last few months, I had lost my focus, drive, and motivation with both my profits and confidence in my selections suffering as a result.  While I had been making great strides with my 'homemade' sheet, figures, and pace analysis/prediction over the summer, my enthusiasm for both handicapping and the sport of racing diminished.  After still trying to run my sheet, handicap, track results, and place a few wagers with minimal success or interest, I had to finally realize that my head and heart were not in my work and that I needed to shut it down for a while.

Handicapping racing all year is a grind and unlike my friends that specialize in finite meets such as Saratoga or Del Mar and on sports like football or baseball, there is no 'light at the end of the tunnel' for me to shoot for.  Year long meets often require constant attention - bias tracking, results, trip notes, etc.  It is only natural to have your interest wane periodically, but at some point we need to recognize that and take a break before burning out while seeing our confidence and bankrolls suffer.

What were the signs of my 'handicapper burnout'?
  • Feeling an obligation instead of a desire to handicap 
  • Not wanting to make the necessary (and relatively minor) improvements to my sheet
  • No interest in flipping on TVG while working on something in the basement (which is normally my default 'background noise' down there)
  • Feeling that my routine of detailed record keeping was a chore and not an opportunity to validate my theories
  • Not being open to considering change - by not logging any of the nuances I saw in a particular race/condition I could not validate/challenge/modify my logic accordingly
  • Missing obvious factors when handicapping by not putting my full effort into my work
  • Lack of confidence - when you take the sum of the parts above, it is becomes hard to succeed and things start a downward spiral

Wednesday night marked my emphatic return to handicapping and wagering (not that I was ever really gone) by playing Woodbine.  While my confidence in my own abilities had diminished a bit prior to taking a break, I found that I was handicapping and preparing for last night's card with a renewed vigor and was rewarded handsomely for my efforts by nailing the early Pick 4.  I was mentally able to work through multiple pace scenarios to develop my contenders for each leg and turned my $28.80 bet on the $.20 Pick 4 into $219 and change.  I was locked in.  The adrenaline rush was back as I watched one of my contenders fly up the stretch late in the last leg to win at the wire.

What I learned and how to stay on track:
  • Work towards something - Monmouth SSC, NHC Tour event, etc. - a milestone date of some sort
  • Don't take on more than I can handle - last year I tried some ongoing contests at Paceadvantage which had me focus on tracks I don't normally handicap and ended up taking more time than I really had to handicap
  • Set realistic goals - the next 'phase' of my sheet isn't going to happen quickly or easily (analysis of a race for all of the likely pace scenarios and figure what the likelihood of each is) and I have a ton of minor tweaks to make prior to that even happening... but I can plan the logic and how I am going to accomplish this
  • Hit CTRL-ALT-DEL more often - for example the winter is great for this; a week of bad weather equals a week of not really being able to play certain tracks
  • Blog more - the more I talk about my theories/ideas/selections; the more I want to do it
  • Re-Engage with some of my fellow horseplayers and bloggers
  • Interact with new handicappers/horseplayers - inspire them and you will also find inspiration
  • Have fun - your passion should never feel overwhelming

In other news, Monmouth Park's Simulcast Series Challenge 2014 dates have been announced (1/4, 2/16, 3/15, 4/5, and the Invitational Finals on 4/26).  Kudos to Brian Skirka and his team for getting this information sent out on 11/7 which allows us to plan for these dates a lot earlier than in years past.  I am going to be pointing myself towards one or more of those dates again, and anticipate making both the SSC Invitational Finals and NHC Finals!

Time to get ahead and make 2014 a career year!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mistakes & Moving Forward

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." - Oscar Wilde

Every handicapper is different.  I know guys that are done with a race the minute the results are posted official; guys that will review and analyze how the race played out versus how they assumed the pace would set up, what unknown factors influenced the outcome (troubled trips, poor starts, etc.) and how that may have upset their projections; and then there trip handicappers who will pour over replays and make copious notes and find hidden nuggets in the way each horse was handled and what they encountered.  I am also a realist - to be a successful trip handicapper, you need a lot of time to review replays, make notes, log data - something I do not have.  However, I do spend the 'morning after' going over charts and seeing how well certain factors, figures, and my pace projections held up versus how the race was actually run and logging the data in countless spreadsheets for future reference, review, and manipulation.

This past Wednesday evening is a perfect example as I set out to chase the guaranteed Pick 4 at Woodbine, only to be beaten in the second leg by horse I was quick to dismiss despite my sheet telling me he could be a contender.  I was correct in assuming that the early pace would not hold, but took a shot on this leg with the 2, 5, 9, and 11 (after the scratch of the 12).  However, I missed the horse, #10 After Dinner, that would upset my play at a generous price.

This race was a 7f Maiden Claiming race for $10k.  (I am not going to post the PP since I am not sure Brisnet would approve).  Sporting a lifetime 0/16 record and being 5 years old - I had figured he was a habitual loser and not likely to improve (whereas the 3 year olds in the field would be more likely to do so).  However, while doing my next morning postmortem analysis, I started stripping away the non applicable races and troubled trips, then he amazingly became more attractive.

Last Out - did not like two turns (toss)
Two Back - bumped at the start in a sprint - wasn't able to get back into it (toss)
Three back - 5 wide in the stretch and made up 8 positions and 5.75 lengths in the stretch (positive race)
Four Back - 7f over the turf in a MSW contest - wrong spot and outclassed (toss)
Five Back - 6f sprint with today's jockey showing early speed and almost at the par for today's race (positive race)
Six and Seven Back - outclassed in sprints showing some early speed against much faster fractions that in Five Back and likely to be seen in this race (toss, yet positive to see the early speed)
Eight Back - 7f with same jockey - caught at the wire trying to go wire to wire and beating this race's par (positive)

So what am I trying to get at?  This was the only horse to hit par in a sprint in the entire field and when you stripped away the non applicable races, you were left with a horse that had some early speed but could also close and rate off the pace.  The balance of the field would have needed to improve considerably to exceed his ability (at 5yo, you can assume he has already shown what he can do).  Another telling hint was the ability time (AT) - while the headers are not shown, it is the figured circled below...

After Dinner did exactly what he was supposed to do - he rated off the pace and prevailed over my four selections in this leg of the Pick 4 at a nice 11-1 (with my four contenders finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th).  Rest assured, dismissing a horse on the surface of what appears to be miserable career without seeing what makes up that record will not be a mistake that I make again.  

Granted, it is always easier AFTER a race to say why a horse should have been picked or find some positive factor that would have led you down that path...  however, finding and then accumulating the factors and reasoning that you SHOULD have seen is a great way to not miss this these same factors in the future.  Some factors that I have tracked have led to nothing, but others have been invaluable additions in my approach to handicapping.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Changing My Focus (Back to the Pick 4)

"Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts." - Arnold Bennett

I took a hiatus from handicapping.  I needed a mental break from the repetitive nature of approaching the races (much like I needed a break from golf as I was developing bad habits again and reinforcing them in my muscle memory).  It was a bit awkward coming back after more than two weeks on not doing my daily routine of handicapping and am changing my focus once again to chasing Pick 4's with value and/or guaranteed pools.

Any time you try to change your mindset, you find yourself full of doubt and being overly conservative - much like my last Pick 4 effort at Woodbine.  I played a $.20 Pick 4 on a Wednesday with a guaranteed pool of $100k.  Granted I won, but the bet was essentially a wash since I could not bring myself to eliminate any entrants in the opener where I hit the 'All' button - a field of mostly first time starters out of the twelve betting entries.  I had originally had five entries, but could make a case for at least another four, which at that point I got too conservative and felt that I might as well cover the whole field.  My gut choice went off at 18-1 and finished a respectable second to a much lower odds horse.  The latter races I was more comfortable with and managed a single in the third leg (scratched down to a four horse field) that won and paid a whopping $2.60.  The second and fourth legs were a favorite and second favorite - resulting in a less that stellar payout based on the risk.  I had hung my hopes on a bomb in the wide open maiden race.

I find that when I am pointing myself towards contest play, it is hard for me to be consistent in Pick 4 play when looking for the top choice - whether it is based on likelihood of outcome or best value of the logical contenders.  When I am chasing Pick 4's, I have a hard time landing on that 'top choice' for contest play.  So I accept that there is some give and take based on what I am focusing on.

