Friday, 16 August 2019 14:06

Free, Pay, Play or Go Away

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August 16, 2019

Free, Pay, Play or Go Away

By: Jonathan Stettin


There has been a lot of talk recently about the cost of past performances and all the handicapping information available to bettors. Most of the information is based on past performances, which are usually provided by Equibase. Equibase is owned by the Jockey Club. There is a hint of a conflict here, in my opinion. One of the functions of the Jockey Club should be to promote the sport of horse racing. It would be a tough sell to try and say promoting the sport should not include at the least basic past performances being made available to bettors free of charge.
 
 
In sports betting basic statistics are readily available and free. In poker, there are all kinds of free information available on any type of hand you may draw. The basic information needed to make a somewhat informed decision differs from more tailored and pinpoint type of information. For example, basic past performances from the Daily Racing Form are one thing. Formulator is something entirely different. Formulator provides a lot of customizable options, and that is something even a bettor can expect to pay for.
 
The issue goes even deeper. Entries and results being dissimulated have been restricted at times to entities paying for that information which is readily available. I think any reasonable person would want to see any company that serves their industry make a profit, but there comes the point where bettors and the good and growth of the game should come into play. If we continue to alienate and drive both bettor/customers away in addition to entities trying to promote or break into the game, there eventually will be no game. Everybody loses in that scenario. Well almost everybody, maybe not PETA.
 
At some point racing shot callers are going to have to quit the seminars and round tables and get on the same page. Without a central governing body and a Commissioner that seems next to impossible. Implementing an organization and finding individuals to fill the roles will be harder than staggering post times of stake races. It’s a huge long-shot we could ever get that done.
 
Racing likes to boost on just about every big day and following every “big” meet that the all sources handle was broken. As far as I know, these figures are thrown out there and not subject to any audit I have ever heard or read about. Assuming they are accurate, it doesn’t paint a true picture. Inflation is growing faster than any handle increase we can boast about, and any article or figures I have ever reviewed on the subject shows our numbers are down considerably when inflation is factored. Who are we misleading and why?
 
Racing has operated as if they are the only game in town for so long, and have taken not only the bettors their customers, but all participants for granted so long I am not even sure they realize it anymore. Look at the recent case of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. He was banned by four racetracks without even being given a hearing or any due process whatsoever. I am not sure a form reason has ever been provided to anyone, Hollendorfer included. We were told he had a number of breakdowns at a specific meet. Nobody mentioned for a few years prior to that he had none. Now I am not saying or opining on his situation beyond stating the obvious. Why he was banned is a mystery to the masses, and there was no due process. The Hall of Famer filed for an injunction in an outside court, and it was granted. That should tell the industry something.
 
These issues, while all problematic along with inconsistencies, takeout, and drugs both illegal and otherwise, pale in comparison to our slaughter and aftercare issues. We are an industry plagued with problems and operating like a ship in the ocean with no rudder. This falls on all the shot callers who want more than their current paychecks but the guaranteed continuance of the Sport of Kings and maybe even a return to its glorious history. I know, it’s is a bet against.
 
If in the near future we do not develop a systematic way to identify, and more importantly correct, all the issues the game faces what we see now as a crossroads is going to look like the good old days when we still had racing.

Friday, 09 August 2019 17:39

Sucker or Skill Game

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August 9, 2019

Sucker or Skill Game

By: Jonathan Stettin


When it comes to horse racing I have known for quite sometime, the answer is a skill game. I was surprised to learn through a recent conversation on social media that many play the races who do not really feel as I do. More bettors then I'd imagine actually expect to lose annually and continue to play. I really can't get my arms around that. Even if you are playing for fun per se, is the fun not the expectation of winning or at least the possibility of your study and handicapping turning you a profit?
 
There are two groups in my educated opinion who beat the races. The first would be the player who grinds out a small profit from meet to meet or annually. The second would be the player who actually makes a living playing the races. The latter means their sole or primary income is derived from playing the races, and if they don't win or have a large bankroll to fall back on they are in trouble. Two groups, each a little different but both beating the game in their own respective way.
 
A point of contention in the aforementioned conversation was what percentage of active bettors actually beat the game by falling into one of the two categories I explained. My best estimation is somewhere between 5 and 10% collectively. To my surprise, there were quite a few people who thought I was outright nuts, which I very well may be but not because of this opinion. These people felt the percentage was 1 or even less than 1 percent. On one hand that's discouraging on many levels; on the other, a personal one, I'm fine with the majority of people playing believing that and I welcome them all into the pools.
 
