Sunday, March 30, 2014

What Some Have Advocated With Stewards Rulings, With a Twist

Yesterday in the Dubai Gold Cup, we saw the winner appear to cause interference, but the owner of the affected horse, withdrew his claim.

 "Prior to correct weight, Jockey S De Sousa (CAVALRYMAN (GB)) 2nd placegetter, lodged an objection against the winner CERTERACH (IRE), alleging interference from passing the 200 metres. During the objection hearing trainer Mr S bin Suroor (CAVALRYMAN (GB)) requested to withdraw the objection."


"Jockey J Spencer (CERTERACH (IRE)) pleaded guilty to a charge of careless riding under the provisions of ERA 69(i), the particulars of the charge being that passing the 200 metres he allowed his mount CERTERACH (IRE) to shift in when not clear, causing CAVALRYMAN (GB) to restrain. Jockey J Spencer had his license to ride in races suspended for 2 race-meetings (provisional dates being the 7th April 2014 and 8th April 2014."

Lucky this wasn't in a "pari-mutuel" jurisdiction. In that case, bettors (justifiably) would feel cheated. 

There is a school of thought with regard to leaving a result as is, and working out the details later for horse owners and participants through placings and suspensions. A lot are fine with that; it will speed up the betting game, there will be no ten minute inquiries, etc. In this case we saw a result stay as is, but perhaps only because an owner withdrew a claim.

No one said policy was easy. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

New York Times - PETA Accuses Two Trainers of Cruelty to Horses

The following is a quote from an article titled PETA Accuses Two Trainers of Cruelty to Horses that appeared yesterday in the New York Times:
"Over a 26-year career, the trainer Steve Asmussen has built one of horse racing’s largest and most successful operations. He ranks second in career victories, with more than 6,700; has earned more than $214 million in purses, the fifth most in thoroughbred racing; and was recently included on the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame ballot. 
But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, after conducting an undercover investigation, has accused Asmussen and his top assistant trainer, Scott Blasi, of subjecting their horses to cruel and injurious treatments, administering drugs to them for nontherapeutic purposes, and having one of their jockeys use an electrical device to shock horses into running faster. As a result of its findings, PETA filed complaints with federal and state agencies in Kentucky and New York on Tuesday, saying Asmussen "forced injured and/or suffering horses to race and train." 
The undercover inquiry was conducted by a PETA investigator who worked for Asmussen for four months in the spring and summer of 2013 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y."
The full article can read at the following link:

Earlier today, the New York State Gaming Commission issued a press release at the following link:

The following is a quote from that press release:
The New York State Gaming Commission has undertaken a formal investigation into allegations of abuse and mistreatment of thoroughbred race horses in New York State by licensed individuals. The investigation was initiated after the Commission was provided undercover evidence of alleged violations by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). 
"The allegations and footage provided by PETA are extremely troubling and we are fully investigating the matter," said Robert Williams, Acting Executive Director of the New York State Gaming Commission. "PETA has offered to assist the Commission in its investigation, and we welcome such cooperation. We expect that all other parties involved will be forthcoming as well. If the results of our investigation find that licensed individuals violated the State's laws and rules, the Commission will consider all options."

Earlier today a horseplayer I know sent me a link to a nine minute PETA video that had been posted on Youtube.

I find the video troubling and very hard to watch. 

As a horseplayer, I support this game on a daily basis with my hard earned money in the pools. As a horseplayer I can't help but see things on a daily basis that suggest the game has a darker side. As a horseplayer, upon careful reflection, I realize I have been blocking this out because if you don't: How else can you justify your own involvement in the game?

I don't know which is more troubling to me: 

The video itself even though I realize it came from PETA and was likely edited to cause max effect? 

Or racing industry decision makers who fight at all costs the idea that racing has even one single problem that needs to be addressed?

Jeff Platt
President, HANA

Don't Be A Lawyer When Handicapping

This article by Barry Meadow appeared in the February edition of Horseplayer Monthly. To read the March 2014 issue with 32 pages of handicapping interviews and insight for free, please click here. 

All of us have a certain way of looking at races.  Maybe we check the trainers first, or circle the high Beyers, or closely examine each horse's last race.  The problem:  Some players use that first look as their main guide, and then don't go much further.  They become what I call "lawyer handicappers."

