Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Handicapping People

I think it was Al Illich who told the tale of the paranoid horseplayer who was convinced every race was fixed. For this poor, mad bastard, every race was filled with intrigue and hidden intentions. He saw patterns in past performances undetectable to minds versed in the classical methods. Each race was a chance for a score, and if he didn't win it was only because the trainers were one step ahead of him.

Of course, some races are fixed. Sometimes a horse is not asked to give everything, either.

The truth is, sometimes the mad man approach works. The inevitably huge payoffs reinforce the theory, but who can really see the true madness of every race? Betting that someone is somehow “cheating” doesn't mean you are betting on the right cheater.

Betting into a perceived fix doesn't work because you can't possibly know what the fix really is.

Whatever success the mad man probably resulted from something he never considered – the folks winning races win races because they know how to win races. They manage to win races that don't figure by classical means quite often. Frankly, they know what they are doing. Professionals.

The odd thing is, the tote board generally reflects the chances of the horses given a classical handicap with an emphasis on speed ratings. If you read 100 books on handicapping horses you will probably rank your contenders pretty much in line with the tote board in nearly every race. It's unavoidable.

If the tote board reflects speed and class, and speed has been relatively accurately reported, then only class exists as a loose variable. Class has never been as well-defined as speed, it's harder to measure.

Class infers a lot of variables. The quality of recent competition is obvious to everyone, where can the money be in that? Anyone can divide starts into money won and come up with a number. There are a number of numbers you can compute, but the least used seem to be those relating to the people behind the horses.

How often jockeys and trainers hook up winners and their return on investment (ROI) is commonly reported with good data. There are lists of leading trainers, jockeys and even owners but handicappers rarely check them. The people behind the horses are mostly overlooked in the betting pools.

If you follow the money, you usually find the truth. I've decided to forget horses completely and focus entirely on the people who own, train and ride them. These people are the power behind the races, they make all the decisions and in the end the horse is only as good as it can follow instructions unless it is a freak like Zenyatta, Phar Lap or Secretariat. Thank God for the freaks – you'll know 'em.

Since I have been thinking along these lines, I have selected a number of contenders that paid in four digits ($10.00 and up for a $2 win bet to you newbies.) Most crept close to $20 and some were simply obscene. However, I am still in the “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda” stage in my approach.

If, however, I am right that most of the money is bet into the tote based on the horses instead of the people (and that people really matter most) I have little doubt I will soon begin to win as I think I am now playing a different game from the one everyone else is playing. Can this beat the takeout?

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