It is encouraging to see more regular guaranteed Pick 4 pools - both thoroughbred and harness.  Woodbine offers an early $.20 Pick 4 with guaranteed pools typically ranging from $75k to $100k on every racing day.  Saratoga has a $.50 Saturday Late Pick 4 with a guaranteed pool of $500k (which will be an all stakes $1M pool on 8/24), and even Los Alamitos has regular guaranteed Pick 4 pools, just to name a few.  The USTA Strategic Wagering Program has added smaller pools on harness tracks which can be found daily ($5k - $20k at a variety of venues) and even offers free PP's for these wagers via Trackmaster.

What is the most baffling thing to me is that neither Equibase or the Daily Racing Form list any of these guaranteed pools when they post their daily list of carryovers.  I think many bettors would want to know that there is a nice sized Pick 4 pool guaranteed when they scan over the carryover lists - instead, one can find (at the time of writing this on Friday 8/9 morning as posted on Equibase Mobile) - Indiana Downs Pick 6 $135; Mountaineer Pick 6 $857; etc.  I will grant you that they do hit the big carryovers as well (Louisiana Downs Pick 5 Jackpot $810,340; Arlington Pick 9 $97,576, etc.); but why not highlight the big guaranteed pools?  Wouldn't this be a great way to entice people to bet these pools so the track does not potentially take a loss by filling the balance of the pool?

Just something to ponder why I mull over today's $.20 Pick 4 at Woodbine, awaiting scratches and changes to see if it is even playable, and to see how how playable the $500k pool will be on tomorrow's Saratoga Late Pick 4 after all of the rain and today's races being taken off the turf...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Direction, Progress, and Parx Saturday Preview

"I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination." - Jimmy Dean

You can't force data to do what you want it to do - it will do what it does and you need to adapt to your findings.  I have refined my sheet and alas I am willing to show a couple of Saturday's races from Parx with it.  I still have work to do - a laundry list of minor bugs, a way to denote if a front-runner has never had to face pressure, and a confidence assessment based upon various factors within the race.  I have also decided to clean up the factors I don't really use or feel don't impact my decisions - amazingly I realized half of what was on my sheet could be removed.  Less is more, especially when it is more useful and reliable than what was eliminated.  It has taken me well over a year to get it this far, and know that I still have much more work to do.  As Thomas Edison once said, "I have not failed.  I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."  Any seasoned handicapper will agree that not every idea we have, track, refine, dissect, and over analyze will be a winner, yet we all learn something in the process - other factors to watch on other angles/ideas/systems, finding a niche where a factor works, or we blindly stumble across success in our failure.  The game is ever changing and angles/ideas that worked a few years ago many be rendered useless as the race conditions and horse conditioning changes.

A few weeks back I wrote about my thoughts on the Matrix Handicapping book by David Vaccaro.  I was actually floored that I had an email from David in my inbox this morning - he managed to stumble across my blog from May 24th and appreciated my feedback, honesty, and was glad I could take something positive away from his work.  I plan on giving him my honest feedback of the factor I was planning to track (post email, I did set up a tab in my results file and did notice that Rainbow Heir in the 10th at Monmouth on 7/4 was a winning play of what I had described) and I look forward to further interaction with someone else who shares my passion at the level I do.  I would also like to give a kudos to Derek Simon with the launch of his new site, - I have been following his work for quite a while and he was the latest motivator/inspiration to get my 'fecal matter coagulated' and finish my beta-pace analysis.

So without much further ado, I will get to business here... I tried to keep the tutorial on how to read my sheet short and sweet - wasn't going to happen.  It is a bit long winded before you get to the actual analysis and race reviews, but here it goes....

It is easily adjusted for scratches (by placing an ‘x’ in the column to the left of the Program Number) and if the race is switched from turf to dirt (by placing an ‘x’ in the Green box in the gray bar).

In the gray bar across the top of each race you will find the Race, conditions, and distance.
FLF – Favorite Likelihood Factor – average is 30; the higher it is the more likely the favorite is, the lower, the less likely.  This is based on a number of factors within the race and field. 
PPG – This is the ‘Pace Pressure Gauge’ from Randy Giles Extreme Pace Handicapping.  The other designations in the box are what type of runner would be favored based on the PPG.
AVG & MAX for the ES, LS, OS - these are part of the pace computations; and a designation that points to whether the early pace will be strong, weak, or unsure.

Figures After the Program # and Horse Name:
Two columns labeled “Smooth” Pts and Odds.  This is my system of assigning values to each entry based on the probability of results based upon individual factors (little inter-relation between the field here).  The ‘Odds’ is my fair odds based upon these factors.  Through years of testing, this raw factor when used alone wins at about 30% with a .976 ROI.  Needless to say, there are conditions where it does better and is profitable absent of any other handicapping.
ML – Morning Line Odds of the horse
Style / QP – Quirin based styles and speed points
Pace – my own twist on the Quirin designations – xf, f, mf, m, sm, s, xs – extra fast, fast, medium-fast, medium, slow-medium, slow, extra slow – based on the half mile call as to what pace range the horse likes (not necessarily the half mile time of the horse).
Speed – My homemade speed figure (wins 29.5% - 1.085 ROI on its own)
Raw Speed – My original speed figure (wins 26.5% - 0.978 ROI on its own)
Pace – Homemade pace figure – the lower, the better (win 28.6% - 1.078 ROI on its own)
Raw Power is a factor based on my other factors (wins 30.5% - 1.12 ROI on its own)
Late Pace is a route only factor I have been tracking – too early to speak to how valid it is.
PBR – not only my favorite form of liquid refreshment, but right out of Mike Pizzolla’s Handicapping Magic (based largely on his PBS – Pizzolla Balanced Speed Rating)
TT / AT – Target Rating / Ability Rating – straight out of Matrix Handicapping by Dave Vaccaro
ES is early pace, LS is late pace, OS is overall speed – the ESR, LSR, and OSR are the ES Rating, LS Rating, and OS Rating respectively.  How these values play out determine the comment regarding pace.  Also, if you see a “+” before the comment – it means the horse has more energy over the course of the race based on how the project pace sets up.
Angles – This section flags certain spot play angles I like to use in my daily handicapping.  It does not mean they are there in some more subjective cases, but alerts me to the likelihood of their presence.

How does it all come together?  Good question, if I knew, I would quit my day job!  Seriously though, when the ‘Pts’, Pace, Speed, Raw Speed, and Raw Power all agree – the win rate is 45.4% with a ROI of 1.12 independent of any other handicapping (with a frequency of occurrence of less than 10% of all races handicapped).  Like all of my other factors, it has its niches – the ‘All 5’ does its best in dirt sprints over applicable MSW,  maiden claiming, and claiming races (47.5% - 1.19 ROI).  I don't always go with the top choice based on figures, or even pace... my manual handicapping either validates or eliminates plays...

Naturally I picked Parx for Saturday which fields a number of low confidence races for me (5 of the 9 races are maiden claimers); which also limits my sheet's applicability (Races 1,2,7,8,9).  Overall the card does set up to favor lower priced horses, so we'll just have to pick and choose when the odds are reasonable...

Race 1 - 4 Ebbycalvin Laloosh (7-5) presses the likely pacesetter 6 Tyeste (6-1)

Race 2 - 7 Yodelin Moon (3-1) rolls late with 8 Silky Lace (2-1) as the early pace set by 2 Hannah's Gamble (10-1) and 5 Mahaica Gap (7-2) falls apart

Race 3 (Finally an applicable race!) - 4 Talk Of The Night (5-2) has back class and should be able to take this field wire to wire; 2 Emotional Lady (4-1) will be making a late and may be around should #4 falter late.

Race 4 - 4 Imperial Bluegrazz (8-5) looks to go wire to wire on the drop here (but not worth it at this price), 7 Cyclone Warrior (4-1) has shown some deceptive form last out and may respond here.  (In this case I take the pace scenario and some of the figures over the Pts).
Race 5 - The pace set up is questionable - I came up with two likely scenarios... First - 8 Elegant Heart (8-5) looks to go wire to wire.  Second (which seems most likely) - 2 Unorganized Crime (12-1) and 4 Fasterlizpfaster (15-1) may disrupt the early pace which would set up a late rally by 6 Power's Cupcake (5-2)  - again, I deviate from what my sheet tells me based on my own manual assessment.

