May 31st, 2019
A Winning Angle
By: Jonathan Stettin
Last week I saw an interesting conversation on social media between a few good handicappers. What I found interesting was that they seemed to do an awful lot of work and research to come up with an angle I have been following since the early 90’s and have made some really nice hits. At the end of the day, you get paid the same no matter how you arrived at the winner, but it seemed to me they were complicating something I learned long ago was relatively simple.
It’s no secret horses mature. They are athletes. A two year old might be the equivalent of say an early teenager if we compare equine to human. An early teenage athlete will get stronger and faster as they arch upward towards their prime. A horse is no different.
Regardless of which speed figures you use, Beyers, Brisnet, Ragozins, Timeform, whatever, a newly turned three year old will usually surpass their better two year old figure early on. Many times as a first time three year old. They are getting stronger and faster. It will show on race day.
To the astute bettor this can mean opportunities.
You will find times when a newly turned three year old has what appear to be slower numbers than the bulk of the field. Many may dismiss the horse based on those slower figures. One must remain aware that those numbers were run at two, not three. If you are comparing them to numbers run at three, which often happens right through this time of year and even beyond, it can be very misleading and create value and opportunities for sharp players.
If you know a horse is going to surpass their two year old figure, and you can see that progression will put them at the head of the class, you’re betting on what’s not all that obvious to many players. That gives you an edge.
Of course, trainers, lay-off ability, and other handicapping principals come into play, but the premise is a strong one.
I have keyed several nice price winners using this theory over the years. Often after a race, I was asked what did you like about that horse? Many others seemed faster. You already know the answer.
Finding angles or anything that gives you an edge is an advantage you need to beat the other players. There are several, this is only one. There are more, and we intend to keep bringing them to you.
Hopefully now when you peruse your past performances, you won’t be so fast to dismiss younger horses with numbers that at first glance might look like they don’t measure up. There is a curve. Things may not be as they appear. Betting on things that can or may happen is far more rewarding and lucrative than betting on what has already happened to happen again.
May 24th, 2019
By: Jonathan Stettin
I have talked about many aspects of your game and the tools needed in your arsenal to be successful betting on the Sport of Kings. Today seems like s good day to discuss one thing you need that often gets overlooked. Focus.
Even if you know what to do and how to approach beating this very hard skill game, if you lose focus, you will almost certainly fail.
So many players today get caught up in social media while they are gambling. People go to the races and behave like it is a social event. That’s fine if this is recreational to you. However, if you are playing to win and think you can spend hours on social media, or like you are at a catered affair, then I wanna bet that in the long run you are losing, donating, depositing or whatever you’d like to call it. Focus.
Today, more than ever, there are so many things going on in the sport that can distract you. Most, you can’t change. Regardless there is a time to chat, and a time to have your game face on. I can be very active on social media. Once it gets close to post time, and through the last race, I’m pretty scarce.
When I used to go to the track every day, many people thought I was unfriendly and unapproachable. I would sit at my table with my Dad and Brother, or a few select friends. If they were not with me, I’d sit alone. I preferred it that way and had my best days that way. I still do. I didn’t want to be asked who I liked, who I was alive with, what I was betting or anything. It took away from my focus.
I guess maybe 5 to 10% of players beat the game without rebates. That is very low for a skill game, but it should get anyone who wants to very motivated and make them see there is a way.
Sound handicapping, good ticket structure, smart money management, patience, discipline, and focus. These are all things you can learn, improve, or control. If you are not putting in the effort, and are treating the game nonchalantly, the game will devour you.
Despite all the distractions we have the Belmont Stakes and the supporting card coming up. The Metropolitan Mile is looking like the race of the year to date. The Haskell just may pit Maximum Security against War of Will. They might meet again in the Travers with Code of Honor and Tacitus joining the party. Monomoy Girl should be coming back soon as should Omaha Beach. There are going to be a lot of good races and cards, and that means opportunities. Focus. Don’t let the distractions derail you.
The large majority of people will not have the fortitude or discipline to stay at this game the way it needs to be played to beat it. That helps motivate me, and it should you if you want to be in that 5-10%. Remember you are playing people not playing for keeps. Play for keeps and let that be your edge. Focus.
May 16th, 2019
By: Jonathan Stettin
It is easy to use Maximum Security as an example, and I am going to take the low hanging fruit. First off, when people refer to Maximum Security as a claimer that is just not correct. He ran for a tag once, only once and it was in his debut. That does not make him a claimer. A claimer runs for tags often, or surely more than just once.
