By Dave Valento — I stumbled across a thread I started on the paceadvantage forum nearly five years ago. It’s a screen shot of a ticket a guy made where he singled the 4-5 favorite in a pick 5 around the “all” button in all the other races. The 4-5 shot won and he ended the pick 5 in a nose photo between the favorite (who won) paying $710 and the longest shot in the field paying $32,000. The question was whether it was a bad bet or a bad beat. It was both.
I’ve been reading a lot of material lately about turning your opinion about a wager into an equation which indicates a positive expected value play (+EV) vs. a negative expected value play (-EV). I understand the approach but think distilling horse racing wagers to such a finite degree takes the soul out of the game. There is something to be said about catching lightning in a bottle.
In full disclosure, I’m a handicapper at heart and a rather mediocre investor (bettor). I have a hard time going against my opinion on paper even when the tote board calls for it. And the toteboard calls for it a lot. After decades of handicapping, and crystallizing thoughts and opinions on paper, and tracking those results, I’ve recognized a pattern in my analysis. If there are 9 races on a card, I’m going to be spot on roughly three times. I’m going to be in the neighborhood three or four times. I’m going to be completely wrong once or twice.
If the one or two races I normally get wrong are the races which torpedo’s my tickets, I need to find a way to reduce the reliance on my opinion in those spots. And let’s face it, when I’m wrong, it is usually by puzzling longshots that are hard to come up with. Puzzling longshots tend to give you separation from your parimutuel competition and produce large payoffs.
This situation was in full view in the 5th race at Remington Park on Friday, 12/6/19. It was a maiden claimer for 20k, a full field of 12, and looked like a payout race.
The first thing I noticed was the 7-5 favorite, Downtown Brown, was cold on the board. After opening up a two-length lead in his last start, he fell apart late and was 2nd at 42-1. It was a good effort but he had some stop in him. He did just that at 8-5, fading away to 6th in the stretch after pressing the pace.
The second favorite, at 2-1, was a Steve Asmussen first time starter. A cursory check into his stats via DRF Formulator told me he was 2 for 25 (8%) with a debut first timer in a maiden 20k-30k claimer at Remington Park. This is hardly the percentage that Asmussen normally displays in other categories and was a confident fade. He was never in the race at any time and beat two runners home.
I landed on a runner getting action, 7-1 down from 15-1 on the morning line, My True Reward. He won the race at 10-1. This was not really a difficult horse to find. His debut at Lone Star was fantastic against MSW company. He ran evenly in a difficult MSW at RP in his second start. He drew a tough rail in his first start in this claiming company, had blinkers added, and showed speed before tiring. Notice the blinkers were immediately removed which tells us the connections felt they were detrimental to his performance. With that hypothesis, you could toss his last start and he would be viewed as a MSW to maiden claiming dropper, the biggest class move in all of racing. To add to the appeal, he had a good worktab and picked up a top local rider in Stewart Elliott. He had a lot to like on the class move, equipment change, rider addition and tote action.
I played him on top in a 10-cent super that cost me $54.00 (see below). It hit and paid $1,592.06.
But the key to the bet (besides having the right horse on top) was I didn’t get too smart in the third and fourth spots. I went all/all in those positions and got the third longest shot in the field at 52-1 to finish a fast closing third and key the large payout. This runner, Alpine Empire, would not have been one I would have added to the third spot had I tried to handicap down to that position.
So, in the end, I can claim victory on this one bet, and one result. I combined good handicapping and toteboard observation in finding a reasonable scenario to play against the top two favorites. I found a strong longshot and limited how right I had to be in order to cash the ticket. I got lucky in certain areas of this bet. The 52-1 show finisher was about 3 jumps from making it into second and incinerating my ticket. Harnessing “luck” in lieu of “being right” is ok and, in fact, desirable. For every public mouthpiece that shows you their $100 frozen rope pick 3 they hit for ten-grand, there are thousands of examples like the one here. Allowing chaos to work in your favor could be the difference in winning and losing over the course of the year.
I am not saying one shouldn’t turn their wagers into mathematical probabilities. I’m sure there is a pathway to success there. My general belief is handicapping can only get you into the game. Horses are not robots and one must account for unexpected results. Those that can keep a ticket alive when their opinion is partially correct will see a healthier bankroll in the end.
Dave Valento is an HRI contributor. See more from Dave at his website, trackphantom.com