Race 6 - 1 Delta Doyenne (8-5) can duel, but is more likely to take this one wire to wire; 7 My Wild Irish Rose (3-1) may be the spoiler and expect a late run from 6 Golden Rock (6-1).  Here my manual assessment agrees with my sheet:
Race 7 - (too many first time turfers to be applicable) - Wide open field - 5 Enjoy the Win (8-5) appears to be the best over the turf with 1 Christmas Angel (2-1) having some back class despite being short with 3 A Lady Called Max (5-1) making her return to the grass with some decent connections and a moderate pedigree. Low confidence race both manually and with the sheet.

Race 8 - (too many first time turfers to be applicable) - Early pace won't hold for the #1/1A Crook-Demasi Entry (3-1), with 6 Ceasing (8-1) looking to bounce back off of a poor effort last out while sporting a pedigree which points to him doing well over the turf, and #2/2X Preciado Entry (2-1) showing some recent form.  Low confidence race again - both manually and with the sheet.

Race 9 - (insufficient data for the sheet to be applicable) - 1 Buddys Moon (8-1) never got it going after being bumped at the start last out did run a deceptive good race two back after not liking two turns and the slop - he should take advantage of the post, the drop to the claiming ranks, and a weak early pace here.  4 Street Ballad (7-2) will also be part of the late run after a long rest and switching back to a one turn race on the dirt.  10 Bialystok (5-2) comes off of a long layoff and shortens up and tries dirt for the first time... a lot of karma changes here could point to an improving effort.

As always - good luck!  Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or criticisms of my sheets above!  I always welcome feedback!

Friday, June 14, 2013


"There is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in man (or woman)." - Sean Connery

The last few weeks have been mentally and emotionally taxing both personally and professionally.  Our house is in a state of construction and while work commenced in a furious fashion last week, the weather this week has limited the contractor to a half day of work.  We have limited access to the basement and are surviving with no access to TV (worse on the kids than on us - we caught the Game of Thrones finale online).  The last week of weather has also had me reconsidering whether we should have gone ahead with the deck and family room or if we'd be better suited with building a small ark and collecting two of every animal considering we already have a ton of rabbits in our yard and one pesky groundhog we are off to a good start.  Sick kids have piled on the stress and I know my wife and I were nearing the breaking point.  However, a friend and colleague of my wife shared a short video about creating 30 days challenges and how that can change your life.  Inspired by her colleague, my wife and another colleague are going to embark on a 30 day challenge to regain balance and happiness...  which made me wonder - what should be my 30 day challenge???

I have thought long and hard about this 30 day challenge.  I had thought about trying to do 30 days of trying to be more helpful to others (as I am helping a coworker who was given an assignment that is a bit overwhelming and whom I want to see succeed in spite of the obstacles put in his way); I had thought about reigniting an old passion I had in my youth of sketching or drawing daily; I had considered trying to blog or write a racing related article everyday and making those into a book that was a compilation of handicapping theories; and also thought about placing a well thought out winning wager every day.  I don't know what I will do - but I do know that helping my coworker work on becoming competent and familiar with areas he has never been trained in has somewhat re-purposed my attitude at work and made me think that I should also do something to pass along some of the knowledge I have gained (as well as lessons I have learned the hard way) not only to him regarding work, but to other upcoming handicappers to help keep the racing industry alive - after all, what good is knowledge if it doesn't get passed along?  Who knows, maybe I'll even get the itch to draw and sketch again - it has only been 20+ years since I used to carry a pad and just start drawing and losing myself in my art (and I did check, there are two art pads sitting in the closet here in our home office).

What am I going to do?  30 days of something positive daily for myself and others.  With the turmoil called residential construction and the excessive rain (really, we have had a month's worth already) I have gotten out of my fitness routine in the last two weeks and need to get back to that - it made me feel better and probably made me more pleasant to be around.  I am going to be more supportive and helpful to my colleagues at work - I know I can help them grow and succeed.  As I mark 15 years at my current job, I know that I would not have made it as far as I have without the mentorship and openness of my former colleagues who took me under their wings and didn't just show me how to do it, but made me understand how and why things went together.  I will squash the negativity that has crept into my work and home life and I know that it will be beneficial to my wife as she continues her quest to finish her doctorate and to my children who I know wish they had more 'daddy' time.

As I write this on Friday (Day 1), I have gotten in a heavybag workout,  am getting ready to review where my coworker is with his current assignment, and have written this blog.  Later this evening, I look forward to a quiet evening without the TV with my wife and kids.

Enough about life - on to the task at hand - a preview of Monmouth's Saturday card.... with the 'near miss' of the derecho that was over-hyped for Thursday, we may have a shot of being on the turf for the Saturday card...

Race 1 - 1 Carl's Only Vice (9-5) rolls late with 2 Uptown Ball (2-1) off of the early pace set by a weakening 6 Close to Sonny (6-1)

Race 2 - 4 Big Dealer (9-5) looks to go wire to wire here third off of the layoff, but keep an eye on 3 Steady Gentleman (7-2) who drops off second off of the long layoff after showing some early interest

Race 3 - 5 Tobaggan Slide (7-2) looks to go wire to wire, while 3 The Best Glacier (2-1) will be looming should the early pace collapse

Race 4 - 8 Raro (5-1) closes late along with 5 D'Iucci Girl (15-1) and 7 Cotton Pickin (9-2) as the early pace set by 2 Why Should I (7-2), 10 Rosie's Run (20-1) and 1 Mass Invasion (8-1) will falter  - course condition and scratches will be critical to the projected pace here (assumed turf)

Race 5 - 6 Mrs. Sinatra (5-1) edges out fellow late runner 5 Sidney Anne (3-1) as the early pace set by 4 Jubileera (5-2), 2 Princess Perfect (5-1), and 1 Black Ana Splash (4-1) won't hold late

Race 6 - 2 Dubai Time (6-1) drops second off of the layoff and improves here with a late rally along with 6 Mimito Boy (4-1) and 8 Exeter Road (6-1) as the early pace is challenged and falters late

Race 7 - 5 National Prayer (2-1) ships in and looks to go wire to wire here while 3 Uncle Drew Bear (20-1) and 4 Mister Lucky Cat (5-2) may be a factor here as well

Race 8 - 9 Breathaway (7-2) looks to be on or near the lead the whole way and will improve going back to the turf, 3 He's Hollywood (6-1) and 7 Quiet Danger (3-1) also look to be logical contenders

Race 9 - 6 City's Fast Lane (6-1) looks to take this field wire to wire, 7 Catch Me Kaz (8-1) will be around late should the early pace falter, and 9 Score the Gold (5-2) will also be looming late

Race 10 - 9 Funfair (5-1) makes her 3 year old debut after a perfect freshman campaign over this course, strong connections here with Bravo/Clement and she can duel - hard to ignore in this spot; 1 Fearless Jacq (5-2) has a versatile style which should her get position early, however Terranova has struggled over this turf course in recent years; 6 Jewel Of A Cat (6-1) didn't like the polytrack in her last two efforts and is likely to improve over the grass here.

Race 11 - 7 Interrogate Me (9-2) makes a late run and improves second off of the layoff as 1 Quiet Miracle (6-1) is part of the late rally.  8 Seven Kind (2-1) may be able to get loose on the lead early and go wire to wire, but that depends on how well the inside horses break.

Have a great Father's Day Weekend!

Good luck all!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Finding Your Niche (and Thoughts on MTH Saturday)

"Look, all you can do when you find your niche is go with it." - Vincent D'Onofrio

Having spent most of the year chasing contests that were outside of my comfort zone and trying to force action on tracks and in conditions that I am not that confident in, I have finally gone back to what I know.  The last two weeks have been much more fruitful and have helped to build back my confidence as I have been back handicapping Monmouth Park, Delaware Park, Parx, and Finger Lakes (insert groans here).

I once has a disagreement with someone over what tracks are playable or what makes a race playable.  While we both agreed that you need to be comfortable with how you feel the race sets up or what the intent of the horsemen is, the disagreement fell to what circuit(s) should be played.  My acquaintance insisted that only high purse, premier venues were worth playing (higher handle, larger pools) and I insisted that winners are winners where ever you may find value (when your fair odds are better than the post time odds).  I can see his side of the argument - better tracks and purses attract better horses and larger fields, which leads to larger pools; however what good is all that if you can't dissect the race and make a profit?  Why mess with a good thing?

