• Winning at the Races

    POSTED Aug 8, 2014
    When I first started writing about horse racing and, in particular, betting, I had one goal in mind: to inform players as to the real percentages of the game. I didn’t do this to dissuade folks from wagering — I believed then and still believe today that playing the races is among the most thrilling and rewarding forms of gambling there is. I simply wanted bettors to understand what they were up against from a parimutuel standpoint. 

    The sport of kings is replete with flimflam men and con artists looking to peddle their new millennium snake oil to an unsuspecting public — the selection method that never loses, the betting system that the 40-year-old living in his parents’ basement insists will make one rich, the dude wearing a trench coat motioning to me in the racetrack parking lot… actually, I’m not sure what that guy was selling, but you get my point.

    The common thread connecting all of these crazy claims is that little to no work is required on the part of the target audience. Simply shell out some dough — a small pittance given what you’ll win — and, soon, you’ll be having yacht parties with Donald Trump and referring to yourself in the third person.

    The legendary George “Pittsburg Phil” Smith said it best: “Playing the races appears to be the one business in which men believe they can succeed without special study, special talent, or special exertion.”

    That said, consistently winning at the races is possible — if one is willing to be realistic about what that entails… and what it doesn’t:

    * You do not have to be an expert in body language to profit at the track. I can’t tell a lead change from a diaper change — and I don’t try to. Just as a restaurant featuring Indian cuisine can be successful, so too can one specializing in Italian fare. But how wise would it be for either restaurant to suddenly start offering wonton soup and fortune cookies? Stick with what you know gives you an edge.

    * Don’t believe those who claim that X doesn’t work or Y is the only solution to the parimutuel puzzle. Very few bettors keep the kind of records that would enable them to make legitimate assessments on anything outside of the weather. Always remember the words of Pittsburg Phil: “A man who plays the races successfully must have opinions of his own and the strength to stick to them no matter what he hears.” 

    * Keep in mind that being a contrarian, in and of itself, will not make you a winner at the track. In fact, the contrarian approach to picking winners is picking losers, which, in a parimutuel system, has limited utility (unless the losers you select are fancied by the betting public). This applies to information as well. While it may be contrarian to bet horses lacking speed, it is probably a mistake, given the predictive value of speed figures. Perhaps a more reasonable approach would be to look for instances in which popular metrics (such as speed figures) fail — or even succeed — at a greater-than-normal rate.

    * Don’t buy into the notion that the betting crowd, as a whole, is comprised of dunderheads and ignoramuses. Do buy into the notion that those telling you this are dunderheads and ignoramuses. There have been numerous studies, encompassing a variety of speculative endeavors, and the conclusion is nearly always the same: for the most part, gambling markets are efficient. Yes, you can beat the races, but you are only going to do so by exploiting those rare instances in which the market gets it wrong and/or by having information that the market doesn’t have ready access to. Simple angles and methods — first-time Lasix, best last-race speed rating, etc. — won’t cut it.

    * Related to the above, try to find unique data or ways to use widely disseminated data in unique ways. I’ve had some of my greatest success with angles/methods that utilize my pace figures, which makes perfect sense given that my pace figures are dissimilar to any of the commercially available figs.

    * Don’t let your ego run off with you. We can all learn something from other players (even if it’s only that what they do doesn’t work).
  • 9 comments:

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