When Maximum Security ran and won first out, nobody knew what he was, or could be. Nobody. Had anyone had an inkling, he would have been claimed. I have heard but not confirmed that trainer Saffie Joseph had a claim form filled out for him but didn’t like what he saw in the paddock or just changed his mind. If true Maximum Security will forever by the one that got away.
Whatever your opinion of Jason Servis is, he is an excellent horseman. He gives his horses time and runs them where they belong. He wins first out and off layoffs, both signs someone can train. You can rest assured Jason did not know Maximum Security’s potential when he debuted for 16K. How can that be?
We have all heard the term “morning glory.” Some horses work fast, exceptionally so at times but can’t reproduce that effort in the afternoon under race conditions and pressure. Some are the opposite. They don’t work well or particularly fast, but show up to race. Horses fool everyone. Gamblers, Breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, Bloodstock Agents, Jockey Agents, you name it, if you are in this game at any level you have been fooled. Horses humble all of us. Some more than others but if you play in the Sport of Kings you have been humbled or you will be humbled.
You see it in the past performances every day. Horses with high price tags dropping and running for sale in maiden claimers. Some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world go to the sales. They spend millions. They write checks with plenty of zeroes often after a complicated vetting process. They check heart and lung capacity, blood flow, you name it. Bloodlines, speed figures, whatever can be quantified will be quantified. All that and they still couldn’t beat Mine That Bird or Dumb Ass partners and California Chrome when it counted. You gotta love a level playing field.
One of the beauties of the sport is how our calculations and insight is right just often enough to keep us assured it is indeed science and talent. There are maybe 10-12 times a year I feel I absolutely know who will win a race. In my mind I am just so sure, barring some unforeseen fluke, this horse will win. 95% of those do win. If I only bet those, it’s a win-win, but that would get boring. Funny it is the few that you don’t remember a la A Raving Beauty at Saratoga.
The game gives hope to those who spend less than the mega outfits and buyers when on any given race day you can open the form and like a 50K auction maiden purchase more than one that cost half a million or more. And when you realize that even when we know, we really don’t, you know they don’t either. That levels the field and we can beat em all.
May 10th, 2019
Pace Makes the Race: Past Tense
By: Jonathan Stettin
We have all heard the saying:
“Pace Makes the Race.”
For years pace has proven to be a deciding factor in the outcome of horse races. Fast contested paces lead to closers having an advantage and often winning. Slow walk the dog and uncontested paces often lead to wire to wire, or front end wins. Handicapping books have been written in this though I personally have never read one. Most Past Performances now include a pace projector. The pace is thought of be that important, and I myself have been a long believer in this. My school of thought is changing. Not entirely but somewhat.
I don’t use any type of pace projectors. I calculate that myself. If I can’t figure out the projected pace more accurate than a computer program that can’t factor nuances and intangibles, I need to find something else to do. I certainly would not want to wager on a race I could not accurately, actually very accurately, project the pace and who would be setting it, contesting it, stalking it, and trying to close into it.
In the recently run Kentucky Oaks, there were about 5-6 pace horses. I felt Serengeti Empress would indeed get the early lead, but that she would be challenged often and hard. She wasn’t, and Jose Ortiz was able to keep her in front the whole way. He seized the race, and the other riders let him do it. No pace projector can anticipate one speed horse going while all the others take back. We can, knowing certain rider tendencies, but it was hard to fathom in advance that in the Oaks everyone but Jose would sit back.
In looking back at the Oaks, lack of a hot or contested pace may have made the race. However, seeing that play out that way in advance, and landing on Serengeti Empress because of it, probably has close to lottery winning likelihood.
The Derby was a little different. I was at a loss in understanding how any handicapper could not clearly see Maximum Security would be on the lead. I’d have gone all in on that bet. More perplexing were the people who were saying their “pace projectors” were telling them Maximum Security would not be on the lead, and or his splits were not fast enough. Frankly, I was more interested in if anyone could keep him company early. I did not like him to win but was sure he’d set the pace. He went 46 and change and won the Derby on the front. Justify went 45 and change and won it also. Bodemeister went that fast and almost won it. I started thinking and looking at a lot of charts. A lot.
I did not compile statistics. I did make an observation though. Speed seems to hold better now than say some years back. Horses tend to keep going, and we see many re-break in the stretch. We saw them come to Maximum Security and also saw him pull back away.
I have said for a long time the good handicappers evolve continually and change with the game. The game is changing. Pace is not as guaranteed an influence on the outcomes as it used to be. How many of these full of speed turf sprints do we see where one horse goes out and just doesn’t quit or stop?
