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!