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September 5, 2019

It All Comes Together; Looking in the Crystal Ball

By: Jonathan Stettin


It is interesting to look back at some of our opinions on races and horses from a few weeks or months back and see how they aged. You get a real good window into your focus and grasp of this challenging game we play. This is a good time of year to do it as we are approaching the fourth quarter so to speak and if we don’t have a clear picture now something is wrong.

A few weeks ago, I wrote right here Shancelot was a bet against in his next start after the monster win first time at the Spa. He lost at a short price. A week or two before that I wrote right here Code of Honor was most likely to be the one to assert himself into the top three-year-old of 2019 picture. I think he accomplished that with his Travers win. We pretty much called that one. If you play this game long enough you get a feel for certain things. Let’s examine some things ahead and see how they age.

As the horses of 2019 race towards their championships, and we have some really good horses this year in Bricks and Mortar, Sistercharlie, McKinzie, Mitole and more, we can get ready to capitalize on the upsets, and get down on the strong plays. That is what it is all about.

The Pennsylvania Derby should give us a very clear leader for the top three-year-old. It looks like Maximum Security, the current leader will face War of Will for sure. Mucho Gusto and Improbable are possible. Code of Honor may sneak in as may Tacitus. If that happens you have the three-year-old championship on the line as I do not think any of them are good enough to go to Santa Anita and beat older horses. Well at least one in particular. The spoiler to that whole party may be Omaha Beach who is working his way back to the races and hopefully the picture. We may see Omaha Beach at Parx, but not in the Pennsylvania Derby. Don’t be surprised if Mandella opts for the two-turn mile race instead.

It is true we do not know what type of surface we will see at Santa Anita this fall, but it will be McKinzie’s home track whatever it is. He is blossoming at just the right time.

Mitole is back, and the loss from the rail is totally forgivable at this point. It will take something very fast to handle him at his best. It probably isn’t Imperial Hint away from Saratoga.

Bricks and Mortar has put together some season. He has been on a tear. There is some European horse out there that just may have him in their or should I say her sights. The Breeders’ Cup Turf may be the race of that weekend.

If Elate couldn’t beat Midnight Bisou on the square when she was supposed to at Saratoga, how will she at Santa Anita where Bisou is familiar?

Sistercharlie probably still has not run her peak race of the year of yet. That should be pretty discouraging for any of the horses looking to take her down in the filly and mare turf. Good luck with that one.

Moving on to another subject, when will they run out of ways to disrespect bettors and make this already difficult game more difficult? Never. The deck is stacked against us. Now it is definitely wrong and bad to move a race from one turf course to another with 8 minutes or thereabouts to post time. It crushes the multi-race wager players in pick 4’s, 5’s, and 6’s. This day involved a mandatory jackpot payout as well. Ouch. It would have been worse if they changed surfaces altogether as the race would become an all. But even the course change can affect the race. Personally, I do not believe it did in this case. Quarbaan, the best horse that day won, and decisively. That said it still leaves a bad taste and with no explanation it is disrespectful. For safety we can all understand it, but we deserve to know not guess. Unfortunately, this discretion lies with the stewards and track management. There is no argument. They have the right to switch surfaces with little or no notice. We agree to play by those rules.




Monday, 26 August 2019 20:03

Inside the Mind of a Bet

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August 26, 2019

Inside the Mind of a Bet

By: Jonathan Stettin


They may have put an aftermarket spoiler on a vintage red Ferrari, but when you crank it up, you can still feel and hear the engines rumble.
 
There are some racetracks that just have a magically electric atmosphere to them as soon as you enter the gates. Saratoga has that as soon as you approach the town from the South and pass the Mohawk River Bridge. It amplifies as you approach the grounds and see the familiar grand mansions, barns, and racetrack itself. I have yet to visit a racetrack that has the feel of Saratoga, and I have been to most all over the world.
 
Whether it is the history, the epic performances, the legendary upsets, the champions of our game, both human and equine who have competed there, or the big scores doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s a combination of all of that, or even something else.
 
