October 3, 2018
Taking a Step Back
By: Jonathan Stettin
All too often we see the term “freak” thrown around in horse racing. If we truly had as many freaks as horses the term is used to describe, this would be one heck of a game. People love to throw the label around off one sole performance, especially when it is a debut or easy victory. Often these winners are not only not “freaks”, but not even the best horse in the race. To go a step further, many times the winner is not the best horse in the race and wasn’t the one who ran the most impressively. The above is one of many reasons why I like to take a step back. By taking a step back, I will watch the replay a week or so after the race so all the hype, excitement, and wagering influences die down. I have found over the years, this gives you a much better perspective of what you actually witnessed.
Let’s look at some examples. We saw an awful lot of freaks this summer at Del Mar. Instagrand, Roadster, Brill, Mother Mother, and the list goes on. Has any won another race? Just one, Instagrand, I believe and then he went to the sidelines. Just last weekend we saw the debut of Improbable and It’sjustanillusion. Both heralded off of their debuts. This is not to say or even imply these are not really nice horses, or to knock their races or the connections in any way. It is more of a reality check about the over used term freak in our game. I think it should be reserved for well, freaks.
In last week’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, Discreet Lover upset the field and paid $93.00 to win. He was so improbable the track announcer, Larry Collmus, called his name wrong more than right. He was calling Discreet Image who wasn’t in the race. In fairness, Larry doesn’t make many mistakes of that nature, and he was more focused on the blistering pace for the distance, practically insuring a closer would get the victory. Lost in the hoopla was Mendelssohn who ran the best race of all. While recovering from a virus, and after missing some training, and running in the Travers as a prep of sorts, he was close to the suicide pace. He fought gamely for third, while Diversify hit a brick wall. If you go back and re watch, you’ll see Discreet Lover benefited from the pace and trip, and Mendelssohn ran against it.
On Sunday, Rocketry ran for the first time on dirt, and at a mile and five eights. He looked impressive to watch and broke the great Man O War’s track record. Let’s keep it real. First the track was blistering fast, not biased, fast all weekend at Belmont. Second, he beat a mediocre bunch. Last, and most significant, he broke the record at a distance they do not race on all that much on US soil.
The point is, we have been extremely fortunate over the last decade or so to see some truly great racehorses, who had some extraordinary campaigns over all surfaces and distances. This includes two triple Crown winners in Justify and American Pharoah. Justify knocked off that whole Apollo thing in the process. Wise Dan, Beholder, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Arrogate, Gun Runner, and others all would be considered great by any measure or standard in any era. I’ll reserve the term freaks for true freaks and always measure a performance after watching it a week later. I’ll also never listen to the hype, unless I am the one doing it.
September 27, 2018
By: Jonathan Stettin
As a long time pick 6 player I’ve known for a while the bet is changing and is not what it once was. The wager has suffered shrinking pools for years, primarily due to the increase in 50 cent multi-race wagers and many more sharks and syndicates in the water.
There was a time, not that long ago, when the NYRA pick 6 pool could reach over 100k on non-carryover days. That created daily opportunities to be the only winner and take down six figures. That made it a worthwhile bet on non-carryover days, as the majority of sharks surfaced when there was a carryover. Snaking the pool we’d hit it and it is a wonderful feeling. For $30-$40k not so much, considering how tough the pick 6 is to hit.
California, especially Southern California, has been the exception when it came to the pick 6. Their pool has remained acceptable, even on non-carryover days. Regardless, Santa Anita has now switched to the 20-cent jackpot pick 6. Considering the success of the jackpot wagers, this should come as no surprise. NYRA has also pushed forward with getting a jackpot pick 6, so it is pretty clear, this 20-cent jackpot is the pick 6 of the future. The dinosaur pick 6 will at least remain in the Breeders’ Cup, as the two day event is just not long enough to support the jackpot format.
I always preferred the standard $2 format, as, I thought it separated a lot of the kids from the adults. With the shrinking pools however, I must admit it ceased being my main, “go-to,” wager, some time ago. With places like Maryland, New Jersey, California, soon New York, and of course Florida and Gulfstream, where it all started amongst others offering the 20-cent jackpot. I am once again very interested in the wager.
