The story begins, not surprisingly, with a horse race (most Francis mysteries revolved around the Sport of Kings in some manner) involving Admiral, the “dead cert” (short for “dead certainty”), and the beast’s jockey Bill Davidson.
In those opening pages, Francis wrote:
All, in fact, was going as expected. Bill Davidson was about to win his ninety-seventh steeplechase. Admiral, his chestnut horse, was amply proving he was still the best hunter ’chaser in the kingdom, and I, as often before, had been admiring their combined back view for several minutes.Now, I bring this up not to hook you on the book (although I’m OK with that too) but, rather, to provide a backdrop to an interesting Facebook discussion I took part in this past week. On Wednesday, I posed the question: What is a "lock" to most horseplayers — a horse with a 60 percent chance of winning, 70 percent chance… 80 percent… 90 percent? And how many "locks" meet a player's winning expectations in the long run?
…We rounded the first part of the bend at the bottom of the racecourse and straightened to jump the next fence. Bill was a good ten lengths in front of me and the other horses, and hadn’t exerted himself. He seldom needed to.
The attendant at the next fence strolled across the course from the outside to the inside, patting the top of the birch as he went, and ducked under the rails. Bill glanced back over his shoulder and I saw the flash of his teeth as he smiled with satisfaction to see me so far behind. Then he turned his head towards the fence and measured his distance.
Admiral met the fence perfectly. He rose to it as if flight were not only for the birds.
And he fell.
The answers I received were illuminating. While almost everybody agreed that there is no such thing as a sure thing in racing, few attempted to define what a reasonable alternative might be. In other words, at what point does one take a definitive stand for a particular horse and forsake all others — and at what price? Because here’s the problem: Unless one is turning the game on its head and winning a high percentage of the time at juicy odds — something only those that sell their selections are capable of doing (cough, cough) — hedging with low-priced “locks” only serves to reduce one's return. Hence, such a strategy is rather pointless.
For example, based on a random sample of my top Win Factor Report (computerized fair odds line) plays that had fair odds of 3-5 or less from 2009 to present, I obtained the following statistics:
Number: 109As one can see, the winning rate (65.1 percent) is impressive, indicating that my fair odds do, in fact, correlate with a horse’s actual chance of winning. However, the average mutuel on these super steeds is just a shade above $3.30, meaning that there is precious little leeway for those looking to hedge.
Winners: 71 (65.1%)
Yes, I know, one can use these types of horses to anchor one’s exotic wagers; frankly, I like that strategy. But — and this is the kind of but that Sir Mix-A-Lot would probably love — doing so obviously lowers one’s winning percentage; thus, the bet can’t really be called a “lock” anymore, can it?
Just another example of why money management is half the battle.
Derek Simon’s Free Weekend Win Factor Plays
BET(S): WIN & PLACE on 3 at odds of 2-1 or greater.
COMMENTS: I’ve got mixed feelings about MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE trying grass for the first time. Sure, he’s bred OK — and he’s unquestionably talented — but what constitutes a fair price? Plus, it’s not like this guy was posting great late speed rations (LSRs) on dirt, à la Sidney’s Candy. Hence, I’ll take a stand against him and use TEMPLE’S DOOR and/or WAR PILOT. The former has the best overall turf LSRs in the field, while the latter possesses both early and late lick.
BET(S): WIN on 5 (at odds of 4-1 or greater) and/or WIN on 2 (at odds of 8-1 or greater).