When NYRA announced the Saratoga meet was again being extended I saw it as a problem as the racing has already been watered down some from what it was in the past. That’s really a racing problem and not an isolated Saratoga problem you just feel it more at the Spa. That’s because longtime Saratoga bettors, horsemen, and fans have become spoiled. The 24 racing days of the “August” place to be was unrivaled even by meets like Royal Ascot. Those days are forever gone, but the desire for almost anyone in the Sport of Kings to win at Saratoga turns even a maiden claiming race into a competitive all-out affair. Everyone, including bettors, seem to try just a little bit harder at Saratoga. It brings out our best.
 
Having cashed a pick 6 for over half a mil at Saratoga, and two others for 146k and 108k respectfully, I can’t help being optimistic about the meet and even more thrilled to be on the grounds. I spent the first 30 plus years of my life summering there, and it feels like home. It doesn’t hurt that the only horse I ever ran there as an owner, Ima Halo, won under Johnny V for trainer Peter Walder. The place is special.
 
It all comes down to making the right decisions when betting. Regardless of who you like, and what bets you are going to make you’ll face handicapping decisions, and wagering decisions. Which way you go, or whether you zig or zag will determine how things turn out for you.
 
On Travers day, my killer instinct was roaring. I knew there would be at least one real shot to take. I intended to take it. I liked Code of Honor in the Travers. How to bet him was the question. Since there is no longer a $2 pick 6, that was not an option. Regrettably for me. I will miss that bet, perhaps most of all.
 
I decided the Pick 5 was the way to go. I was concerned about the sequence starting with a 1-5 favorite, but at 7 furlongs I saw a chink in his armor. At 1-5 we want no chinks. I’d use him to make sure if he wins I am alive, but he was no single in my book. Not even close. When I discussed the race with my Brother John John, yes I have a brother John, and he saw the chink as well my confidence grew. He’s one of maybe two people on the planet whose opinion I value — the others mine.
 
My plan was to have the ticket multiple times. Anybody can hit a Pick 5 for 50 cents. I wanted to have it for $5 or $10 at least. When I structured my play, I decided to also single Elate. Obviously, I knew only two horses could win that race, Elate or Midnight Bisou. I do not think a realistic chance could have been made for any other horse in that race. I was “sure” Elate was sitting on a big race and forward move. I “thought” Midnight Bisou was possibly as well, but with money on the line, I’ll go with sure over thought as many times as I can.
 
I briefly thought about using both horses and splitting the ticket and have it for $5 instead of $10. I decided against that. Ah decisions, they will make or break you every time. It didn’t make sense at that point to use both horses even though that would lock up or buy the race. I thought if the 1-5 shot wins the first leg, and we get another short price in another leg, and Midnight Bisou and Elate will both be short, I’ll have no shot at a score. I had to go with one and Elate was the better option according to my handicapping.
 
I was concerned about Jose Ortiz over thinking the Abel Tasman race and Mike Smith incident from last year. I also thought the race at Oaklawn earlier this year might also be in his head. Hopefully, if that were the case, it would motivate him and not get him antsy or anything like that. As they were running and Jose was laying third in what most would view as a golden spot, I became worried when I saw him look back approaching the half-mile pole to see where Mike and Midnight Bisou were. Don’t worry about them, just ride your race, I thought. Jose was set on race riding however, and sometimes that works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. Against Mike Smith, the odds go against you drastically.
 
Yeah, I knew I was going to get nailed about mid-stretch. I also knew Code of Honor would win the Travers. You see enough of these things; sometimes you just know how the movie ends. The agony of defeat set in about the sixteenth pole although most who had Elate were still thinking she would make it. Man, that Midnight Bisou is relentless. John John structured his ticket very similar to mine. That photo cost us over 200k collectively.
 
Dinner and the company were excellent that night. Just about everyone who is anyone in racing was at the same restaurant. Many winners from the day, and past winners as well. Even Derby winners. Sure it stung but you’d never know it sitting next to me. See here is the key, once you take down some of these type of scores you learn you CAN do it. Then you learn you can do it again. At this point you know hey, it’s just a matter of time until you make the right decision.
 
Yes. Of course, I bet the Travers winner. Win. Exacta. Superfecta. This is one of those unenviable days where you win but walk out feeling like you lost. Only a true Racetracker can understand that..

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.