Rather than looking for the pluses and minuses of all the entrants, and then beginning the real work of handicapping, lawyer handicappers get fixated on one particular factor in the record of one particular horse.  After that, objectivity takes a vacation.  The rest of the handicapping becomes nothing more than a search for additional reasons to support that first glance.  They are looking to pick the winner, rather than to try to analyze the chances of each entrant--exactly the wrong approach to the game.

Lawyer handicapping is on display most clearly on television.  You can hear lawyer handicapping every few minutes when the hosts are required to pick a winner for every race that's aired.  A typical comment, "I'm going with #3, because of the class drop and the hot trainer."  (Exactly where he is going with the #3 is uncertain, since few of the commentators bet any actual money).  They have little interest in a detached look at the entire event.  Instead, they point out all the reasons why Smarty Secretariat should win.

A real professional gambler doesn't do this.  He might say he likes #3 slightly over #4 and #8, and #3 at 4-1 is a decent price.  Or maybe #3 offers no value but the #4 is a juicy 7-1.  Or the superfecta looks playable because he hates the second choice and plans to leave him out altogether.  Or maybe he has no opinion at all. 

But people seem to want opinions.  On the Internet, you can buy picks from so many sources that it sometimes appears as if there are more handicappers in cyberspace than in the grandstand.  A few offer detailed explanations of why they like #9, preparing briefs so extensive that law students may someday study them.  They make a case, marshaling evidence that supports #9 while offering reasons to dismiss the other entrants.  It doesn't matter to the lawyer handicappers that many aspects of handicapping are contradictory.  For instance, the horse might have run a strong last race (good), but his work pattern since is sketchy and he has never run two good races in a row (bad).  Or his trainer is hitting 20% with his sprinters this season (good), but he's 0-for-17 the last two years with this jockey (bad).

However, lawyer handicappers never tell you about the bad.  Listen to handicappers on the radio--who nearly always are there solely to convince you to purchase the rest of their selections --and you'll see some beautiful lawyer handicapping at work.  Hearing them, you can't help thinking of Johnny Cochran of O.J. infamy--these guys sound so persuasive that you forget for a moment that they have no interest in sharing any evidence to the contrary.

One way to help your handicapping is to pretend to be a lawyer handicapper.  Play a game I call The Obvious Selection.  Take any horse in the race, and list all the reasons why this horse appears to be a cinch.  Throw it all in--class movements (a drop shows he's looking for easier company, a raise shows the trainer has confidence in him), speed ratings (he has the best in the field, or the best last out, or he's coming up to his best figure), connections (the trainer is hot, or does well with this angle, or it's first time with this trainer), and the pace scenario (he'll be pressing a soft pace, or tucked in behind the speed).  To top it off, the fans will overlook him because they don't realize his many virtues.     

You can, with practice, come up with positives on just about everybody in every race.  If a horse's best race was six months ago, say he has back class.  If his jockey is going through a slump, say that the rider is due.  If he finished in the money last out, say his form is good--but if he finished out of the money last out, say that will only help the price

Do this even for horses you would ordinarily dismiss on first inspection.  The reason for the game is to give a positive spin to every horse, coming up with some scenario under which the horse could win.  Then, go negative, making each horse The Obvious Throw-Out.  Mention every reason why the horse won't win or is a bad bet.  Do this for the whole field.  Now you're ready for real handicapping.

The problem with the typical lawyer handicapper is that his analysis stops at one horse.  Let me give you an example.  On television recently, an analyst said he was going to make a certain horse, a 5-1 shot, his best bet of the day because the horse had big-time trouble last time.  However, there were two other horses in the race with better figures.  If either of them fired, the trouble horse wouldn't win without major improvement.  But the analyst didn't care about that.  As it turned out the two favorites ran 1-2, with the trouble horse third--as any objective handicapper might have predicted.  But the analyst was fixated on the trouble to the exclusion of real handicapping.

Don't make the same mistake.  Instead of thinking like a lawyer and trying to convince a jury about the rightness of your cause, think like a juror and consider all the evidence before making any handicapping decision. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nick Kling Breaks It Down

Needless to say I guess, we agree with @docfonda. Agreeing with this does not mean we don't respect participants and owners and trainers and grooms - in fact, many horseplayers are participants and owners and trainers and grooms - but it's just simple logic. Customers bets pay for purses, and purses allow racing to exist.