I admittedly do chase, with some success, guaranteed pools on some Saturdays on the NYRA circuit, but know that this is not my niche.  Maybe in my mind it is okay to be Crash Davis and tear it up on the minor league circuits.  I guess what is really boils down to is that when your cash is on the line, you need to be comfortable with your decision.  If this means forgoing certain contests or events since you are not comfortable, that is fine, but taking that occasional shot is worth it.  I spent a few months trying to adapt to circuits and conditions I am not always confident in playing and had moderate success, but not to the extent I have had on a day-to-day basis in the past when I stick to my bread and butter tracks.

Some thoughts on Saturday's Monmouth card:
Race 1 - 4 Tex Appeal (2-1) has the pedigree to suggest a debut winner despite the trouble Cibelli has had recently (not going there in this blog); 1/1A Aristone Entry (8-5) also appears sharp - not much value here and a low confidence with all the 2YO debuts, I would suggest passing.

Race 2 - 4 South Beach Queen (7-2) stretches out on the drop and Breen does connect on a high percentage of MC races.  3 Johanna Honey (4-1) tries two turns off of the layoff and her breeding suggests she should like this distance.  6 Armedia (5-2) rounds out the contenders that will be chasing a pace set by 7 Chocolate Drops (9-2) who may get loose early but will falter late.

Race 3 - 1 Jack Taylor (3-1) may get loose on the lead uncontested and cruise home wire to wire as Lopez and Trujillo have been historically solid at MTH; 4 Quepos (3-1) looks to pick up the pieces if the early pace fails.

Race 4 - 3 Ingenuity (9-2) shows a solid work pattern and decent pedigree and along with 7 Thunder Hole (6-1) may be able to take advantage of a speed duel between 1 No Its Not (5-1) and 4 Bob And The Gang (2-1).  6 Best Man (5-2) may also be looming late and is not to be overlooked.

Race 5 - 5 Dazzlin Dr Cologne (6-5) may be able to overcome a slight class disadvantage and take this field wire to wire.  Should he fail on the lead, 6 Raised for Speed (4-1) looks to be making a move late.

Race 6 - 2 Shimmering Rita (3-1) looks to have an advantage on the early pace and should take this field wire to wire.  9 Forgotten Prayers (5-1) could play spoiler second off the layoff and on the drop with Moya in the irons.

Race 7 - 2 Silent Appeal (9-2) dueled in his late and should be sharp here first off of the claim against statebreds.  3 Crafty Concorde (9-5) will be a factor as he stretches back out.

Race 8 - 6 Open Outcry (6-1) will be part of the late charge that includes 4 They Call Me Giant (5-2), 1 Marvelous Chester (6-1), and 9 Person of Interest (7-2) as 6 Crafty Time (30-1) will set the early pace and falter by the half.

Race 9 - 7 Invocation (5-2) and 2 Nathan Ridge (7-2) will be battling late as a speed duel develops leaving these two a good shot late.

Race 10 - 8 Memphislivesinme (4-1) may end up setting the pace in an early speed devoid field and could steal this one on the front end.  10 Tanzana (6-1), 3 Mississippi Man (5-1), and 4 Triple E (3-1) are all also solid contenders who could force the issue here and be making up ground late.

Race 11 - 8 Final Forest (4-1) and 4 Geeky Gorgeous (8-1) both look to benefit from the weak early pace set by 3 Bombast (6-1) and 9 Arlo (7-2)

Race 12 - 8 Rumble Seat (6-1) makes her 3 year old debut here and does show a decent pedigree for this surface despite having no success last fall; 1 Sweeter Turn (7-2) will benefit from getting back on the turf and the class drop, as 7 Celtic Blessing (5-1) has shown better ability than most over the turf, and 3 Skort (4-1) may find some life with the switch to Bravo.

Good luck all!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ability (and thoughts on MTH Saturday)

"Success is the maximum utilization of the ability that you have." - Zig Ziglar

How many times have you been beat by a horse that, despite not showing great recent form, seems to either run back to old form or have success against a field that may just not be of the same caliber despite meeting the conditions?  Over the last few weeks I have been struggling to quantify a horse's potential ability versus what its current form suggests.  Couple this factor with my periodic perusal of what new handicapping books are out there that I have not yet had the change to read and we are left with an 'Aha!' moment.

I had recently read 'Total Victory at the Track' by William M. Scott and added his PCR (Performance Class Rating) and ABT (Ability Time) factors to my ever growing sheet (along with a more pared down version that picked more applicable races).  I had found modest results, but it was not a metric of measuring current form versus potential form while looking at finish positions and second call positions versus field size.  On a whim, I ordered Dave Vaccaro's 'The Matrix System of Handicapping' despite seeing the reviews on Paceadvantage that is was more geared for beginners than the more advanced handicapper and found what appears to be a much better suited idea for this application.

I have always contended that a book or systems worth is based on what I can extract out and incorporate into my own thinking or process.  I have also been trying to find that fine line between a ton of work for a profit and trying to keep things simple and still reap some rewards.  Vaccaro does just that.  Within the first few pages, I had a good feeling about his work since he made a statement that holds true to me - "Any good handicapping system takes bits and pieces from other systems and sources and puts them together to make an original product" - that this should or could be part of your established handicapping process, but can be used in addition to it.  As I worked up the parameters in Excel, his target and ability time criteria became another factor on my sheet (next to velocities, AP, EP, SP, FX, E%, PCR, ABT, Turn Times, homegrown speed figures, etc.).  His logic is simple, the math is simple (once you get the hang of it) and does tend to hone in on the top contenders within the field - without requiring a calculator or any kind of conversion chart.  As with anything, I am never happy to take a new figure or angle at face value and am starting to watch it for trends or anomalies.  For instance, when a horse's target value exceeds the rest of the fields ability value, how will that perform?  What percentage of races are won by horses in the top 3 or within 10% of the top value of either ability time or target time?  How does this correlate to my pace analysis?  How does the track variant play into to the times used for comparison?

Vaccaro's book was enough to get me past my Handicapper's Block and on the path to refinement/testing/use-or-abandonment - while I agree that this book would be great for a novice since it does touch on form, pace, class, etc.; the simple analysis used for Ability Time and Target Times is useful as a metric for current versus potential form.  As is usually the case with my process, it is now time to mold, shape, tweak, collect data, test, tweak some more, and challenge my thoughts and the figures for the next few months.  Hopefully I will have some positive findings to report here (as well as back to Dave Vaccaro).

Some thoughts on Saturday's potentially wet Monmouth Park card:
Race 1 -7 Killthemessenger (5-2) and 1 Dan the Irishman (7-2) look to benefit from a speed duel between 5 Dubonnet Red and 6 Exactness.

Race 2 - If it stays on the turf or is run on the main track, 3 Charmingmegan (7-2) and 1 Love Shack (4-1) look to be the plays here as the early pace should fold by the stretch.

Race 3 - 6 Pro Prospect (6-5) should take this field wire to wire, but the value isn't there; 3 Xanthos 3-1 has a chance at the upset

Race 4 - 7 Small Secret (9-2) will be making a late run with 2 Lost Yer Number (3-1) as the early pace of 3 Ruby's Mine (5-2) and 6 Trish's Wish (15-1) falls apart

Race 5 - 8 Blazing Prize (5-2) could take this wire to wire, but 7 Jersey Kiss (7-2) and 4 Ghosts and Legends (5-1) loom late if the early pace is contested.

Race 6 - Wide open; leaning towards 7 Maintain the Magic (3-1) adding the hood with 6 Sweeter Turn (9-2), 2 On Parole (7-2), and 5 Really Charming (4-1); should this go over the main track, watch 9 Sweet Tooth Sweety (5-1) with 7 and 2.

Race 7 - 5 Co Pilot (7-2) needed the last first off of the shelf and should go wire to wire here over 8 I'm On Fire (5-2) and 1 Meatbeau (6-1).

Race 8 - 8 Atavism (9-2) has solid connections and adds the hood after two flat efforts at TAM; 4 Go Bernie Go (7-2) makes his 3yo debut after showing early foot against better; 6 Airgead (4-1) showed some life and looks to move forward here... if over the dirt 2 Vizir (15-1) may flash some early speed and get loose early, 9 Royal Hard Spun (6-1) has shown some recent form, and 3 Write  A Song (4-1) should improve in his 3yo debut.

