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...