Related: The Horse Racing Supply Chain

Related: Caton Bredar on "Horseplayers"


Friday, March 14, 2014

Statistics & Garbage

This article by Barry Meadow appeared in the December edition of Horseplayer Monthly. To read the March 2014 issue with 32 pages of handicapping interviews and insight for free, please click here. 

Barry Meadow has spent more than 30 years in the gambling world. He wrote his first book, Success at the Harness Races, in 1967. He's also written Money Secrets at the Racetrack, which has been lauded as the definitive guide to money management at the track. Meadow's eclectic resume includes serving in Vietnam, writing television sitcoms, playing the professional tennis circuit in India, doing standup comedy in California, and, of course, playing blackjack at the professional level in his spare time. 

A trainer wins 18% first off the claim.  A handicapping system hits 29% winners.  A jockey's year-to-date win percentage is 6%.  Will any of these stats, or others, help your bottom line?  Or will they simply mislead you?

Until William Quirin's Winning at the Races was published in 1979, few handicapping books offered much in the way of statistics, mainly because compiling them was an exercise in tedium.  You'd have to buy every Racing Form, every day, and then go through each race searching for some characteristic you wanted to research.  When you finally found a qualified selection, you'd grab a different Form to check the chart, and then record each result.  Doing even the simplest work took incredible patience, or a staff of unpaid students.

All that changed with the introduction not only of the personal computer, but more recently with the availability of daily downloads.  Now, for just a few dollars a day, anyone can download every past performance line for every horse in the nation, write a simple query, and find out if horses really do yield a flat-bet profit if they return in exactly five days (they don't) or whether you can make money by playing every dropper from a straight maiden into a maiden claimer who showed early speed last out (ditto).

The gathering of horsey data is no longer much of a problem.  Ask the computer a question, and it will spit out answer. 

However, while accumulating data is one thing, interpreting it correctly is something else altogether.  The essential problem is that while ideas should be forward-tested (you state a hypothesis, then test it), many data miners work backwards, falling victim to what is known as "hindsight bias."  They start with already-known results, and then look for patterns that might have contributed to these results.  Typical:  A player notes that many recent winners at his track were dropping in class, so he decides to check the last three months' results.  Sure enough, class droppers did well, but because the survey includes the recent results that he already knows, his sample will be skewed. 

Let's look at some basic principles.  Understand these, and you won't be misled by handicapping stats:

* The larger the sample size, the more likely will the percentages be accurate.  Conversely, anything goes when looking at tiny sample sizes.

* The less often a result occurs and the higher the payoffs, the greater the sample size you need to measure the validity of the idea.

* Unlike groups cannot be lumped together: 3-5 shots cannot be lumped in with 7-1 shots.              

* Check the actual number of plays, not simply the number of races investigated to obtain those plays.

* Rules that appear arbitrary (horse's last race must have taken place within the past 21 days, horse must go off at odds of 5-1 or above, etc.) indicate that the system came from back fitting with the arbitrary rules added to get rid of a bunch of losers.

* Whenever an idea has been developed from one set of results, it must be tested on a completely separate group of results.

* Once a result has been proven (e.g., coin flips win 50%), you can use a statistical formula known as standard deviation to predict the range of results; however, if a result
is merely recorded and not proven, you cannot accurately predict the range of results since you do not know whether the result is typical or atypical.

* Return-on-investment statistics are often skewed by a handful of longshot winners--sometimes even by one such winner. 

* Any study of race results should look at what the usual results are for the particular odds category, and compare the usual ratio of wins, places, and shows to the results in question. 

* Streaks, both positive and negative, often happen for no reason other than the statistical fluctuations that are part of any long mathematical series

Whenever you see a handicapping statistic, ask these questions:

1. Could it be false?  

Years ago, betting every favorite lost only half the track take.  However, my own survey of 400,000 more recent favorites showed conclusively that you would lose the full track take by betting every favorite today.  Yet some authors still continue to mistakenly tell their readers that the old stat is still valid.

2. Who says so?  

A man touting his own system might tell you that it had an ROI of 37% last year at Belmont.  Nice (if it's true), but what about every other track?  Did it lose everywhere except Belmont?  Often, it's the information that isn't being revealed that it is the most revealing. 

3. How many plays were there?  

A sample size of 1,000 plays for a system whose average winning payoff is $24 is just about useless.   If a guy tells you he bet 417 longshots last year and showed a 15% profit, don't be surprised if he does the same this year and shows a 30% loss.  