Race 9 - 8 Dancing Lion (3-1) and 7 Agent Cooper (7-2) both benefit from a weak pace set by 2 Sinatra'srazedbrow (6-1) and 4 Macho Mo Mon (5-1)

Race 10 - 7 The Louisiana Kid (5-1) should be the one to beat regardless of what surface this is run over with a late run by 3 He's Hollywood (3-1) coming up just short.  6 Cocodimama (4-1) and 8 Michal P (9-2) have a chance over the turf for a minor share, and 9 Cool Under Fire (6-1) looks to be a factor over the main track.

Race 11 - 9 Pants On Fire (4-1) will fire first off the shelf and has a class edge over 10 Bowman's Beast (6-1) who needs to prove he belongs at this level.  7 Ruler On Ice (8-1) may figure late over 8 Buffum (3-1) who has yet to prove himself around two turns.

Race 12 - 4 Perfect Lover (4-1) should get loose and go wire to wire, but not without a late rally by 6 Emotional Lady (5-2) and 10 Wildcat Thunder (3-1) that she will need to hold off.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!  Good luck all!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Greatness (and Preakness Preview)

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." - William Shakespeare

I had been covering Philly Park for a now defunct horse racing handicapping website and had stumbled across a first time starter in November 2003 and thought he had a leg up in his maiden debut which became just another one of my selections on a seemingly normal card.  He won by an impressive 7-3/4 lengths and earned a note to follow this one in my marble composition pad of charts and trip notes.  A few weeks later, this horse showed up again, fresh off of that MSW win and entered in a minor stakes - this time he destroyed the field by 15 lengths!  I knew this horse was something special and as he continued on, winning for fun at Aqueduct in the Count Fleet Stakes and later a pair of wins at Oaklawn, the Rebel and Arkansas Derby - I knew I had my Derby selection locked up early that year, before even seeing the entire field and post draw - Smarty Jones.

Smarty Jones was the last horse I honestly felt had a real shot at the Triple Crown.  Maybe I was bias since I had watched his development and was so deeply entrenched with the connections on the Philly, Delaware, and NJ circuits, that I felt this horse was special.  Fast forward 9 years - spending less time watching replays, making trip notes, and tracking circuits as I once did - I had analyzed the Derby and felt there would be a big late rush - but to figure out which horse had the leg up?  I had figured Revolutionary had an edge (picking Orb as my third choice), but watched that stretch run (almost how I had figured it) and watching that w-i-d-e move felt we had a real exceptional specimen moving forward.  He is the horse to beat on Saturday, and may be the closest thing to a Triple Crown threat since my heart (and handicapping) was behind Smarty Jones.

I think the Preakness sets up this way - 3 Titletown Five, 6 Oxbow, and 8 Governor Charlie all vie early - taking the pace through the half mile plus, 2 Goldencents will keep himself forwardly placed but finds himself a bit flat in the stretch.  Of the late runner - I see 7 Will Take Charge and 9 Itsmyluckyday being a bit short, with 1 Orb making a huge run again, 4 Departing coming of a doubly wide effort in the Illinois Derby rallying, and 5 Mylute running big off a wide and troubled trip.  Ultimately, I think Orb gets the best trip of the solid closers and will find himself 2/3rds of the way to the history books.  Underneath, I would include Mylute and Departing with the big late moves and figure that Will Take Charge or Governor Charlie could round out the superfecta.

In a way, I almost need to pass this race - while my analysis points to Orb, my heart wants to see a horse that has shown this kind of heart and ability find his place in the record books - it couldn't happen to nicer connections.  In the age of lightly race horses who seem to be protected for future breeding interests or injured more than the Yankees starting lineup - it seems that with each passing year the chances of a prospect being able to complete the prep season and be around to gut out three hard fought victories gets less and less.  Is this Orb's destiny?  Does Shug have this one conditioned to stay in form this weekend and again in the Belmont?  Will he get a clean trip?  Only time will tell, but here is for hoping that we again get to witness history, at least before Derek Jeter is back in the starting lineup.

Here's to hoping for 2013!  Good luck all!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Brand New Ending (aka Opening Day at Monmouth Park '13)

“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”  - Carl Bard

The last few days have been filled with great anticipation knowing the Monmouth Park 2013 meet kicks off tomorrow.  Fellow bloggers and twitter followers/followees have been buzzing about the upcoming meet.  This time last year we were stuck with 4njbets, now we are all using TVG.  Last year the racing season was in doubt, this year it is back and Monmouth has some plans for the future.

It has been a bit of an up and down year so far (down when it mattered most - Monmouth SSC#3); but a solid effort with the Atlantic City turf meet and a renewed interest (and a lot of hours fooling around with data files and excel) have me excited for the Monmouth meet this year.  Not only is the track 5.4 miles door-to-door from my office (anyone up for a lazy Friday afternoon in the picnic area?), I am also more excited this year about the beginning of this meet and feeling positive on how I will fare by the end than the last couple meets.

Monmouth has always been my bread-and-butter track.  I learned a great deal about racing and handicapping from my late uncle 'Dutch' at his home away from home over some summers in my formative teen years.  I remember taking the early morning backstretch tour with my family and watching my grandmother bet $2 to show on every gray (amazingly, I don't think she ever lost a bet).  I have marble notebooks filled with charts, trip notes, and other figures from 2000 -2006 (remote work assignments and a hectic schedule ended that).  I have great memories of getting to the 2000 Haskell Day late and sharing the small seat of my cooler with my new wife - only to get on a good run of Rolling Pick 3's and walk out of the track that day with over $1,000 in profits for the day (not too shabby, but I followed that up two weeks later with another $800+).  Lazy Friday's when some of the other RU grads from my office and I would cut out early, grab a cooler of beer and a few Tastee Subs (Edison, NJ - if you haven't had one, you haven't had a good sub) and make a few wagers and discuss horses, bad jokes, and old work stories over the course of a gorgeous afternoon in the sun.  The track has changed a bit - a couple years of cheap claimers and short fields, giving the feel of a Philly Park card (pre-casino); followed by the exclusive meet; then back to what is now the norm, lost a bit of consistency of the knowledge one could use year to year for playing the horseman's niches.

2013 is a new start.  The meet starts without the drama and questions of last year.  Some new faces at the meet, but it great to see the horsemen back out supporting the Jersey Shore once again.  Where my old data tracking is replaced by Jim Mazur's Monmouth Handicapper (time better spent with the family), many of his observations and trends hold true year after year.

I won't get to look at Sunday's card, but will leave you with a few I am considering for Saturday's opener... 

Race 3 - 2 Back To Class 6-1

Race 4 - 3 Firsttotheline 5-2
Race 6 - 4 Ingenuity 9-2
Race 7 - 10 Pelican Cove 5-2
Race 10 - 7 Flying Kaz 7-2
Race 12 - 2 David The Great 9-2

Rest assured on the off weekday during the meet, I will make my usual trip over on my lunch hour for nothing more than a hot dog and beer while basking in the sun in the benches by the finish line despite the strange looks I sometimes get and count on finding me in the picnic area on some lazy Friday afternoon ready to talk ponies and tell bad jokes over a cold refreshing beverage - feel free to stop by and join me!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Expectations (and thoughts on the Derby)

"It's so much easier to have no expectations than to have big ones." - Ann Brashares

It is that time of the year again - the first Saturday of May is upon us...  everyone is buzzing with Derby Fever.  I confess that I have looked at the race and will offer my two cents like everyone else, but this year I am undeterred by my traditional poor showing in the biggest race of the year.  Typically I have no expectations of cashing a winning ticket on this race - but this year will be different.

The last month has been a total whirlwind on many levels.  I took a few weeks off of regular handicapping to refresh my approach and deal with upcoming home improvement projects, with the exception of the short Atlantic City Race Course meet.  Work has gotten busier than it has been since the pre-Recession era and I am taking on a few new roles and responsibilities on that front - a welcome change of pace to the daily grind (well, in addition to my usual daily grind anyway).

My software is progressing while still making some minor tweaks as I find problems and getting ready to rework my track-to-track adjustments.  I still need to clean up the final product and make some of the figures a little easier to compare against each other (velocities, EP, SP, AP).  Some of the correlations between the figures and certain race conditions are starting to grow more obvious and profitable, yet still require further tracking before I make any great claims here...

On to the big one...
Saturday 5/4 - Churchill Downs - Race 11 - Kentucky Derby G1 - 1-1/4mi for 3 year olds

Rather than go horse by horse like I would normally do here, I am just going to cut to how I feel the pace will set up and highlight the horses...