We train for speed. We emphasize it at the sales and in many of our stallions. Is this contributory if you agree with my observations? I think yes, at least in part.
We have the large majority of our horses on Lasix. Is this part of the equation? I’d bet yes. If it helps them keep going just a bit, it’s a factor.
We play today in an environment that is laden with cheating allegations, innuendos, positive tests, super trainers, high percentages, and more and more drugs, both therapeutic and otherwise available. Do you really think any pace projector can piece together that puzzle based on some splits? All of the above comes into play.
As a betting man if you ask me regardless of pace will the speed hold much of the time! You bet.
April 25th, 2019
Troubled Trips & Value
By: Jonathan Stettin
Most of us watch a lot of races over the course of a week.
The normal tendency when watching races or even replays is to watch either the horse you bet on or the leader. We also tend to watch a horse making a move or one the track announcer brings to our attention. When looking for troubled trips, you have to train yourself to watch all the horses in the race and see things that might not be the focal point of most other spectators. Sure the running lines will identify some troubled trips for you, but those are the ones everyone will know about. To gain an advantage or edge it helps to see some that are
“for your eyes only.”
There are many different types of troubled trips. Some result from bad racing luck, post position, poor rider decisions, pace, and all sorts of other intangibles. Sometimes something can happen right in front of a horse that causes them to check and lose either ground, momentum or both. The troubled trips identified in past performances usually result in underlays so it is important to understand not all troubled trips are automatically a playback and actually some may offer better value betting against.
In my opinion, a troubled trip is one that prevented a horse from running better than they would have sans the trouble. It may be they checked, were blocked, were hemmed in by a rider or horse, went wide or were carried wide, lost ground or momentum, or were on the worst part of the track. Sometimes they can be prevented and sometimes they can’t. A horse can also have trouble, and it may not have been enough to have an impact on how they ran. Experience will show you the difference over time. There is no shortcut.
When a horse returns from a troubled trip, you have to handicap the race they are running back in using the troubled trip to help you gauge how the horse would have run without the trouble. Then you need to look at the new race as if the horse ran as you envision they would have. You have to look at the conditions and class as well as the pace in the new race. Just because we upgrade a horse because of trouble in their last start, doesn’t mean we like that horse in this field and under these circumstances today. Once again, there are no shortcuts.
Along those very same lines there will be times you see a horse get blocked, steadied or trapped and know they would have won that day and should win the race they are in today. Personally, I love when that happens, especially if it is a horse I spotted whose trouble does not appear in the past performances. I try and share this type of information and how to spot it for yourself through my Tracking Trips service. You can learn more about that here or on the link above. https://www.pastthewire.com/tracking-trips-info/
When handicapping a race and you see a horse coming off a troubled trip, or even one that ran with or against a true bias, I would suggest handicapping the race as if you didn’t know that first. Once done, I would then factor in what you know and upgrade or downgrade the horse accordingly.
“Betting a horse off a troubled trip can be one of the best bets at the track, knowing which ones to bet and which ones to pass is key.”
In the end, it comes down to doing your homework and learning how to use the troubled trip as a tool to help you bet or bet against. If a horse off a troubled trip that should win today takes more money than normal because of the trouble, a lot of people will bet against claiming there is no value in that horse. I don’t believe that. I never have. I believe there is no value betting a loser or horse you don’t like to win because of the price. The Sport of Kings offers many wagering opportunities that allow us to create value in most circumstances.
Value can mean different things to different people. Value is not simply high or long odds. Most people believe 10-1 is great value. You win $100 from just a $10 bet. If the horse has almost no shot and only really stands about a one in 20 chance or even higher of winning the race then there’s no value in betting on it. I see this mistake often, and even when lost referred to as a good value albeit a losing wager.
Along those same lines, most will say even money is never a good value. A lot of or at least some of those people bet on sports where even money, actually a little less, is considered fair. Interesting thought process and I get there are only two teams against multiple horses. To understand value you have to look at it like this. If the horse at even money is likely to win this race 99 out of a 100 times they run it; then even money is pretty fair value isn’t it?
“Value is not all price, it’s price against the horse's probability to win that given race.”
To me the following scenarios are good value;
If a horse goes off longer than expected or they should based on their ability and probability to win. (an overlay)
If a horse offers a good or better than fair return on investment.
If a horse is getting overlooked because of another hot horse, or some streak or statistic that means little on this day in this race.
Sure there are other situations, but you should get the picture.
Betting good value is as important as anything at the races. It’s up there with money management, ticket structure, and good old handicapping. It is essential for not only beating this very tough skill game but also for survival in it without a limitless well.
