Len Ragozin, the creator of The Ragozin Sheets, died peacefully Thursday evening at The Village at White River Junction, in White River Junction, Vt. He was 92.
The concept he created was an algorithm responsible for the first sophisticated work done on form-cycle analysis of racehorses. Depending on how the data is interpreted, horseplayers can better gauge the rate of development at various stages of a horse’s career.
Not only did Ragozin’s work, detailed in his book The Odds Must Be Crazy, revolutionize the process of “speed handicapping,” his theories are now practiced by latter day horsemen who believe today’s racehorse needs more recovery time between fast, enervating efforts.
Essentially, the faster, more exhaustive the effort, the more time needed before making a subsequent start. If a horse were to race back too soon, his fast speed figure very likely would regress. This phenomenon, in Ragozin-speak, is the basis of “bounce theory.”
In addition to actual running time, Ragozin added the effects ground loss into the figure-making process, also making allowances for wind direction and velocity, first pioneered by Al (The Brain) Windeman in the dawn of the sophisticated handicapping era.
With respect to ground loss, if two horses ran against each other and finished in a dead heat, the horse racing on the outside would earn a higher Ragozin figure because he had to expend more energy to run as fast–think shortest distance is a straight line. The lower the number, the faster the race.
Ragozin also was a big believer that weight differentials brought horses together, reasoning that those carrying more weight would have a harder time keeping up the same rate of speed for the entire distance.
With his discovery, Ragozin applied for an owners license and used his methodology to claim horses. He competed very successfully in the claiming game for years after perfecting his father Harry’s speed rating formula.
Len always used apprentices to gain a weight advantage and told his riders never to leave the wood until absolutely necessary.
Absent today’s betting platforms with their replay capabilities, Ragozin placed a “trackman” at every track in the country to do his “ground work.” Wide trips often produced good “hidden figures,” giving him an edge over linear-based models.
Unlike Windeman, who, seeking every conceivable edge placed wind velocity monitors on the roof of the old Belmont Park, Ragozin hired people who worked at nearby airports to supply him with the latest wind-velocity data and forecasts.
Since there are no secrets at the racetrack, horsemen and handicappers learned that his process gave them a better perspective. Time passed and Ragozin decided to sell “The Sheets,” but he wasn’t about to give the product away.
Ragozin limited sales to select clientele and used a unique pricing model. The client’s price was based on a percentage of their daily betting handle. He paid mutuel clerks to monitor those bettors and they would report back to Ragozin if the bettors exceeded their “budget.”
One of Ragozin’s early followers eventually became an employee. But after having philosophical differences, Jerry Brown left Ragozin and founded Thoro-Graph, which included more statistical data. Brown preferred not to comment on Ragozin’s passing.
A Harvard educated man, Ragozin was sophisticated enough to hand-craft figures in the pre-computer era, understood supply-side capitalism yet made contributions to the communist party if they embraced the same philosophy as his on a variety of subjects.
When Ragozin later sold by-then-computerized company that produces today’s Sheets, he donated much of the sale proceeds to fund the Len Ragozin Foundation.
The Ragozin Foundation supported organizations that furthered progressive causes, especially anti-racist and pro-worker themes. And when the Manhattan elementary school he attended encountered financial difficulties, he took out a mortgage and saved the school from the wreckers’ ball.
The Sheets is still the brand preferred by many of racing’s leading owners, trainers, and handicappers. Legendary Hall of Famer King Leatherbury was one of the first horsemen to use The Sheets to make claims and to know when to move horses up or down in class.
Today, virtually every top horseman is a Sheets customer, whether it be Ragozin Sheets or Thoro-Graph. The late Cary Fotias was a Ragozin devotee who used his math skills to add a pace dimension to The Sheets which he believed was a better gauge condition as horses went into or cycled out of form.
“Len was a genius,” said longtime associate Jonathan Hardoon, who travels the country giving seminars to horseplayers who want to learn how to read The Sheets.
“Forty years ago he said to me, ‘I don’t understand baseball managers who don’t use five relievers in a game instead of one starter’, as they do today. He was ahead of his time.
“If there were a Mt. Rushmore for handicappers, Ragozin and Cary would be on it.
“The Sheets will always be a part of the game for players, trainers and jock’s agents—Ron Anderson is a customer–and they will be around for as long as the game is around.”
And what about the state of the game? Said Hardoon: “You can’t prove anything, of course, but you see horses running ‘10s’, change barns, and suddenly run a ‘4’. Too bad The Sheets aren’t admissible in court. If they were, some of today’s super trainers would be in jail.”