As is always expected, there will be a mad dash to the lead (and some serious jostling and traffic) - here I expect to see 2 Oxbow, 6 Mylute, 7 Giant Finish, and 13 Falling Sky bolt to the lead and set the usual torrid fractions.  8 Goldencents and 14 Verrazano will try to be close and sit a few lengths off of the pace through the first six furlongs.  As they hit the far turn, the speed will start to falter and the pack will start to make a move.  I expect 8 Goldencents to still be a factor through the stretch, but he'll be no match for the late runs by 3 Revolutionary, 5 Normandy Invasion, 9 Overanalyze, and 16 Orb.  Of the four late runners I see being a factor late, I give an edge to 3 Revolutionary.  My order of finish - 3 Revolutionary - 5 Normandy Invasion - 16 Orb - 9 Overanalyze.

I'll probably throw a few bucks across the board on 3 Revolutionary - I can't imagine his odds dipping below 6-1 with this field.

Good luck all!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

I Zagged When I Should Have Zigged (aka My Comedy of Errors at the Monmouth SSC#3)

"Choices are the hinges of destiny" - Pythagoras

Unless you were me making choices yesterday at the Monmouth SSC#3.  My running line for yesterday... dwelt at the start, steadied, checked, clipped heels, distanced, eased, and vanned off.

Normally a poor performance in a handicapping contest makes me doubt my handicapping ability (or inability), however yesterday's lackluster effort in the Monmouth SSC#3 did not tarnish my confidence, but pointed out my lack of betting prowess.  Congratulations are in order for NJHorseplayer and his 8th place finish giving him two spots in the SSC Finals in April! 

Converse to my 2/11 performance at Monmouth, I did manage a 93rd place finish in the Equibase Gulfstream-Fair Grounds Contest (out of about 1700+) with 6/10 winners and a $2WP return of $54.20 for a ROI of 1.36, a 3/4 day at Public Handicapper putting me back in the black after a couple rough weeks, and my Pace Advantage PAIHL Team finishing 5th out of 43 this week.

Where did I go wrong?  As a trusted friend and fellow handicapper once said, it is better to be good bettor than a great handicapper... Once again, I am living proof of that.  I was armed with a fully handicapped 34 races from the three contest tracks - Aqueduct, Tampa Bay, and Gulfstream.  I had expected to only look at Aqueduct and Tampa Bay since Gulfstream was full of stakes and turf races, however after analyzing Aqueduct and Tampa Bay, I found I was not feeling good about either card.  Had I been going to the track for any other reason, I would have only put in a total of 3 or 4 bets at best, hence the comedy of errors started.

#1 - I opted not to play the opener at Gulfstream...  I had specifically handicapped the tracks backwards so I would give my best attention to the ends of the cards, not the early going.  All of my figures and factors pointed towards #7 Shining Copper (giving him fair odds of 4-5)... I passed and despite some trouble at the top of the stretch he hung on to win by a nose.

#2 - I opted to pass on the 2nd race at Tampa Bay - I had figured the pace to set up a late run by the #8 Mark's Soul, but again - wanting to see how the course handled early, I passed... another winner wasted.

#3 - Aqueduct Race 2 - Uninspiring field, but I did like the first time starter #6 Baroness Amira - solid work pattern, high percentage trainer, apprentice jockey, sharp works, mediocre FTS pedigree but sire's offspring do win a good share of purses.  Again, I didn't want to take a shot at this one across the board - finished second for $13.00/$7.80.

As the day continued, the early going was full of low prices and after my three non-plays and a couple of near misses and my bankroll dwindling...

#4 - Forcing the action.  Had I stuck to my original game plan, I could have rebounded, however seeing the leaderboard with 1st place being over $2k at the time, panic mode started and the day went downhill as I searched for non-existent value and was out before the latter races where I shined (overlapped with Equibase and Public Handicapper).  Overall, I had a pretty good day of handicapping but chose to play the losers and watch the winners... I zagged when I should have zigged.

What did I learn yesterday?

Stick with what works.  I know when my software and figures work and when they don't.  I didn't utilize them as I should have - (First race at Gulfstream) and then tried relying on them in spots they don't work as well.

Don't deviate from the plan.  A couple of missed opportunities and losses shifted me to chase non-existent prices too early - had I stayed with what worked, I may have been around later.

Change your latitude.  As part of my 'routine', I need to also take a step back and look more closely at the running lines at the bottom of the sheet...  Aqueduct Race 8 for example - Christiesborntorun flew late to take this race at a nice price - 3rd off the layoff following a solid fall effort on the grass in a race today that would feature a hot pace that would help him (looking back over his last two years of PP's would have picked that up).  Generally, I look for the most recent applicable running line for analysis, some merit needs to be given to what the horse is capable of on any given day.

Don't be afraid to play a hunch - a maiden first time starter could have been quite a reward with even a show bet and a nice price.

Plans moving forward?

Go back to the circuits and plays that I know - I have gotten away from playing Pick 4's to focus on winners; I have drifted away from daily play at Parx and tried to get a feel for contest tracks (GP, TAM, AQU) - both at a cost of not playing where I do my best and in the manner I do my best.  On the bright side, Atlantic City and Monmouth are in the horizon and I am looking forward to getting back to what I know and what works for the summer.  Time to point myself in the direction of the Monmouth-Woodbine challenge (assuming they have it again this summer) and maybe some preliminary feeder on Derbywars or Horsetourneys that fits the parameters of the tracks that I want to play (and my schedule).

Continue tracking plays, accumulating and analyzing data, experimenting with new factors and figures, continue to make improvements to my software, and work on how to predict whether a horse will run to it's true potential today (and what that potential would be) based on various factors both inherent to the horse and the competition faced today.

Hopefully the results of the work I have cut out for myself will give me the destiny of winning or an improved showing in my next live contest!

Friday, March 22, 2013

I Thought I Knew a Lot... (preview of the Excelsior Stakes)

“I thought I knew a lot about music. Then you start digging and the deeper you go, the more there is.” – John Mellencamp

I think the same can be true of handicapping, or any vocation/hobby/profession. Over the past few weeks, I set out to better automate some of the figures I like to run and identify spot plays without pouring over PP’s for hours on end (especially with the 60+ hour work weeks ramping up again). The more I ‘troubleshoot’ my Excel masterpiece as I handicap more cards manually in parallel with the output, the more I find myself questioning givens and seeing trends and factors that once didn’t seem that important in a different light.

As I have finalized certain more common factors in my sheets, such as an overview of the pace shape and identifying whether the race should favor a particular running style and based on the characteristics of the race, how likely the favorite is to win – I am finding several other nuances that now require further tracking and investigation.

My recent findings have made me wonder more about how to properly assess a potential speed duel. What factors cause a horse to be able to outlast the early pressure of another foe – whether he is facing a one dimensional ‘pop and drop’ horse or if the foe has the stamina to duel to the wire. Likewise, when you know the early speed is going to fail, how can you pinpoint which one of late runners will have an edge when there are several candidates for that big late run? Certainly there are obvious horses that appear to be a negative influence on the pace, but how can you really assess the impact of a horse that you know will blow to lead, set blazing first and second call times before retreating through the field to jog home last at the wire? How much negative influence is enough to decrease the other’s chances of winning?

I have always had a theory that some ratio of energy expenditure (along the lines of Brohamer’s %E figure and use of velocities) would be the smoking gun. If a horse has a finite amount of energy to expend, and he is forced to run a quicker 2C time that what is his comfort zone (when in proper form), he should be flat late. Wouldn’t reason say that if he expended some additional percentage of energy that should set up for a closer late? How do you accurately figure what that time and percentage would be? How do you inter-relate the various styles and form of the field and assess the probability that they will run to their potential and/or have a clean trip?

All thoughts to start mulling over and plugging away with different scenarios… but that is all going to wait until after next Saturday’s Monmouth SSC #3. Once again, I will employ my strategy of last year, albeit with an expedited handicapping effort. Last year, I set myself up with my master sheet that had a line for all of the 32 contest races sorted by post time. I forced myself to look at the last two races of each card first when I knew I would not be distracted so that I would at least have a very focused and well attended late run as needed. Otherwise, I identified the races where my best chances seemed likely based on race characteristics (class, surface, distance, track) and worked backwards from there. This year will be no different, except, I will be running my sheet both electronically and manually (still troubleshooting and tweaking). I will go with my usual high percentage plays and tag a few value plays. The goal is to still be in the picture late, even if it means making a bold move (which backfired last year) on the final race.

