Sports betting in NJ hasn’t hurt racing handle. In fact, it appears to be helping. But renowned sports handicapper--and Saturday racetrack regular--Marc Lawrence sees that eventually turning around.


The consummation of the marriage between racing and legal sports betting didn’t take long. TVG is mixing in selections on ball games and Monmouth Park has created Pick 4’s pairing three races and a ball game.

So far the shotgun marriage has been good for both. Sports betting is off to a roaring start at Monmouth and the Meadowlands and racing handle is up, too, eradicating, at least temporarily, the fear that sports betting would cannibalize horse race betting.

Marc Lawrence, who has been handicapping sports since the third quarter of the 20th century, and an HRI contributor since 2008, said the real test will come when online sports betting is fully developed. And this could be the moment when sports betting ceases to benefit race tracks.

“I don’t think most people will want to drive to Gulfstream to make a bet on the Dolphins if they don’t have to.”

Lawrence is excited about what legal sports betting will do for his business. People who felt that dealing with bookmakers or offshore sites is unsavory are more likely to become involved with sports betting now that it is legal. These novices will be looking for dependable, successful opinions, such as his.

Lawrence is one of the few reputable people in his line of work. You will never hear a breathless Marc Lawrence radio ad bragging about guaranteed winners, inside information and 90 percent winners. He’s hoping now that sports betting is out in the open the government will start cracking down on the lying touts, who make outrageous claims.

You can’t do it selling cars or weight-loss products but the sports tout scammers have been doing it for years.

Lawrence lets his work and reputation speak for him. His annual “Playbook” is 256 pages of statistics, trends and long range forecasts, and it's been around for more than a quarter century. This longevity is a product of the faith fans place in it.

His weekly newsletter, supplemented by mid-week alerts and last-minute selections, are a matter of public record. He’s had winning seasons, pro and college, nine of the past 10 years.

The newsletter has a couple of hundred words on every game on the board but the keys are his three-, four- and five-star selections, upset specials, awesome angles and incredible stats you won’t find anywhere else, because no one puts in the hours Lawrence does in his voluminous database.

He also doesn’t let emotions or favorite teams enter into his work. “I go strictly on stats and trends. I could put a piece of tape over the team names and it wouldn’t make a difference.”

An Incredible Stat to file away during exhibition football season is, “The Kansas City Chiefs are 2-22 against the spread coming off a loss facing an opponent coming off a win.”

It’s said no one is perfect but Lawrence uncovered one “Awesome Angle” that is. “Play against a home team off a win if they scored 27 or more points in their last two games against a foe off a win in which they scored less than 27 points.” It doesn’t come up often but this little gem is 15-0 since 1983.

Clearly, unlike many, Lawrence doesn’t look down on betting preseason games if the situation is right. A key is honing in on coaches who take them seriously and those who don’t, he said. On the positive side against the spread, according to Lawrence’s stats, are Seattle’s Pete Carroll (34-14-1), Baltimore’s John Harbaugh (27-13) and Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer (12-5).

At the other extreme, Cleveland’s Hue Jackson is (4-8), Atlanta’s Dan Quinn (4-8), and Tampa Bay’s Dirk Koetler (3-5).

Coaches who have been around a while have evolving attitudes toward preseason games. They don’t take them as seriously when they are not trying to establish themselves. Sean Payton’s New Orleans Saints are 2-11 in their last 13 and Pittsburgh’s Mike Timlin is 6-15 over the past five years.

Another angle to consider is leaning toward teams with three established quarterbacks or two veterans and a high selection draft pick. Each will be fighting for a job and whoever comes into the game last will be throwing into defenses populated by players who probably won’t be on an NFL roster on opening day.

Baltimore with Joe Flacco, RG III and Lamar Jackson, and the Jets with Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold fit into this category.

During the regular season, Lawrence said, bettors must avoid the what have you done for me lately syndrome? “Be wary of the obvious, teams that won big in their last game. You’ll pay a price and chances are they will return to their norm.”