We will be talking about all this and more relative to the Kentucky Derby and Derby Day’s late pick 4 on our annual Derby Webinar brought to you by AmWager. To join and “be with us” check out the link here….
April 16th, 2019
Derby Day Value: The Kill Shot
By: Jonathan Stettin
Now that the Derby points races are complete and we know the likely runners, I start thinking about all the betting opportunities there will be the first Saturday in May.
There is always value to be had on Kentucky Derby Day. Always. Regardless of who wins, and at what price, if you go after the right spots there will be value.
This year it looks like we will have a favorite at maybe 3-1 or 7-2. I would think final odds will fall somewhere around there, but if it were as high as 5-1 I would not be surprised. This year value should be especially easy to find. You just have to be right because there is never any value in a losing wager.
Far too many people will tie up the bulk of their bankroll in pick 4’s and pick 5’s. Those bets are fun and offer great value if you beat a few shorter price horses, but they can also disappoint if you get some logical results with so many people in the 50 cent pools.
I love to go after some other bets on Kentucky Derby Day or any big day really. Exactas, doubles, superfectas, and triples can offer some serious value with their big pools, and so many people focusing on multi-race bets.
If I have a single in any multi-race wager on Derby Day, and I will, one thing I surely will do is bet the horse alone, and also in doubles, exactas, triples, and superfectas. This allows for two possibilities. One is the kill shot I always go for. If my single wins and I hit everything built around it bang, Kill Shot, that’s why I play. The other scenario is if I lose the multi-race bet, or one of the others, I can still win if my single wins. It all comes back to being right. The First Saturday in May is a good time to get it right.
I’ll use numbers to demonstrate how I structure one of my big day kill shots. Of course the longer the price, the more I like it. Price won’t deter me one way or the other. If my horse is long odds, obviously value is built in. If not, and the horse is short, I’ll create the value, and if it wins, that will sort itself out. Long or short odds, I just want to be right.
So let’s say the sequence is races 8,9,10, and 11. My single is in the 9th race, and we will use number 1. My pick 4 would look something like this:
Remember I am just using numbers to illustrate how I structure a Kill Shot bet. For 50 cents this bet would cost $9. For $10 it would cost $180. Both fair amounts depending on your budget.
Now the multi-race wager is out of the way. From there I play doubles.
Race 8, 2,5,7 with 1. If I like either the 2,5, or 7 more than the others, I go back at the double cold.
Race 8 double, 5-1. That takes care of that.
In race 9 I will bet the 1 to win, but only if I am out of the pick 4, which means I am also out of the double. If I am alive, I will bet exactas, triples, superfectas and more doubles. In the out scenario, I will make these bets but also the win bet.
Race 9 will look like this:
1 to win.
1 over 2,4,6 in the exactas. I don’t reverse, and I don’t box. My money goes on me being right, that means the 1 must win for me to score.
1 with 2,4,6, with 2,4,6,9,10 is one triple.
1 with 2,4,6, with all is the second triple. If I hit the exacta, I will hit the triple; it is just a question of how many times.
I am not done.
Race 9 superfectas.
1 with 2,4,6, with 2,4,6,9,10 with all.
1 with 2,4,6, with all, with all. Again if I hit the exacta, I am going to also hit the super, it’s just how many times.
I did say Kill Shot, so no I am not done. I have more doubles.
Race 9 double, 1 with 3,4,5. Again if I lean to one of those more than the others, I go back at that one. 1-5 double cold.
This style is not for everyone. It works for me and took me several years to lock into it. The rewards have been indescribable. Especially those days where things are breaking right, and you can feel in your bones you are taking down everything. The best thing a teller ever said to me was on one of those days.
“Would you like me to see if I can find a bag?”
Actually, he or I should say I didn’t need one. The track, Calder, which was owned by Churchill Downs at the time didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay me. The mutual manager asked if I could come back a few days later. I happily agreed. They paid me in bricks. That’s what a Kill Shot can do, and once you do it, you want to do it again.
This game and this style are not for the faint of heart, however. You have to be able to shake it off. Big time. Some years back I bet a horse named Giacomo in the Derby this way. I blew every exotic - every single one. It was a numbing experience. It was a very long walk to the car. That year I was still perfecting my style. I did not bet win as I was too greedy. I thought I should be making a score. Had Afleet Alex beaten Closing Argument for second I would have. He didn’t, and he was about ten lengths better than Closing Argument on his off days. Like I said you gotta be right and this is not for the faint of heart.
It’s Derby time; I’ll focus on the wins for now.