• Bet Against the Best in the BC

    POSTED Oct 18, 2013

    From the time I made my first trip to the track at 15 years of age until well into my 20s, I thought horse race handicapping was all about finding the “best” horse.

    Steve Davidowitz wrote about his 50-percent winning average in “Betting Thoroughbreds” and I was enthralled; William L. Scott explained how concentrating on the top three betting choices could produce consistent winnings in “Investing at the Racetrack” and I was mesmerized.

    By the time I reached my 30s, I was disillusioned.

    It’s not that those books have no value — at the time they were published (about 30 years ago), they were great. And I still consider them required reading for any aspiring horse player.

    But the game has changed over the last three decades. The hordes of novice players that used to pack the grandstand are gone, replaced by veteran players packing a laptop and a printout of sophisticated speed and/or pace figures.

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The average horse bettor today knows more about the game he/she is playing than the average investor knows about the stock market. As a result, the pari-mutuel market is very efficient and finding the “best” horse simply doesn’t cut it. Sure, you may be able to win a fair percentage of the time, but invariably you’ll get paid $5.20 or less for the trouble.

    No series of races quite drums home this point like the Breeders’ Cup. Since 1997, favorites have won just 29 percent of the time, largely due to the highly competitive nature of the races and the bigger-than-normal fields.

    But this got me to wondering: Is there a way to profit from the knowledge that the best horses don’t always perform up to expectations on Breeders’ Cup Day?

    After some exhaustive research, I had my answer — yes. Better still, there are numerous ways it can be accomplished.

    The first test I conducted related to the Brisnet Power Ratings.

    Now, under normal circumstances, horses with the highest Brisnet Power Rating do about as well as favorites in terms of winning percentage and even ROI — with the added bonus that one needn’t monitor the tote board (to determine who, exactly, the favorite is).

    However, in the BC, this is definitely not the case. Take a peek at the digits on horses possessing the highest Brisnet Power Rating for the race in which they were entered (since 1997):

    Number (races): 131 (131)
    Winners: 21
    Race Win Rate: 16.0%
    Net Return: $1.10
    ROI: -44.89%

    The numbers aren’t much better for horses with the second-best Brisnet Power Rating (BPR) either:

    Number (races): 131 (131)
    Winners: 16
    Race Win Rate: 12.2%
    Net Return: $1.59
    ROI: -20.50%

    Yet, if we toss the top two BPR horses in every BC race and insist on minimum morning-line odds of 5-1, we get the following stats:

    Number: 970 (131)
    Winners: 54
    Race Win Rate: 41.2%
    Net Return: $2.02
    ROI: +1.11%

    Granted, these numbers wouldn’t have made you rich, but at least they’re positive.

    The second test that I did was even more straightforward — I simply used the morning line odds to assess who the best horses were. Like the Brisnet Power Ratings (only in reverse), the lower odds represented the best horses and, therefore, the horses I suspected one should bet against.

    I was right.

    The sole morning-line favorite (I eliminated entries to keep it apples to apples) in BC contests performed thusly (since 1997):

    Number: 153 (153)
    Winners: 39
    Race Win Rate: 25.5%
    Net Return: $1.48
    ROI: -25.78%

    Once again, however, we see profits if we toss the morning-line favorite and ask, instead, for a morning-line price of 5-1 or greater:

    Number: 1,484 (154)
    Winners: 92
    Race Win Rate: 59.7%
    Net Return: $2.08
    ROI: +3.89%

    These are just a couple of ways to find value in the Breeders’ Cup races; obviously, there are many, many more. The key thing to take from this, though, is that the “best” horse isn’t always the one to bet… especially come Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita Park.

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