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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

LEN RAGOZIN’S DATA CHANGED THE FACE OF HANDICAPPING AND HORSEMANSHIP

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.”

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13 Responses

  1. Amazingly, the school he literally saved, City and Country School in the Village, chooses to not even acknowledge Len Ragozin’s existence under Notable Alumni on their wiki page.

    On a brighter note, it pleases me to end that the man who pioneered the factoring of wind in making figs is actually named Windeman.

    RIP to a throwback to the real deal socialist leaning classic Villager that used to define the Village. They are sorely missed, but never forgotten.

  2. He lived in Manhattan really all his life and passed in Vermont where he was convalescing, battling Alzheimer’s at the end. He had a good run, as the saying goes, had a private burial and no services at the end. He seemed to know exactly who he was, a good life lived… RIP Mr. Ragozin

  3. As I was reading about Ragozin’ s departure many things About what I had read from several handicappers came to mind such as SR/ TB minus Weight, ‘ last race within 8 days( claimers)’ ,positive trainer change, early fractions plus closing ones,and so forth. Never bought any of the computerized sheets but knew several bettors who Only copied their total numbers,without paying much attention to other angles. Too many numbers ,stats and probabilities for me! There several sheets trying to impress players just like the old ” Red,Yellow sheets that were available ,at a price,right as when we entered the track. Lawton’s comes to mind. I usually had my consensus by adding the picks from the DRF, NYDN,Newsday and what Trackman selected which it usually was different than most other ‘ experts’ . To that I added my chart picks and that was it. Mr Ragozin’ ‘s name was mentioned several times in the latter handicapping strategies books along with a couple of other names now alien to my memory. I believe that a national handicapper as his own computerized sheets but None will replicate what Beyer and Ragozin did for many intelligent investors, bettors,trainers , jockeys and their agents. Thanks for your actuarial deductions,Mr Ragozin’ !

  4. There is always a danger, whatever the handicapping approach, of paralysis from analysis.

    But comparisons to tout sheets completely misses the point.

    Ragozin wasn’t out to impress anybody, just make a living by providing data. The touts outside the track back in the day were there to make a living, too, but nothing was science-based about it, nothing to help handicappers figure out the race for themselves…

    1. I remember Keats sheet back then. An old man actually got onto a bus at Port Authority that was heading to The Meadowlands (Flats) and he walked down the aisle hawking Keats. Those days are long over and even the venerable Lawton orange sheet is gone. Is that true, JP? Lawton was probably the most successful of the tout sheets.

  5. I never bought one of those colored paper tout sheets or anything, but I liked that they were out there – just like the old barbershop at the track, it was something I didn’t use but greatly appreciated it being there for ambiance. Lawton sheets were everywhere at Belmont back in the day. When you walk into Saratoga off Nelson Ave they always have people hawking tout sheets – I get a kick out of it, though I have no interest in buying.

  6. C and Doc, I do believe the man responsible for the Lawton sheets passed some time ago. Also believe the reason you don’t see tout sheets being sold in New York is that the tracks don’t draw much of a tourist trade other than major events and when the track began to print its own past performances program it might have deemed those sheets as competition.

    Perhaps, it was simply the end of an era and the tout sheets were no longer worth the effort. Nevertheless, I imagine tout sheets will forever be sold outside the gates of Saratoga and will continue to thrive because of the nature of the customers. Will be interesting to see if limited attendance at the upcoming meet will have an adverse effect on that enterprise.

  7. The sheets changed the way I handicapped races 30 years ago. RIP Mr. Ragozin, thanks for the innovation

    1. You’ve got plenty of company, Tony C. Even if handicappers don’t make it their primary focus, most serious players know that The Sheets has a most profound effect on post time odds.

  8. I remember attending a handicapping seminar down in the Village, prior to one of the Triple Crown races, and my friend and I were absolutely aghast when Mr. Ragozin pronounced, matter of factly, after discussing an undercard race, “Just box the 7 of them.” We laughed at the time, but you know something, that 7-horse exacta box showed a profit. Loved his book. Rest in Peace – you were a pioneer!

    1. Once the favorite is out of the way, profitable things can happen. He certainly was one of the pioneers whose influence is great today than it was when he decided to sell the company. And he gave a lot of his money away, much of it to the Communist party. Think what you want but he certainly walked his talk…

  9. FYI, Amazon has an e-book I read on the plane called “The Last of the Racetrack Touts”. Well worth the .99. It’s a novel about a guy selling those tip sheets. I thought it was very entertaining.

    And Jerry Brown. Really?

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