A lot of people knock the jackpot format and feel it is only worth it when the carryover is huge, or on mandatory payout days. I disagree. Many a day the pick 6 players have been caught sleeping and the pool was taken down by an astute and heads up player. I have also seen enough days where the shared payoff was more than worth it, based on the 20-cent investment.
On mandatory payout days it is one of the best bets around. Essentially you get a $2 pick 6 at a 20-cent cut rate of investment. If you are used to the $2 wager you get a lot of coverage for a lot less money.
The wager generates excitement and interest. Any wager that has the potential for six figure and above scores, is good for the game and the bettor. The 20-cent jackpot pick 6 requires a different approach and strategy than the old conventional one, but it is the future of the pick 6 and I think it should be welcomed and embraced.
Racing changes and evolves over time. As players, we too must adapt and play in the current arena. The jackpot pick 6 allows players who don’t normally play the pick 6 to get involved and become more familiar withthis challenging wager. The water is fine. Everybody in the pool.
Another new wager we are seeing for the first time this weekend is the transatlantic pick 4. NYRA has been hosting cross country pick 4’s, but this Saturday they offer one with two stakes from Longchamp, including the Prix De Arc’ de Triomohe, and two stakes from Belmont’s super Saturday. I love this concept. European racing is phenomenal for wagering. It is some of the best racing for wagering in the world and we here in the states pass it up way too often. The toughest part is getting quality past performances, but that can at times be a slight edge for those who diligently follow what goes on over there.
We should enjoy a weekend full of opportunities. May you all make at least one of them count.
September 19, 2018
House Rules "Pay That Man His Money"
By: Jonathan Stettin
The House makes the rules, and if you play you are going to play by those rules, whether you like it or not. The house has bet on you playing regardless of what the rules are, or how they interpret them. History has proven them right. Though attendance at racetracks is scarce most of the year, handle holds. This is as much a sign of the times as it is poor management and weak retention of players.
All gambling outlets deal with similar issues, and all have things stacked in their favor and against you. If you ask most serious gamblers if they would play poker against a stacked deck, you would get a resounding no. Shortly thereafter, they’ll log on to their ADW, go to the track or casino, or sit down at the poker table. Essentially, they are playing against a stacked deck. The house wins. Although, pari-mutual wagering is somewhat of a different animal. We, for the most part, play against each other, similar to poker, but the house is in the game. In poker you have the rake, in the Sport of Kings you have the takeout.
I find it very frustrating when people make decisions regarding my money. Normally, most of us would resist it. In racing, and in most gambling, we have taken it on the chin so often we accept it. We’ve become the kid who hands their lunch money to the bully without even making him have to take it. Just last week at Woodbine, a favored horse in a stake on one of their biggest days broke through the gate. The horse ran off before a great catch by the outrider saved him. He was brought back to the gate and inspected and allowed to run, presumably with no visible injury. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t injured or did not leave his race at the run off. The percentage of horses who break through the gate and run off winning is low. Most people do not want one as the favorite. House rules he ran, lost, and if you had him you got stuck with him, unless you were able to cancel your ticket. It might not be better if he had scratched. Then you get the favorite who you may have or may not have wanted. The only fair way to protect the “customer” is to have and allow alternative selections. Fair, simple, and the right way to protect your money. I’d prefer a refund to the current rules. That will never happen because we are not protected, and apparently most of us don’t care. I do.
We have evolved to accept we do not know what will happen following an inquiry, regardless of what the head on view shows. We have had what happens out of the gate does not impact the race rammed down our throats so much, that some of us actually believe it. Stewards don’t bet, or at least are not supposed to, yet they decide without accountability what happens to the money you bet.
Now for the latest. FanDuel declined to honor a $110 bet on the Broncos on Sunday that would have paid more than $82,000, due to an error in the odds-making process, the company said.