What is discouraging about that opinion, and mind you these are opinions as nobody truly knows the percentage of winning players, is that so many people play thinking they will likely not win. I usually feel I have a pretty good chance of winning every bet I make or frankly I won't make it. Do I win them all, of course not, but if I thought I had a 1 percent chance or less I'd stay home.
 
For many years I played the races for a living. The game was different then but not really a whole lot easier. During that time, I was going to the track daily. I knew the few other players there who also beat the game and played for a living. I do not know all the grinders as they were a bit more under the radar. There were maybe three or four making a living at my home track back then. Maybe one or two, I did not know. Today I still know three or four people making a living betting the races. This makes me comfortable with my 5-10% estimate.
 
What a lot of people do not realize about playing professionally, and I think you truly must grasp this before opining on any percentage is that it is a full-time job. It takes as many hours per week as owning a business and more than a 9-5. Most don't have that discipline or dedication. It is an unconventional lifestyle — no car loans. Cash only. Try putting down professional gambler on an auto loan application and see how that goes. Mortgage, not a conventional one anyway. Relationships, good luck when Friday night is your study night and Saturday you are exhausted after the California races end. Oh yeah, Sunday is a race day.
 
These types of sacrifices are necessary to have a shot at playing for a living — every week. A day away is a possible missed opportunity you can't afford. Bad runs will leave you stressed about the life you have chosen and how you are going to cover this month's expenses. It is not for the faint of heart. It is however, doable if you have the talent to go with the discipline and dedication. Will everyone who tries, make it? No. But 5-10% just might.
 
I think we can all agree there are times when the results of a race convince you that it is possible to use those past performances to your benefit. There are probably at least a few races a day on your card of choice that fall into that category. Sure there are always head-scratchers, but on at least some of them, if you dig in enough afterwards, you can at least make sense of them. This equals a skill game to me.
 
Takeout is a problem. We have to deal with it, and it certainly makes our task tougher. This is where the other talent to go along with your handicapping comes in. You have to find value and structure your wagers properly. These are not the elements of a sucker's game, and if less than 1% are winning, that is exactly what it would be. Glad I don't have to hang up my tack just yet. 

Friday, 02 August 2019 12:18

The Race After

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August 2, 2019

The Race After

By: Jonathan Stettin


We've all heard the phrase "The Morning After" but today we will talk about the race after. In keeping with one of our recent themes, we will again look at an angle which can translate to some nice scores. That's what it is all about. 

Last weekend we saw two of the most impressive sprint performances in years. Imperial Hint smoked a field that included Met Mile winner Mitole. It wasn't just that he smoked the field; it was also how he did it and how fast he did it. Anytime a horse breaks a track or stakes record it is indeed impressive. When they break one at Saratoga, you just can't help but think about how many great ones raced there at that distance, whatever that distance may be. In Imperial Hint's case, it was 6 furlongs, and he needed just 1.07:92 to run it. That's what they call racehorse time and a new Saratoga track record. 

The very next day, we witnessed another epic sprint performance. Shancelot needed just 1:14.01 to run 6 and a half furlongs. That's flat out fast. Unnoticed by many, not us of course, was that Shancelot ran 6 furlongs in 1:07.63 which was actually faster than Imperial Hint. He won't get track record credit in the books, but we can all have a footnote here that says "wow" or something like that. Not only did these two run as fast as polished steel, they were visually impressive as well. Imperial Hint looked like he was toying with the field. Shancelot looked like he was in his own race. 

Of course, accolades came in on both runners after their respective races. Rightfully so. These were two impressive sprints. People were already talking about where they'd run next, and how much they'd win those races by. If racing history as taught us anything, anything at all, it's not so fast! 

One of my favorite angles is betting against short priced horses coming off monster efforts. You can rest assured both these sprinters will be well bet in their next starts. Before we even talk about a bounce or regression, let us ask this. Is it reasonable to expect either of these horses to repeat a performance like their last one in their next start? History and past performances say no. It is much more likely they don't repeat those performances than they duplicate them. I doubt either goes forward as well, although I must admit I'd enjoy seeing that. Wouldn't we all? 

A fast race, no matter how easily the horse may have made it look is always taxing. Time doesn't lie, and fast times will take a toll even on a horse who makes it look easy or wins under wraps with their ears up. Think about it. Do you really think either of these two could have gone three quarters of a mile in 7 flat or less? Not too likely. 