4. How was the number derived? 

Who compiled the numbers?  How far back?  Which tracks?  What were the odds?  What was the 1-2-3 record, and what was the expected 1-2-3 record for horses at those odds?  

5. If an ROI figure is not included, is the number of any use? 

If a stat has an impact value of 2.3 (horses with characteristic win 2.3 times their fair share of races), that's good--but if they average a $3.80 payoff, who cares?

6. If an ROI figure is included, how many plays is it based on, and did a few big payoffs skew the results?

A 500-play report that shows a 7% profit is worthless if its two biggest winners accounted for all the profit.

7. Is it possible that the result is simply a fluke? 

If horses from post 6 showed a net profit for a particular meeting but posts 5 and 7 were losers, it's likely the result is nothing more than a statistical anomaly. 
8. Have others, using different races, found similar results?

If you based a method on the results of certain races, you need to test it on different races - as many as possible.  Better yet, have somebody else test it.

9. Is there evidence that the tested factor was more successful than can usually be expected, less so, or about average? 

That includes not only the win percentage, but whether the prices were better or worse than usual.

These are starter questions.  If you really want to get serious about the subject, study books like How to Lie with Statistics (Darrell Huff), Fooled by Randomness (Nassim Nicolas Taleb), Innumeracy (John Allen Paolos) and Statistics for Dummies (Deborah Rumsey). 

Don't believe everything you read - even if it's got a number attached.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Progress in New York State

Via Press Release:

“Commissioner Crotty’s notion that we can do even more to demonstrate to the public that New York’s pari-mutuel racing is open, honest and fair is right on target,” said Commission Chairman Mark D. Gearan. “We will implement the initiatives to bring about more positive change to New York horse racing.”
Commissioner Crotty presented several changes that would be directed by the Commission. These are:
  • Mandating that all individual votes by Stewards following an inquiry or an objection be maintained and disclosed
  • Ensuring there is no communication permitted between the Stewards and jockeys, trainers, agents, or racetrack management while an inquiry or objection is being determined, unless initiated by the Stewards. If there are any such communications, there should be a publicly available record of all such contacts made
  • Developing a centralized, public database to contain all available video of each inquiry and objection and the written rulings made by the Stewards on incidents
The Commission will also explore the following issues to increase transparency and accountability:
  • Requiring Stewards to develop a meaningful daily, detailed racing incident report, similar to what is employed by the Hong Kong Jockey Club
  • Create a best practices approach to adjudication and seeking to develop uniform national rules to govern disqualifications
  • Increasing transparency through greater disclosure of wagering pools
  • Taping or videotaping of interviews conducted by the Stewards during the course of inquiries and objections
  • Having the Stewards maintain a record of all horses tested for drugs after a race, and publicly disclose the names of the horses
The Commission will also reach out to the New York State Racing Fan Advisory Council and to the wagering public to develop further recommendations on how best to increase transparency and public confidence.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

If Collmus Bet the Rainbow Six

Larry Collmus (to read an interview with Larry, please check March's edition of Horseplayer Monthly here) is like a little kid at Christmas with the pick 6 pool growing at Gulfstream. Often on twitter he will reference his excitement.

Right now he reminds us :
Announcers don't bet a bet like this, but if Larry did, I am thinking the fun he has calling the bet would be a little different. And maybe cost him his job.

But it sure would be fun to listen to him become one of us. 

"And here comes Barzini! Barzini? For cripes sake I didn't use him!!!"

"Javier Castellano in an all out ride. He's won three already.... and I have him singled! Get this horse home Javy!"

"And here they come. Fantastic Voyage holds onnnnnnnn at a huge price! Who has two thumbs and used Fantastic Voyage? This guy!"

"Here comes Centaur Man. If you used this horse, you must be picking numbers for gosh sakes. Someone beat this horse please"

"It's Rasta Friend on the outside, and I'm alive to him. C'mon Mon! C'mon Mon! C'mon Rasta Friend"

"Curlin on By is a price and he's looming. I used him. Curlin up some of those stones into Larry's pocket little fella."

"Cinderella Time loses thanks to a god awful ride by Elvis Trujjilio, knocking me out. Elvis, leave the building and don't come back for awhile."

 "The field is covered in the last race, and I went out the last leg so Tim Ritvo is going to call this one. Good night everyone! Drive safe!"

