It is going to be an interesting summer in our game.
I remember a time not too long ago when the Saratoga meet was anticipated with as much excitement as any sport could bring to its fans. While I am sure it is still that way for many, for others it just is not the same. I’ll be the first to admit that if you were not around and in the game back when Saratoga was the August place to be as opposed to the summer place to be then you have no real frame of reference, and it is still an anticipated and exciting meet. If you were however, then you likely recognize that an aftermarket spoiler has been put on a red vintage Ferrari. You just don’t do that. It’s a rare case of when an addition intended as an enhancement devalues something.
I attended every Saratoga meet in its entirety for the first 30 years of my life. Many others in part thereafter. It was absolutely the place everyone in the game wanted to be and where they wanted to win. I hit my largest Pick 6 there in excess of half a million dollars. There were plenty of others over 100K as well. I made my first significant bet, while pretty young, on It’s In The Air to upset Davona Dale in the Alabama. As an owner, I was lucky enough to run one horse there, and she won. One for one is how I’ll keep that record, at least for now. I never thought my excitement for the Spa would wane.
While still a great meet by comparison to others, the changes to the game, racing in general, the times and the town have relegated it to just a small piece of what it was. Modernization and technology do not always improve everything they touch. Vintage is vintage for a reason. Saratoga was vintage.
I think the main issue in changing the quality of the meet lies in the multiple extensions to it. For a long time, and through its heyday, it was four weeks of six days of racing. That amounted to a 24 day meet of high-quality thoroughbreds competing at what was recognized as the toughest circuit with the best outfits, trainers, and riders. Maiden Special Weight races featured many homebred horses from powerhouse farms and stables that wanted to outdo one another on the track, not in the sales ring and not join in partnerships. The competition was fierce, and so were the wagering opportunities with many less gimmicks or exotic bets. Allowance races were preps for bigger and better and not also optional claimers like we see today. There were very few if any maiden claiming races, and just a couple of lower level claiming races. While the sport probably can’t sustain such a meet today, trying over almost two months certainly changes what Saratoga was. It really was the Sport of Kings, and when you were there you felt like one.
Whitney Day, Alabama Day, and of course Travers Day are still strong. The rest of the meet has far too many cards that could be run during the week at one of NYRA’s downstate tracks. It was never that way. Sometimes preserving is better than advancing.
The late pick 5 being open to all bettors, not just NYRA Bets account holders and on track players, is one of a very limited few welcome additions. The pool which suffered under the previous restrictions will likely grow significantly. This is something that can really present some great opportunities. I wish it were a $2 wager, but hey, at this point we take what we can get in this game.
I am not sure what to expect at Del Mar, another great meet that is also not what it was. Del Mar has publicly admitted they expect a horse shortage, limiting field sizes and race days. If they follow Santa Anita and ban Jerry Hollendorfer that will make things even tougher on the racing office to fill races and get the condition book to go. Santa Anita became a rough place to wager this last meet, and there is a good chance Del Mar has a lot of pass days for me as well. We will just have to see how it plays out.
We are all awaiting word from the Breeders’ Cup on whether they stay at Santa Anita or move to Churchill Downs or even somewhere else. You would have to think this is the main point on the agenda for their meeting in the 27th. My guess is it remains at Santa Anita. First, it would be tough to change venues both contractually and logistically at this point. You also have all the prepaid flights and accommodations to think about. Second, while Santa Anita might not have handled the crisis of the fatal breakdowns as good as it could have, many of the changes they’ve implemented are consistent with the Breeders’ Cup philosophies and also European racing. I don’t think the Breeders’ Cup will be so fast on the draw to punish them for that. All that said, if they do move it I will be far from shocked.
Stay tuned, it is going to be a long summer.
June 21st, 2019
By: Jonathan Stettin
Last week we got to see the first time in the short career of Maximum Security that he did not cross the wire first. To many, it was an unexpected shocker, but should it have been? We'll look at that in the recent content of angles we've been discussing to help identify scores and bet against races alike.
We have recently talked about bank roll management, two year olds progressing past their earlier figures, and today, we will talk about a widely used but often confused term, "the bounce."
While the stumble at the start didn't help Maximum Security, he was ripe to regress. Knowing when a horse is ready to regress or bounce is a strong advantage or edge, especially if the horse is a favorite.