"The wager in question involved an obvious pricing error inadvertently generated by our in-game pricing system," a FanDuel spokesperson said in a statement. In these cases, the company policy and house rules clearly say they do not have to pay. Tough luck to the bettor who went to the window at the Meadowlands and made the bet and had a ticket at the posted, albeit incorrect odds in his hand. Interesting the house rules in this case, do not mirror New Jersey state rules. The state rules include an investigation prior to a determination, but it is the house rules that count, and they never favor or protect the customer. In gambling, the customer is always wrong. Now in fairness, Vegas books might pay this error, but when they do they almost always bar the player. Maybe that’s the one case they try and protect the gambler.
In all fairness, this wager was an obvious error and the player likely knew it was fishy. That said they made the mistake. They took his money and his bet. Had he lost there would have been no refund under the heading, but he lost. He didn’t lose. He won, and although at true odds he wins $18 not $80K you didn’t post those odds, did you? If you make a mistake at a casino or a racetrack, try telling them you really wanted red, or the #4. You will quickly see exactly where you stand. So, should FanDuel, in the words of Teddy KGB, “pay that man his money?"
September 13, 2018
Structures And Strategies
By: Jonathan Stettin
I am pretty sure Yogi Berra was talking baseball when he said “90% of this game is half mental.” I always understood Yogi and had a similar way of thinking. In racing 90% of this game is at least 50% knowing how to bet. Handicapping is unquestionably vital, but if you do not know how to bet and structure wagers effectively and efficiently, you will get swallowed as fast as a horse who goes 44 to the half in a mile and a quarter race.
I have written about my philosophy, which I often call a kill-shot, many times. I have bet the way I do now for a long time, but it also took me a long time to develop both the strategy and discipline it requires. While it may not be the only way to beat the game today, I am certain it is as good as any. The possible exception is those who play for rebates and by computer programs that cannibalize pools at everyone else’s expense.
Today I will share my outlook for those who may wish to consider it at times, or even as a matter of practice as I do. Keeping in mind, I think all who play should play to win, and you should do what works for you, especially if you are beating the game which is truly the only benchmark.
In pari-mutual wagering we are not playing against the house, as we do in say a casino. We are playing against each other, the take-out, the intangibles, and the computer syndicates I referenced earlier in this article. They are out there and have their hands or keyboards in not only the racetracks pockets, but all of ours as well. In a future Past the Wire article or broadcast I am going to talk more about “them” and how to beat “them” at their game. Does anyone who follows me think I would not at some point deal with that? Not if you know me, but that is for another day.
Keeping in mind this is indeed a skill game that has intangibles and luck, that we even out with odds and value. You have to have a solid game plan and stick with it to enjoy long term success. If you are hap hazard and fluctuate your approach, beating the game is next to impossible and you turn a game of skill into a game of chance. We all have seen that movie and know the ending.
Kill-shot wagering and the philosophy behind it goes against human nature and that makes it hard for most to employ. Most players want to cash as many tickets as possible and use as many horses they can afford to insure they do. I have come to learn that is a mistake and flawed approach in the long run. I want to make as few losing wagers as possible, minimizing my losses, and make it count or maximize my winnings when I am right. For example, I never box an exacta. Never. A three horse $1 exacta box costs $6. You start with in the hole with: the take-out, your expenses, the computer syndicates, and with 5 losing wagers. That is a lot to go in your red column. I would play one horse I like best over the other two. I will cash less, but win more, when I am right. That is what counts over time. The more you put in the red column, the more you have to dig out. So, while human nature is to cash as many tickets as you can by playing as many horses and combinations as you can afford, it is not the best road to long term success in the Sport of Kings. Additionally, if you go for the kill-shot and your budget for the exacta was $6, now you have the number for $3 instead of $1. Cash less, win more.
This style works well with every bet with the possible exception of the Pick 6. That is a whole different animal. In pick 4’s and 5’s however it does apply at least for me. As opposed to taking a multi-race wager for 50 cents, I will always have one or two short races or singles to allow me, within my budget, to have the sequence multiple times when I am right. If you can be good enough to be right 20-25% of the time and are not afraid of the board, you are in the game big time.