On to other business, my race of the week – Aqueduct Race 9 – 1-1/8mi 3yo&up – Excelsior Stakes G3

1 Colizeo (5-1) – interesting horse – has back class having been competitive in graded stakes company two years back followed up by a dreadful 5 year old campaign that was capped by being claimed out on New Year’s Eve for $50k. He did wire the field last out while in for a price against N2X company and I would suspect he is sharp here. He will factor on the pace early, but think he will be burnt out by the stretch drive.

2 Last Gunfighter (5-2) – has rattled off 4 straight wins and comes back off of a 63 day rest to face what isn’t exactly the strongest of G3 fields. Contender.

3 Isn’t He Perfect (12-1) – forwardly placed last year and was in the picture late in minor stakes company, however inclined to think he best chances are on the bottom a trifecta. Expect to see him involved early.

4 Mordi’s Miracle (4-1) – started to improve after hitting two turns two back and closed in a speed favoring field last out. Expect a good effort today here with a late run. Contender.

5 Heart Butte (8-1) – was flat in the Tom Fool off of the 13 month layoff, but one turn races are not his forte. Recent works are decent, but not sure he is quite back in form yet, but any return to form would give him a shot.

6 Joan’s Choice (6-1) – took a minor stakes field wire to wire last out without any real pressure, he won’t get that same soft pace here.

7 Ruler On Ice (3-1) – lone closer in a field of speed that looks likely to burn itself out early. He has been somewhat outclassed in G1 and G2 efforts, but should find this field softer. Expect a big late run here.

The race appears to set up with Colizeo and Joan’s Choice early with Isn’t He Perfect giving chase. Mordi’s Miracle and Heart Butte will settle off the pace and wait for the far turn to start making a move. Last Gunfighter will try to be a bit closer before making his move. Ruler On Ice will be coming from the back of the pack to rally to prevail in the stretch.

Probable Plays: W7; Tri 2,7 // 1,2,7 // 1,2,4,5,7

Good luck all!

Friday, March 15, 2013

To err is human (and the Rebel Stakes Preview)

“To err is human – and to blame it on a computer is even more so.” – Robert Orben

Since my last post, I have managed to handicap a total of one race card (Friday’s Tampa Bay card).  I have, however, spent countless hours toiling in Excel.   I managed to bring back to life my old system(s) and add in logic to look for all of my favorite spot play angles.  This week has been a week of minor tweaks for odd and end situations that throw excel for a loop (no beaten lengths or call positions in the fog; unseated riders; etc.) and my own errors (failures to make cell references absolute, bloodshot eyes staring at a white screen full of numbers, etc.).  The end result?  We’ll have to see if it works seamlessly over the next two weeks.  Even today, while setting up Aqueduct for Sunday, I found a handful of easy fixes I needed to make, but a majority of the parts are working well.  It is time to start tracking new added factors and figures as well as make sure that the file is picking up things I find manually. 

One nuance I found with the BRIS single data files is the call times being down to the hundredth of a second versus manually adjusting off of a fifth of a second.  While looking for a pace edge by some fraction, the lack of rounding has caused some ‘misses’, but we’ll see if missing them was a good thing.  I am sure that I will still have several tweaks to make in the next two weeks leading up to SSC#3, but the initial goal is complete – have the sheet identify the races that offer my most likely chances of winning by highlighting spot plays, pace scenarios that look promising, and overlays on where I know each type of factor excels (claiming, sprints, etc.).

 I do have some formatting issues to take care of and will try to get a screenshot or a sample card uploaded soon.  As I mentioned in my post last week, much like BASF’s line, I don’t necessarily make the factors/figures, but I make them better.  I have incorporated much of the logic of William Scott, Tom Brohamer, and Mike Pizzolla into my sheet (and do use a modified version of their logic and/or formulas).

This week’s race preview (without the aid of my enhanced spreadsheet) – Oaklawn Race 10 – Rebel Stakes G2 for 3 year olds

2 Carve (15-1) – improving but outclassed and out-paced here.

1 Treasury Bill (5-1) – strong, wide stalking effort last out in the San Vicente, but pedigree suggests that he’ll like two turns better.  I expect a big effort out of him here as he will likely be near the pace and have some kick late. Contender.

3 Texas Bling (30-1) – forwardly placed with a huge upset in a minor stakes, form seems flat, going to pass here.

4 Delhomme (7-2) – tried to take the field wire to wire in the Remsen in November, making his 3 year old debut today for Pletcher who has this one drilling sharply.  Definite contender today if he doesn’t burn out on the lead chasing Oxbow.

5 Hardrock Eleven (50-1) – Pass

6 Den’s Legacy (8-1) – Will be midpack late when the early pace fails, could get up for a minor share, but not Baffert’s main interest here.

7 Will Take Charge (15-1) – flopped after a big score in the Smarty Jones; not the sloppy conditions fault.  Pass.

8 Stormy Holiday (30-1) – troubled trip last out, but prior fields were not that tough and he couldn’t beat them.  Pass.

1a Title Contender (5-1) – the speedy half of the entry.  Expect him to push the pace early with Oxbow and Delhomme, which sets up the race for his stablemate and the others who will be sitting off the pace at the top of the stretch.

9 Oxbow (4-1) – won’t get loose early but may have enough left late to hit the board.

10 Super Ninety Nine (3-2) – Big win in the slop last out in the Southwest and has shown he can duel on the west coast.   Baffert ships him back in after some solid works.  Solid contender but post could hurt his chances early and we’ll need to see how well he can rate.  Contender, but not at a good price.

This race looks to set up with an early pace that will likely burn itself out by the top of the stretch as Title Contender, Oxbow, and Delhomme vie for the lead early.  Delhomme may hang around late, but the more likely scenario is that Super Ninety Nine and Treasury Bill rate off of the pace and make a late move.  I am giving the edge to Treasury Bill on the stretch out and value.

Likely wager:  WP1(POE); EX 1,4 – 1,4,6,9,10 & EX 10 – 1,4)

Good luck all!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Some Funny Things Happen (and the Razorback H. G3 Preview)

“When human judgment and big data intersect there are some funny things that happen.” – Nate Silver

I often liken myself to BASF who made the trademarked claim along the lines that they don’t make the things that you buy, but that they make them better.  Every handicapping book I read spurs interest and gives me something to take away – an angle, an idea for an angle, a way to modify/improve/dissect a particular computation or concept.  I love to take angles from American Turf Monthly and any book I can find and see how to better make them work by tracking them with common filters (days since last race, class moves, etc.) and any other filters that may seem unique to the parameters.  Honestly, I have never found any angle to be a winner by itself, it has taken additional factors and analysis to make them profitable.  I have started to revive my ‘old system’ which imports BRIS data files into Excel with a renewed interest (screen shots to follow as I get the format cleaned up a bit).  I have taken my fundamental ideas of decades ago and added on (and taken away) many variables and other factors over the years.  William Scott’s PCR and ability times (Total Victory at the Track) are working their way in now and as I track the impact of those values, they may become a fixture in the future.  When you finally see all the pieces and parts aligning of an angle/factor with pace, form, and the right spot – it is truly like the perfect storm…. This was the case for me last Saturday in the weekly Publichandicapper contest.

Last weekend, I went  4-for-4 in the Publichandicapper weekly contest, which typically are races I don’t normally play, as mentioned previously, I gravitate to lower class horses and try to stick to my main circuits.  The first race, the Tom Fool G3 at Aqueduct had the horse I had unsuccessfully touted two times in a row shipping across the country on short rest – I liked the pace advantage he held and was rewarded with a $6.30 winner in Comma to the Top.  In the next race, I liked Vyjack off of the long layoff and felt the early pace would weaken late and he’d make a solid stretch run and met one of my key form angle – was rewarded here with a $6.70 winner.  The Swale at Gulfstream proved to be my best play of the day as I liked Clearly Now coming back second off of the layoff having ‘popped and dropped’ in two consecutive route efforts.  The fact that he was showed better early speed in his last dirt effort was the clincher since I figured he liked the surface.  Clearly Now was bet down from that 15-1 morning line, but still returned a handsome $16.00.  Lastly, in the Santa Anita handicap Game On Dude did exactly what everyone thought he would do – cruise home for $4.60.