Good luck if you are playing this bet today.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The 411 on Bias

This article originally appeared in December 2013's Horseplayer Monthly magazine.  To read that issue, or any of the previous issues, chalk filled with handicapping articles and stats, please click here. It is 100% free.  

In November 2013 a reader of the Horseplayer Monthly asked this question, "I would love for someone to explain the track bias and how to identify it. How could there be an inside bias and the seven and eight horses are winning?" 

We asked several horseplayers to share their thoughts on this question, and their answers are as follows. 

Ed DeRosa - I think many handicappers put too much emphasis on track bias. It's too often seen as an oracle to explain why a certain result happened rather than just as another piece of the puzzle. 

Is it a speed bias when a horse goes gate-to-wire after setting a pace with fractions below par? I don't think so, but let's take an extreme example. Let's say there's a Sprinter showcase day at a track featuring six graded stakes races all going six furlongs. In every race the horse with the lead coasts through an opening quarter in :25 and a half in :49. Is it a speed bias, then, when these horses are all able to win after such soft fractions? Of course not, but if you showed those charts to a group of handicappers, I guarantee most would conclude that the track "favors front runners." 

That's not to say biases don't exist, but most people use that word as a catch all to explain away anomalies when really it's just physics at play. To take another extreme example, think of a half-mile harness track. Is there an inside bias because posts seven and eight are so bad? No. It's just common sense that starting that far out at full speed with the first turn rapidly approaching isn't ideal. Without question certain tracks favor certain dynamics, both in terms of pace and position on the racetrack, but strange weather aside, those dynamics are more typically long-term than a short-term bias.

Melissa Nolan - Track bias occurs when either certain areas of a track are winning more than expected, or certain running styles are winning more than their fair share of races. For instance, perhaps the most well know track bias occurred at Keeneland on the main before the Polytrack was installed in fall 2006. Deemed the "Golden Rail," it was well known that speed horses who got to the rail had a tendency to keep going when their past performances indicated otherwise. Essentially horses could "ride the bias" to victory. A famous example of the “Golden Rail” was Sinister Minister, who wired the field at 8-1 for Bob Baffert and Garrett Gomez in the 2006 Bluegrass Stakes. 

Another example was the track at Santa Anita on the first day of the 2013 Breeders' Cup where it was also well-perceived as speed biased though surface maintenance that evening resulted in a much fairer surface on Breeders' Cup Saturday.

As opposed to the old Keeneland surface where it was advantageous to not only be on the lead but on the rail, the main track at Parx Racing is notorious for having a deep and slow "dead rail."  At that track, it doesn't so much matter if you horses are speeds or closers as long as your jockey knows to get a few paths off the rail towards the middle of the track.  I've heard Jerry Brown of ThoroGraph mention that he gives more "dead rail" denotations at Parx than any other track in the United States.

Being able to identify a bias and which horses were helped or hindered by a track bias/profile can be very profitable if you can identify what's occurring before other handicappers.  If horses are running on when you think they should be stopping, or stopping when on the rail at comfortable fractions, you may be encountering a bias.

Pay attention and you may be laughing all the way to the IRS windows when others are still wondering why no horses can close. 

Jeff Platt – HANA President - As a horseplayer, once you recognize a path bias, part of your job is predicting which of the horses are likely to take advantage of it.

Take the case of a bias where the footing along the rail (or inside) is better than the footing on the outside. Such a bias does not necessarily mean that horses with inside posts will get the best of it. Quite often races unfold in such a way that the horse with the best early speed, even if that horse drew an outside post, gets over to the rail - and on days when the inside is best - that's the horse most likely to take advantage of an inside path bias.

The Cangamble Blog - The naysayers have gone extinct or changed their tune, track bias exists.   There are two types of track bias that could affect the results on a given day, inside/outside and running style (speed/closer). 

Sometimes the rail is better than average, sometimes the outside has an advantage.   Sometimes speed horses have an advantage, and of course there are days when closers do exceptionally well.  And many times, there will be two biases that seem to be prevalent, for example, speed-rail, or outside-closer. 

The problem with bias is that it can be very subjective and sometimes a correct assessment is hard to figure out.  Having an objective number for track bias can be very useful in explaining past races, but also, if calculated after three or four races on a live card, can be very advantageous to the horseplayer.