Maximum Security ran a very hard race while still inexperienced and lightly raced in the Kentucky Derby. He ran harder and further than he ever had before under less than ideal conditions. His trainer was noncommittal about his run in the Pegasus until he actually entered. He has even publicly said blood was drawn on Maximum Security as he was not quite right. These factors all point to a regression or bounce. Let's define bounce. A bounce is when a horse goes backward or runs significantly worse than they have in their last start or even last few starts.
Most horses will regress or bounce off a race where they exceeded their previous top performance by a decent measurable speed figure or just flat out performance. You don't need to use speed figures to spot a bounce, but they certainly can accelerate the process.
Sure some horses can regress and win, and Maximum Security certainly looked like he could be one of those in the field he faced in the Pegasus. That said, do you really want a short price on a horse that is not peaking or going forward when you have nicer price options on horses that are?
When looking for a horse to bounce, thus bet against at a short price, here are some things you can watch for:
1- A horse who ran significantly faster than ever before in their last start.
2- A horse who has strung together a series of faster than their norm races.
3- A horse who appeared to visually run hard or work very hard in their last start.
4- A horse who is coming back faster than they normally do, or that their trainer likes to do or usually does.
5- A horse who ran well last out but is now being asked to do something they've shown in the past they do not excel at.
Are there other indicators or tells, sure and you should pay attention to any you have learned to recognize. One thing to be careful of is the "easy win" not telegraphing a possible bounce. Some years ago, and I have written about this before, I watched a race with Bobby Frankel. His horse jogged under wraps with Jerry Bailey up and went really fast. Nonetheless, it was done handily, easily with ears pricked up. Bobby cursed. I asked what could possibly be wrong with that race?
He said plainly, "too fast." Explaining further, "This was not the race I was pointing to, and now I have to worry about a bounce."
I replied, "Why it was so easy."
Here is where I was schooled and went into sponge mode and made many a score because of it. He told me when a horse runs fast, real fast, no matter how easy they do it, how it looks, or how they act after it before their next start, you always have to fear they will regress. He explained a fast race is almost always taxing regardless of how it may look to us. I never forgot that lesson, so to speak and it served me well many times.
The bounce is a real angle. It happens. Horses are not machines and form cycles last indefinitely very rarely. Looking for the bounce and accurately spotting it can land you on some nice winners and keep you away from some short priced losers. That's a win-win right there.
June 14th, 2019
True or False
By: Jonathan Stettin
A few years ago, a two year old named Caledonia Red barely made it to my radar in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in my early work. By the time the race came up, I made and cashed a nice bet. It was a true track bias I recognized that got me there. A true track bias is a gift that just keeps giving. Not only can you capitalize on one race day if you catch it, but you can bet with an edge on those who ran well against it and downgrade those who ran with it. The whole key is knowing a true track bias from a false or perceived one.
A bias can mean different things to different handicappers. I define a track bias this way:
A trend in the track that helps horses run better than they would have if they ride it and worse then they would have if they are against it. Simply said a bias can make horses who would not have won on a fair track win, and horses who would have won on a fair track lose. Anything less to me is not a true bias. It would be hard to capitalize off anything less than my definition. Additionally, although tracks can change throughout a card, a true bias will more often than not hold for the bulk of the day. When they don’t you must ask yourself if it could have possibly been a false bias. Chances are it was.
Players are fast on the draw to label a track biased, often incorrectly at least by my definition. A bias comes in a few different forms. It can be an inside or outside bias which relates to a portion of the racetrack. It can be down the crown of the track as we often see in the mud. It can be a speed bias or a closers bias. Sometimes you will see more than one type of bias together, but obviously they can’t conflict with each other, or you are back to a false bias.
An excellent example of bettors being prematurely fast on the bias draw was last weekends Belmont Stakes card. The bias talk came early and often. It was all over social media and the tv broadcasts. Trainers even voiced concerns about how the track was playing would affect their horses. They were all wrong, and no this is not subjective. Not only were they calling it a speed biased racetrack but they were also saying it was a rail biased racetrack. A good deal of this gibberish began after only the second dirt race was run. That’s an impressive assessment if you are right. Were they? You tell me.
Sea Foam won the first race on the card. He stalked the pace, did not make the pace, and made an early inside move — a stalking trip in the opener.
