Shame on me for not getting to this sooner. Guess I’ve been too busy catching up with all the news to think more creatively. At least that’s how I rationalize it. So now, let’s take time trying to become better horseplayers, myself included.
First, an apology as I promised the author I would have something to say– wherever those chips fell–after finishing a review copy of The Skeptical Handicapper: Using Data and Brains to Win at the Racetrack, which I received in January, 2019. How’s that for procrastination?
Well, that’s on me and it’s embarrassing. Certainly, Barry Meadow, known to many of you as one of the few successful professional gambling authors in one of the world’s most difficult endeavors, deserved better. I finally have made the time.
His book is still out there, of course, and will never be outdated. While some of the stories may be anecdotal, not so the research. Unless you task yourself to go a step further, you’ll need a computer to analyze the results of more than 168,227 Thoroughbred races to do so.
Trends go day to day, week to week, year over year. But in terms of handicapping research, Meadow’s findings are not trends. Rather, they are the facts compiled over thousands of races broken out by category seeking the answer for a particular angle.
Does margin of victory last time out, e.g., mean anything? Does the class dropper who gets a change of riders win consistently enough to show a profit? What if every debuting juvenile was preceded by a five-furlong bullet work?
Angles like these are addressed based on the evidence of thousands of races per given scenario and it can produce a winning angle or, for lack of a more original term, a winning system, if you will (my construct, not Meadow’s).
Barry Meadow has been retired nine years after a successful career as gambler and author, betting on everything from blackjack to harness racing to Thoroughbred racing. And when it comes to the latter, this work shows he’s monkish about the research. To wit:
[Page 33] “Before coming to accurate conclusions about results, you need to know the expected win rates of the group you are studying. This includes number of starters for the entire group, the number of starters for the particular sub-group… and the odds of the sub-group you are analyzing.”
As above, with respect to the bullet five-furlong final work pre-debut, I found it interesting [page 146] to learn that first-time starters at the special-weight level won 16% of the time after 4,393 starts [with no other factors considered], for an ROI of 0.94.
But did you realize, based on 1,264 starters that five-furlong, last-work, pre-debut bullets won at a lower rate of 14%, but showed a positive ROI of 1.08 at the maiden-claiming level? Well, I didn’t either, now we do.
Here’s a related stat in the same scenario I found fascinating: That in synthetic-track sprints, the pre-debut five-furlong bullet won at 18% over 589 races with an ROI of 1.27, but in synthetic route debuts (only 39 races), the win rate fell to 15% but ROI increased to a worthy 1.67.
Meadow himself advises to be skeptical of low sample sizes. But here’s one in this scenario that’s not so low: Of 4,945 runners getting first-Lasix, the win rate was 16% with an ROI of 0.95. But 766 runners debuting with no Lasix? The win rate falls to 13% but the ROI climbs to 1.16.
Seems like bettor’s bias based in false assumption. I know it opened my eyes about pre-conceived “givens,” and how much of the handicapping theory we rely on should be more open to being counter-intuitive. The old never assume.
The review copy was 432 pages full of eye-opening information and insight, the product of Meadow’s partnership with Ken Massa who digitally crunched all those numbers.
The price tag of The Skeptical Handicapper is a hefty $37.99, cheap for providing a foundation based on fact, not opinion. If interested, you can contact the author at [email protected]