I have watched and studied racing long enough to know you can handicap for the winner, and even the second horse, but nobody can handicap for third, fourth or especially fifth. Nobody. There are way too many factors that influence those, placings, not the least of which is riders wrapping up when they know they can’t win. It happens daily. You can eliminate horses from all the meaningful placings, thus not needing the all button every time you play a triple or superfecta, but even that can be risky. I like to turn triples and superfectas into exactas. I will take one horse over two horses, and then take all in the third slot and in the fourth slot as well if it is a superfecta. If I am right and hit the exacta, I know I have the triple and superfecta. I won’t cash them as many times as some others might, but I am not in to cash the most tickets, I am in to win the most money.
What works for you is what I think you should do if you are coming out ahead, where you want to be at the end of the year or meet. If not, maybe try going for the kill-shot. If you can maintain the discipline and stick to it, I am confidant you will see improvement. You can’t be afraid to leave a horse out, or to miss a sequence. You have to believe in yourself and your ability, and know it is just a matter of time until you make it count. Here’s to making it count.
September 7, 2018
Riding Under the Radar
By: Jonathan Stettin
There are a lot of people, including some fine horsemen, who believe jockeys do not matter all that much. Allen Jerkens was as good as it gets and was known to give all riders a shot and felt anyone could win with the right horse. Theoretically, that is a true statement. However, my years of wagering professionally have taught me riders make a world of difference to a bettor looking to beat the game consistently.
Sure, one can argue the better riders get the better mounts, thus they win a high percentage of races. Another true statement but talent earns them those mounts. Even if an agent or connections get them the mounts in the beginning, to keep them you have to be able to ride. Not all riders are created equal. They are pound for pound among the toughest athletes in the world, but they are athletes in a ultra competitive game and some are just better than others.
To be a great rider there are certain essentials you must have. A keen sense of pace and timing, fearlessness, the ability to handicap, good instincts, great reflexes and a good memory are some of them. Great athleticism and strength are also needed.
As players we all know certain riders, especially at certain meets and even more so when they ride for certain outfits, are going to be over bet and decrease the value on their horse. While I never endorse betting against whom you think will win, and always say “there is NO value in a losing wager” I do like when the horse I land on has an under the radar great rider. There are always some out there, and some last, while others come to the masses attention. Today I will discuss a few I think are still under the radar and are great riders who can ride and hold their own with anybody on any circuit.
A few years ago, I gave Florent Geroux the High Five in a Past the Wire article and stated he was the best improved jockey in the country. A few months later he won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and look at his resume now. Years before that I had said Joel Rosario could be one of the best and while he’s had his ups and downs his resume is outstanding. Watching the New York colony growing up, being a Jockey Agent while a young man, being a student of the game and avid race watcher has taught me some things to look for. Knowing several riders and talking racing with them over the years has helped also.
Jose and Irad Ortiz can ride with the best of them. Mike Smith is a timeless all time great. Today we are going to look at what I will call “Under The Radar Love.”
Kendrick Carmouche- Kendrick is as good a rider as you will see today. As nice a guy as you will meet out of the saddle and in the saddle, he is a fierce competitor. He is aggressive and not afraid to put his horse in the race early or take the lead regardless of distance or surface. He made his bones at lesser tracks than his current NYRA home circuit but has demonstrated he can get it done. He finishes strong and can keep a horse going. A true speed rider who with a horse under him will make a race of it. Because he is so aggressive early he avoids many troubled trips and traffic.
Junior Alvarado- I used to watch Junior dominate good riders with more experience at Arlington and say to myself what is he waiting for to move to a major circuit? When he switched his tack to New York, I felt he was a sure thing to make it. While some injuries slowed him down a bit, Junior has shown he belongs on the big stage. He is a very strong rider he can take a good hold of a horse without having to strangle them. He is as strong a finisher as there is and has impeccable timing with closers. You definitely want him in a photo. On a live closer you know Junior will be coming.
Ricardo Santana Jr.- Ricardo does not have a visible weakness as a rider. He can go or take a hold and throws crosses down the lane as pretty as anyone. He’s aggressive, fearless, and hungry. All things as a player, owner or trainer you want in a jock. When he lost some big horses to bigger name riders he did not sulk, he rode harder and now he is likely to keep them or beat them. This guy can horseback.
Flavian Prat- While pretty popular in California, Flavian is just starting to get national recognition and become known as a go to money rider. He is extremely patient on a horse and has really nice hands. I bet you will start seeing him on more and more big horses in big races. I believe he will bring the goods and take it to the next level.