Also, never count on a bad team to do something good because their opponent seams even weaker. “Bad teams find ways to lose. Can you believe the Browns were actually favored in one game last year (against the Colts)?”

Just as in racing, money management is crucial. Avoid teasers, Lawrence said. It’s hard enough to pick one game right. “Teasers got their name for a reason. They are sucker bets. The hold on them is 40 to 50 percent.”

Anyone who bets into that forfeits all right to complain about racetrack takeouts.

Never Too Soon

Racing continues to be compromised by a school of thought that has little basis in reality.

Rick Violette almost didn’t start Diversify in the Whitney because he thought four weeks was too close to the gelding’s eye-popping runaway in the Suburban. The horse, who obviously can’t read the sheets, had to show Violette he was dying to run, the trainer said. And the New York-bred did exactly that, touting himself with a tremendous workout six days before the race.

Diversify demolished a field of stakes winners. Nevertheless, Violette immediately ruled out coming back in the Woodward because it comes up in four weeks. Maybe Diversify can “talk” him into changing his mind again.

When four weeks is considered coming back too quickly, is there any wonder it’s becoming difficult to attract and keep owners. I wouldn’t hold myself up as a typical owner. I was involved with a group of friends, who invested in mid-level claimers. We owned three horses with two trainers. None were injured during our ownership. Yet we got a total of ten starts over two years.

Like millionaires who get into the game, I did it to see my horse run. Waiting months at a time to see this happen killed my enthusiasm. I just about broke even but my inclination now is I’m out.

On Saturday, Bill Mott ran back a 2-year-old, Casa Creed, seven days after his debut. Casa Creed blew by the field to win by a length and a half over a well bet Pletcher juvenile. It was almost 15 lengths back to a Casse firster that was bet down to favoritism.

A couple of weeks ago, Aidan O’Brien shipped Athena across the Atlantic to win the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks—six days after she had run in Ireland and 16 days after she had also run at Royal Ascot. O’Brien, often called the world’s best trainer, didn’t know you weren't supposed to do that.

And, in case anyone forgot, Voodoo Song won four times, culminating in the Saranac Stakes, during Saratoga's 40-day meet last year.

The final summer Rick Dutrow was allowed to earn his living at the track, 2012, he saddled Willy Beamin to win the Albany Stakes on a Wednesday then won the Grade 1 Kings Bishop on Saturday.

Before anyone points out these are scattered examples, I’ll concede this is true, but for a very good reason. Trainers are so indoctrinated that this can’t be done they rarely give it a try. When they do, they often are pleasantly surprised. Ask Rick Violette.

A Grading Joke

Graded stakes for 2-year-olds have been a sore point of mine for some time. The Sorrento on Sunday at Del Mar bolsters my argument that they make a mockery of the graded stakes system.

The two fillies to beat, Bellafina and Del Mar May, each went into the race as maidens following one debut race. They ran 1-2. In essence, even if there were winners in the field, the Sorrento was little more than a glorified maiden race.

Indeed, Bellafina’s victory was the third time in 10 years the Sorrento was won by a maiden. More typically, it is won by a filly with only a maiden victory.

It’s bad enough that the Sorrento was graded. To add insult, it was a Grade 2. To be fair, the same thing is going to happen this weekend at the Spa. The Adirondack for juvenile fillies and Saratoga Special for colts will each go as a Grade 2.

Think about that. Stakes in mid-summer of horses’ juvenile season, which are often won by maidens and rarely taken by a horse with as many as two wins, have been put on the same level as the Blue Grass Stakes, the Jim Dandy, the Brooklyn and Suburban, the Louisiana Derby, the Black-Eyed Susan, and the Charles Whittingham.

I could go on for another paragraph or two but I think I've made my point. If there is any explanation or justification for this, I would love to hear it.