When horses run monster races most bettors assume they will win their next race and bet them hard accordingly. You just can't be sure of that, and it is even harder to spot in the morning with a good horse. Good ones have that alpha trait. They may train well, eat well, and act on their game after a big race. When they actually run and regress even hall of fame trainers will say, "they fooled me." 

The key for me evaluating how to handle this type in their best race is simple. I try and anticipate the regression and handicap asking the question can they regress and still win? Often that answer is no, and they are for me a big bet against or toss. If the answer is yes, I may use, but I prefer the former scenario. Tossing a favorite or short priced horse off a big race can be a key to a nice score. This is a situation I like to get aggressive with, and I will be looking for just such an opportunity when Imperial Hint and Shancelot run back. I'll be in the minority, but that has never stopped or hurt me before. 

Friday, 26 July 2019 11:46

Trust Your Eyes

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July 26, 2019

Trust Your Eyes

By: Jonathan Stettin


There is more information available today for the horseplayer than ever before. We have multiple past performance choices, speed and pace figure choices, selections services, pace projectors, analysis, and just about everything else you can think of and might need to speculate on the outcome of a horse race. We can even see who ran more feet and inches than another. True, most if not all of these tools are subjective and open to interpretation which is where skill and experience come in, but if so many people are looking at the same data it stands to reason many will fall on the same horse. It is a lot more difficult to find an edge or a hidden gem in this environment. 

I have always said race watching, including replays, is a learned art — a vital one in today’s game. One of the reasons I love wagering on European races so much lately is that the past performances are scarce on information compared to here in the states. Contrary to what your first thought maybe, I like that. While I am definitely a fan of the more info, the better, nobody in Europe asked me so I am left to deal with the limited info and I welcome it. This places an even greater amount of significance on my ability to watch races and see things for what they are and will be. 

Most people watch a race or replay looking at the winner, leader, or who they bet. That’s fine for round one. To get a feel for a race and how it will play out going forward, you have to watch it a few times. You have to get away from what everyone else is watching and watch the middle of the pack runners and the back markers. This is where you will find the hidden gems. It takes time and patience but can really pay off and create an edge. 

Personally, I like to look for horses who were in uncomfortable spots. This will often hinder a horses chances and also at times prompt a rider to save a horse for another day. Horses who are between horses will catch my eye. Horses who are pinned on the inside will also catch my eye. Horses who get challenged when they try and move also get my attention. There are many scenarios to look for and what I love most about all of these is you are trusting your own eyes. 

We have all seen Beyer numbers that don’t make sense to us and even conflict with other Beyer numbers. We have seen races where we question the fractions only to find out they were not accurate. I have seen trip notes in past performances that simply do not match what I saw and my notes. Data is only as good as entered, but your own eyes won’t lie to you, and you can grit them. 

We all see all the different opinions every day. History has shown when money is involved there are always people that will play games. Maybe we can’t always trust the information fed to us, but we can always trust what we can see. 

Last week we got to see Maximum Security return to form and take the Haskell. This week we will get to see the Jim Dandy. I suspect whoever takes that race will be right behind Maximum Security leading the three year old division. Across the Atlantic, the great Enable heads to post also. Her resume is starting to point her out as one of the best of all time. That alone should make you want to tune in. Who knows if you watch closely you may pick up a Breeders’ Cup Winner or two. 

Last, when watching races, it can also help to isolate horses who had it their own way or fell into a perfect scenario. A bet against or a toss can be as valuable as a bet on at times. 

Enjoy the races this weekend and always. 

Thursday, 18 July 2019 17:58

Not Over Yet

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July 19, 2019

Not Over Yet

By: Jonathan Stettin


We are a little more than halfway through the racing year. The three year old male division is still pretty much up in the air. It is ripe for someone to step up and take all the honors.

We had a different winner in all the Triple Crown races, including a rare disqualification in the Kentucky Derby. We lost the winner who was put up, Country House. The horse who was disqualified, Maximum Security lost a prep race for the Haskell. Omaha Beach, the early Derby favorite scratched and is just now returning to training. Nobody has really stepped up and asserted any dominance of yet. That can change fast however.

Maximum Security runs in the Haskell on Saturday. I won’t be betting the Haskell, but I will be watching closely to see how things may look going forward. I expect a rebound good race from Maximum Security and without actually handicapping the race I suspect he will win. I don’t think Servis will send him out short or tired again, at least not now.