Luis Saez- Luis is so strong at times you will see his horses lug in or out but he is strong enough to straighten them right out. Super aggressive and gutsy, if he’s on a live one he is in the game. I’ve watched him develop since his South Florida and he has never stopped improving. He is powerful in the stretch and tough to get by or hold off. Luis on the best horse usually equals money.
Yes, there are many others. I can’t name them all, and I certainly did not intend to slight anyone out there riding. These are some of the ones I love to see on the horse I am betting.
August 16, 2018
By: Jonathan Stettin
So much has changed in the Thoroughbred industry in the past 25 years or so, the least of which is not training a race horse. Training race horses still has some basic fundamentals, and remains a crafty art, but it is very different than it was years ago.
To people who have worked or spent time on the backside, and have been around the game awhile, the changes are obvious. To those who are newcomers, or who have spent their racetrack time on the frontside, the changes are less apparent.
Race horses are athletes and have more in common with human athletes than meets the eye. While true they run naturally, when in the wild they normally run straight and in spurts. They have to be coached and taught to run in circles, and at different speeds and paces. Like a coach, some trainers are better than others. The good ones, really good ones, identify a horse as an individual and get inside the animal’s head and truly educates them. At least that is how it used to be. Today, the so-called super trainers with their large strings, often at multiple tracks, run a make or break type of program. They have too many in training to have an individualized program, but they are winning at high percentages, so nobody is complaining. The difference shows in the longevity and the number of starts in a year and over a career.
It is no secret, the old school method produced horses who lasted longer and ran more frequently. They also did so with less medications. Today, the large majority of horses in the US race on Lasix. Years ago, a horse who needed Lasix was considered a second stringer and could not even race in New York, which is where you had to run if you wanted to be champion. Taking nothing away from today’s trainers and methods, it is not the same and in the long run it shows.
Old school trainers were patient. They had non-winners in one, two, three and even four allowance races to take their horses through, while slowly letting them develop and learn the game. Today they go from a maiden, to stakes, or the optional claimer, or even the outright claimer. Today’s trainer pays close attention to their stats, specifically their win percentage, so prep races are not used like they were. This is further increased by the Kentucky Derby point system, which forces trainers to have their horse at peak level before the Derby, in order to qualify on points. Additionally, horses have to be cranked up to get in the money, in a so-called prep race, to assure them a starting place in the gate on the first Saturday in May.
In today’s game you have a much larger concentration of good horses distributed to a much smaller percentage of trainers. This creates a playing field that is anything but level for the smaller barns. When you can send your horses out in sets, primarily made up of talented and fast horses, and can train behind them, in between them, to run with, and past them. It certainly gives you an edge over the guy asking around the backside for a work mate or a free-lance rider to get on one horse. True that always took place, but there used to be a lot of powerhouse farms and barns, and that has given way to a few and a lot of partnerships with common owners pooling resources, as opposed to competing.
Today so much more depends on the Vet and Vet work a trainer has done. There are many more medications available today along with things like; shock wave therapy, laser, equine massage, and acupuncture. The barns that utilize these enhancements get better results on the whole than the barns that don’t or cannot afford to. We are not even taking into consideration those who push and even exceed the envelope. That is a subject for another day.
One of the things that has remained steadfast is teaching a horse to change leads. Many bettors do not realize how important this actually is. When a horse is racing or running, the legs on one side of their body lead, or extend farther than the others. Teaching a horse to change leads on cue is vital. Usually, because we run counter clockwise here in the US, horses are generally on the right lead on the straightaways and on the left lead on the turns. This is the natural motion anyway. A race horse will tire faster if they stay on the same lead too long. Changing on cue, or at the worst, changing is important. Think of it this way. You are at an airport carrying some heavy luggage, or at a store carrying a heavy package. Your normal inclination will be to lean on your stronger side and keep going until fatigue sets in. Then you switch arms, and your gait and there comes your second wind. You changed leads and if you watch horses do it in races, you will see that renewed energy. If you pay close enough attention, you may pick up on a next out play or play against.