The next dirt race had the bias callers out in full force. The fact it was just the second dirt race on the card did not temper them. Majid went to the lead in relatively easy splits. He went Wire to Wire. He should have. He got away uncontested and set soft splits on a very fast but fair racetrack. One of the biggest lures to a false bias is not realizing why a horse trips out and wins. With the way things unfolded Majid was supposed to win.
The next dirt race was won by Midnight Bisou who not only came from off the pace but was last at one point. Nonetheless, you had analysts, trainers, and people all over social media saying you had or be on the rail with speed to win. I knew this would lead to some big edge bets on the card.
The next dirt race we saw Guarana blitz the field from slightly off the pace. It was a stalking trip. 4 races and just one Wire to Wire winner. They still screamed bias in force. On true bias days, you see 4 races and 4 Wire to Wire winners.
The next one was a classic. Hog Creek Hustle roared down the middle of the track from off the pace. He beat my “edge play” Nitrous by a long nose and Nitrous was further back and wider than he was. The reported rail and speed bias is not what cost me that bet.
Mitole took the next dirt race stalking and prompting the pace. Noteworthy McKinzie came from off the pace and had a lot of traffic trouble, or it may have been a different result but certainly would have been closer. That’s six dirt races and one Wire to Wire winner who got a lone lead and went slow on a fast track.
Sir Winston won the Belmont from off the pace. Did he spend some time saving ground on the rail? Absolutely. Did it help him? Absolutely as saving ground usually does. When good horses save ground on the rail it helps a lot. Seven dirt races and one horse goes gate to wire.
Recognizing a true bias from a false one can be lucrative. Being quick draw McGraw won’t help you be correct in that assessment.
There was a rail and speed bias on Belmont Stakes day. True or false?
June 7th, 2019
By: Jonathan Stettin
Between Friday and Saturday at Belmont, there will be an abundance of opportunities to go after a score. While this is great and what most of us wait for, it helps to have a solid plan of attack. All those opportunities and alluring races can prompt many to spread their bankrolls out to keep them in action, but if you are looking to take down a big score that might not be the best way to go. It’s not how I play it. These two days are when your money management skills get out to the test. If you don’t have them your bankroll can be put to rest.
Whether your bankroll for the weekend is $100, $1000, or $10,000 it doesn’t matter. You have to apply it in the best way to capitalize on your strongest opinion. Of course, you have to be right.
I play more aggressively than most. Using a $100 bankroll, I will take 80% of that and put that into my best spot for the weekend. I may spread the 80% across different types of wagers keying on the horse I like the best, but I won’t use any of that 80% on other horses or sequences. This puts me in position to maximize my investment on the horse I feel best about. If I am right, I will have a good majority of my bankroll on my horse, and that is how you set yourself up to score.
Many people will spread thin and want action in every race and sequence. Can they catch a big number and score? Of course. That said, in the long run, if your handicapping is solid, you will get much farther into the black column attacking who you really like best. Does it really make sense just for the sake of action to spread around and use as much of your bankroll on a horse or sequence you like a little as opposed to one you feel strongly about? I say no all day to that.
When finished handicapping I will look at the two or maybe three horses I like best. It is my nature to go after the longest prices one, and I will have to like a shorter priced one a lot more to pull me in that direction.
Using 80% of my bankroll allows me to go after every type of bet I want keying my horse. If things work out, I can hit all the exotics. If not I can hit some. Nobody and I mean nobody bets too much on a winner. It’s a sinking feeling to be right on a key horse on a big weekend like this and not capitalize. 80% of your bankroll minimizes that risk.
The other 20% is what I will use for fishing, stabs, and some lighter action. Does that at times save the day. Absolutely. It keeps one in a spot to catch that longer priced play or sequence but also leaves you strong for the major wager.
On days like these, there is always a lot more recreational and uninformed money in the pools. This is a tremendous help to us. Beat a favorite or two which should always be a goal, and your value increases significantly than what it would on say a regular day or even weekend. Use that. It can’t hurt and can only help.
We are all usually locked and loaded by now. I try and hold off final opinions as long as possible. Will the weather change? Will there be a real bias? Will someone get white hot or maybe ice cold? These intangibles can give you an edge over players who lock in early and surely over the recreational money. Take whatever edges you can get.
Log into your AmWager accounts and attack! All the best and enjoy these great cards.
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.