I love being in the minority in the Sport of Kings. Not much pleases me more then liking a horse not many others give a chance or are talking about. That happened in this year’s Kentucky Derby when I landed on Code of Honor. Again, I don’t mind being in the minority when I say this; I believe if it didn’t rain on the first Saturday in May he would have won the Derby. We will never know the answer to that. Code of Honor impressed me in his last race at Belmont. I like how he split horses in the stretch without hesitation and accelerated. Derby stuff wink wink. If he wins the Jim Dandy and Travers he is in the picture.

I don’t know what to expect from Omaha Beach coming back. I’m not sold he moves forward from where he was in the spring. Logic says with his breathing issue behind him he should, but is this a logical game?

Tacitus is another who can really step up and make noise in the division. He checks a lot of boxes on his resume. If he can win a major race to pair with his Wood Memorial victory, he can be heard from as a possible three year old champ.

I am not as fast as most to discredit a crop and label it weak or bad. I don’t think we truly know that yet. There is a lot more racing to be done and parody doesn’t automatically equate to weakness. Let’s see how that all plays out and how any of these may do against older horses a bit later in the year.

For now, most of this is subjective. Who knows it may remain that way. This column can age poorly or brilliantly. I think the two most likely to assert themselves in the second half of the year are Code of Honor and Tacitus. The filly Guarana can be better than all of them if she can strut her stuff around two turns the way she does around one. We will find that out this weekend barring a heat wave.

One mystery to me is where has Monomoy Girl been and why? It’s far from too late for her to be a major force in her division but Midnight Bisou and Elate really have the jump on her.

This is a good weekend to avoid the outside heat, log onto your AmWager account and create a different type of heat. We should have plenty of opportunities for some big swings. Enjoy and get lucky!

Friday, 05 July 2019 15:07

Using The Sheets

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June 27th, 2019

Using The Sheets

By: Jonathan Stettin


When I refer to “sheets” I am referring to the Ragozins or Thoro-Graph. While both are speed figures there is something that separates them from the rest. They are not “raw” speed figure numbers. They encompass trip, things like ground loss, wide, inside, and more. Buyers, and most of the others are raw numbers that purport to tell us how fast a horse ran. I can look at the charts and see that.

There was a time, not all that long ago when you’d see a horse on the sheets that was flat out faster than the rest. Many times this horse would not be the favorite, and often would not have the best or fastest raw figures or Beyers. Many won at nice prices. You can peruse past performances for hours today and you could be hard pressed to find such a horse. If you do find a sheet standout, they will likely be a short price.

Like everything else to be successful and stay on top you must adapt. Things change. Today many more people use the sheets, so the fast sheet horses get a lot of play. Info is shared and sold reducing the price even more. Horses have more parody as well it seems. More trainers are taking more edges and more horses have similar figures and even pattens. Are the sheets still valuable? Absolutely. You just have to read and use them correctly for today’s game.

It was never as simple as who has the lowest or fastest number will win. It was always more about patterns and moving forward or regressing or bouncing as we like to day. That’s a conversation for another day and column. Today we will look at a way to use the sheets to help us make some money.

Knowing a horse likely won’t win can be as much of an edge as knowing one who likely will win. Even more sometimes especially if the horse is a short price. With how the game has evolved, and with the emphasis we have on multi race wagers like pick 3’s, 4’s, 5’s and 6’s being able to eliminate or toss horses can be a significant edge. Sheets can help here.

When I read the sheets l like to look for horses who have two things going against them.
1- They are too slow on the sheets for the competition.
2- They don’t have a pattern or trend signifying a strong enough forward move to be competitive against the competition.
Finding one of these, sometimes even at shorter odds, is easier today than finding a faster horse “sheetwise” at longer odds. Rarely will a horse who has both these checkmarks beat you or knock you out of a multi race wager.

Eliminating horses who likely won’t knock you out of a multi race sequence is invaluable. It reduces your investment and also can allow you to add that live bomb difference maker. It lets you avoid the costly “all” button.

Most will still look at the sheets searching for that faster horse. I like to go the other way. Going against the grain and masses is never a bad idea in a pari-mutual system.

We have talked about some good angles of late. The more you have in your arsenal the better your chance to get an edge and separation. That’s what you need to help get you in position to beat this tough but skill game.

Let’s not think it is hopeless to find a faster horse on the sheets. It isn’t but if you want a faster horse at a price you will have to really know your patterns. Patterns repeat. You have to watch for changing or similar conditions when looking at patterns. If you can spot a forward move others miss and that forward move would put the horse ahead of the rest then you have your play.

We never stop evolving in this sport. It’s one of the great things about it.