However, you are only as good as your last race and time to move on to this week’s action.   Once again I will tackle a stakes race at a track I would normally pass over in my quest to continue to ‘face my handicapping fears’ – Oaklawn – Race 9 – Razorback Handicap G3 - 1 -1/16mi for 4 year olds and up

1 Golden Ron (20-1) – outclassed but will likely be a factor (negative) on the early pace.

2 Atigun (4-1) – impressive figures and forwardly placed, however has only mustered to clear the N2X hurdle; might prefer him at a longer distance.

3 Cyber Secret (5-1) – sharp off in first and second off of the layoff, but think this race is a huge stretch in class.  Expect him to be a factor on the pace here as well.

4 Donoharm (5-1) – has rattled off 5 straight wins over 4 different tracks; including two minor stakes here.  He overcame a wide trip early last out to take the Essex at a price.  Form is solid as is his work pattern, expect a late rally from him as the early pace disintegrates late.

5 Ride the Lightning (30-1) – seemingly outclassed and facing a tougher pace; may run late but likely not a factor.

6 Raison d’Etat (30-1) – Forwardly placed but outclassed – PASS.

7 Najjaar (20-1) – seems to prefer the turf, late run but likely not much of a factor here.

8 Brethren (10-1) – Grade 3 winner two years back but not much else since.  His best races are behind him and he is outclassed here – minor share at best.

9 San Pablo (9-2) – Solid record and minor stakes wins.  Overcame a bad start last out to almost hang on versus Donoharm last out.  He will be on the lead early but will likely feel the pressure from Golden Ron and Alternation before being short late.

10 Alternation (2-1) – solid favorite who can fire first off of the layoff and defending champion of this race last year. Expect a solid effort here but being near the lead may be more of a hindrance with a quick projected pace.

Donoharm looks to have solid current form and an edge in pace with a stalking/closing style as the early speed here looks to be weakened by a quick early pace. 

Probable Plays:  WP 4; EX 4,10 / 2,3,4,8,10

Good luck all!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Outwearing My Welcome? (and a preview of the Baffle Stakes from Santa Anita)

"No guest is so welcome in a friend's house that he will not become a nuisance after three days." 
- Plautus
I had a different idea for my weekly blog than what I am actually writing about.  What changed my mind?  I got an email from the NHC entitled ‘Welcome Back’, which made me wonder if with all the changes to the NHC qualifying and finals, have I started to outwear my welcome (other than my yearly fee)? 

 As has been mentioned by the NHC, there will be changes to the 2014 Finals format, most notably that the finals will be held over three days (which in my book is a day too long); but more about that after they finalize and release the rules in the next few weeks.

After an exhausting week where I forgot to enter the NHC online survey, I scrolled through the NHC email and got to the part where they discussed the results of their online survey – a portion of which appears below:

“Some of you asked why we conducted a survey based largely on consumer habits and demographics. The reason is we believe the information will be valuable in attracting additional sponsors to the NHC, and sponsorship revenue is one of the few ways to grow the NHC without doing it on the backs of the players. The individual responses will remain confidential. Suffice it to say, however, that NHC Tour members are overwhelmingly male, older and affluent. They bet lots of money on Thoroughbred racing, are more highly educated than the national average, and are willing to travel by air to attempt to qualify for the NHC. That’s a good target demographic for most any sponsor, and we now have the data to back it up.  A sincere thank you to all those who responded.”

This got me thinking – do I really have a shot at qualifying based on where I live and the fact that I work for a living?  In a nutshell, the NHC Tour members are old, educated (education doesn’t necessarily make you smart), men with money.  I consider myself young (even though the new hire at the office thinks that anyone over 30 is old), well educated, and I make a decent buck doing my day job.  I am not necessarily interested in flying to try to qualify for the NHC, especially with the proliferation of added opportunities through online sites such as Derby Wars, Horse Tourneys, etc.; and the expectation that with the TVG takeover of 4NJBETS that there will likely be some further opportunities there.  Do I meet the demographic they describe?  Somewhat.

 I filled out the survey last year and remember adding my two cents which did get a response from someone at the NHC.  My comment was simply that the majority of the contests are on the major tracks and do not include other venues or minor tracks – which is honestly a place where I have done my best over my career.  For the last two plus years I have struggled to try to follow Southern California, Florida, and the NYRA (Belmont and Saratoga meets), whereas I have traditionally done my best handicapping (and winning) at Parx, Monmouth, Delaware Park, and the slew of night tracks – Penn, Mountaineer, and Charlestown.  

The response I received for Keith Chamblin was:

“Thanks for the feedback. Keep reminding us that there are players everywhere. We do care and appreciate your support. Keith”

I think the NHC has forgotten that there are players everywhere… and not all of us find our niche with win, place, and show bets.  Some of the best horseplayers I know strictly play Pick 3’s, Pick 4’s, and other multi-race mutuels – a demographic of bettors that typically have a bankroll to go deep into these wagers, but their style is forgotten, much like the minor track players that do all the same research and keep all the same data/records as the guys who follow Gulfstream, Del Mar, etc.

This also comes after I read the latest entry by Lenny Moon at which detailed his experience at the Horse Player World Series last week.  As someone who has not qualified for the finals of the NHC or HPWS, I was very eager to read about his experience, and frankly was disappointed one point that he noted in his post - that there are multiple entries allowed… in the case of the HPWS it sounds like you could qualify an infinite number of times, play on someone’s behalf, or buy your way in with an entry.  

Basically, if you have the time and the money, you can succeed.   My quest for the ‘big win’ in Vegas has in some ways taken a toll on my daily performance.  I can’t follow my old ‘bread-and-butter’ venues the same way when I am trying to understand the horsemen and nuances of other circuits for what amounts to a (currently) finite number of decent qualifying opportunities on-track in NJ (or within reasonable driving distance) and discounting the free-for-all freebie contests against 4,000 or so other players.  I paid my NHC tour dues like everyone else, but do not have any intention of throwing thousands of dollars at buy-ins for tour events, qualifiers, or feeders.  Does this hurt my chances of making it to Vegas?  Absolutely, but I have bigger priorities in life that are more important to me.

I’ll save my rants about the new finals format for 2014 until they finalize the format, but after hearing some of the initial ideas, I have to admit that I am feeling less than enthusiastic about the ‘final table’ approach with a head to head format.  But let’s see what they formally publish before I get back on my soap box.

On to more pressing matters… Santa Anita Race 5 – Baffle Stakes 75k for 3 year olds 6-1/2f over the Turf

1 Rosengold (8-1) – shows a solid last work over the turf, but in a race full of early speed he won’t be able to sustain the early pace.

2 Laugh At Life (8-1) – moderate pedigree, but untested in last against 30k maiden claimers over the dirt.  Will be part of the weak early pace here.

3 Amarish (4-1) – makes his 3 year old debut after being forwardly placed last summer.  Solid pedigree and is very likely to improve, however the early pace will be highly contested and he will likely be used up early.

4 Sacred Ovation (20-1) – outclassed and over matched here, may fire early but won’t be much of a factor by second call.

5 Procurement (4-1)  - looks to improve off of that solid staking effort last out where he spotted the field at the break.  Overcoming a bad start and a troubled trip to score off the layoff should imply some improvement here as the late pace seems to have an advantage.  Contender.

6 Tiger Day (5-1) – ships in from Italy where he won a G3 as a juvenile.  Solid work pattern and breeding indicate this one is likely the class of the field.  Contender.
7 Horizon Sky (5-1) – fairly unimpressive career overseas but does have a few sharp works.  Let this one run once before using in the future.

8 Native Treasure (12-1) – minor stakes winner over the AW track last out – seems a bit outclassed here in his 3 year old debut.  Early pace will be highly contested which works to his disadvantage.

9 Caught Napping (7-2) – overcame a torrid pace around two turns in US debut last fall, turn back will help his chances here.  Contender.

10 Will True Up (10-1) – will be part of the late pace, but seems a little weaker than the rest of the field.  Not likely for the top spot, but figure he has a shot for a spot underneath.

The race appears to be heavy on early speed so the late runners are more likely here.  The question is, how will the Euro imports run?  I am still inclined to go with the class here on 6 Tiger Day, but not ruling out the late runners in 5 Procurement and 9 Caught Napping.

Good luck all!