In the handicapping book, Power of Early Speed, Steve Klein came up with a simple way to objectively come up with a running style bias.  Here is a variation on it, as well as a way to tackle the rail/outside bias as well, and shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes to calculate the bias for a card. 

A couple of things, turf and dirt are separate when doing bias numbers, and sometimes due to wind or weather, a bias can change halfway through a card, but this will become apparent when looking at your work, and the result will be two sets of bias numbers for that specific day. 

For the running style bias, add one point if the winner was positioned within the top half of the field, first call (that shows lengths beaten).  In a field with an odd number of horses, a horse positioned in the exact middle is considered to be in the top half.  Add one point if the horse who finished second was positioned in the top half of the field first call.  Add another point if the winner was on the lead first call.  And finally, if the race favorite started in the back half of the field and didn't finish in the top three, add another point.  Repeat this for every race on the same surface for the card.  Divide the total number by the amount of races used.  If you are OK looking at a number that has decimals, round off to two decimals, if you don't like decimals, multiply by 100. 

Some tracks have a general speed bias and some do not, by comparing the number daily with numbers from the same track, you'll have a good idea very quickly how much of a bias existed.

When it comes to inside/outside bias, the best way to go is make notes, or watch replays, but if you want a decent general way to figure it out within a minute or two, using the following works well:  You may want to differentiate between one and two turn races, and perhaps only rate one turn races.  Add one point if the winner had a post on the inside (again, if it is a nine horse field, for example, the 1-5 posts are considered inside).  Add one point if the second horse had an inside post.  If the favorite didn't finish in the top three, look at the comments, if they give you the impression the horse was three-wide or greater, add another point.  Finally, look at the comments for the winner.  If the impression from the comments and the horse's post are that the horse was three-wide or more, subtract a point.  Once more, take the total number from all the races calculated for that day, and divide by the number of races used. 

Finally, for calculating live biases, you'll need to take notes if you are at the track and/or try to watch the replay as well.  This is a much easier task if betting from home, but if you have internet access at the track, you can also use what is available at Equibase, for example, as the charts come out pretty quickly these days.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Sunday Smile For You

As supporters of our equine athletes (in case you missed it, a HANA handicapping contest winner is playing for horse retirement in April at the WHHC), this gave us a Sunday smile.

We hope it brightens your day, too.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Midland Discusses Derby Wars

This interview with Mark Midland appeared in the October edition of Horseplayer Monthly. To read the March 2014 issue with 32 pages of handicapping interviews and insight for free, please click here. 

Mark Midland is CEO of Derby Wars and HorseRacingNation. Derby Wars is a horse racing game combining skilled tournament play with a social game experience to appeal to both tournament veterans and casual fans. They offer games with entry fees for as low as $1 all the way up to $475 entry fees.

Mark has over 15 years of horse racing marketing experience having held executive positions with Churchill Downs Inc., Harrah’s and  Mark has a track record of innovating new products including the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (1999), establishing 20-horse wagering in the Kentucky Derby (2001) and the daily guaranteed Pick 4 at Hollywood Park (2003). 

Q: Why did you create DerbyWars? and have you seen tournament players embrace it since your launch? 

A:  We had launched HorseRacingNation two years prior, and we were very excited about its growth, but we knew in this industry it would take time to grow, so we were looking for a second opportunity.  We are all horseplayers and we’ve seen tournaments as an exciting and growing part of racing the last few years.  But we wanted to do tournaments better than anyone had done before.  We took a look at Facebook games, mobile games – and said, let’s set a higher standard for the fun & engagement of tournaments.  And that’s what became DerbyWars. 

We started building DerbyWars in January 2011.  We actually had it ready to go in May 2011, but we weren’t happy with the final product.  So we scrapped the design completely and went back to the drawing board, launching in October 2011.  So with the start of Keeneland, DerbyWars is now two years old!  Today we’re running about 60 separate games a day on racing 7-days a week!  We’re thrilled with the response we’ve received from players. 

Q: This space seems to be growing in popularity. Why do you think it is?

A:  I believe there are several reasons for the growth of contests.  First, you get a great run for your money for a single investment.  Plus, you can invest a little and win a lot.  But it’s also simpler.  When we hold our $10,000 contest every Saturday, there are 67 entries and someone is walking away with a $5,000 first prize.  There’s a rush of adrenaline as you compete for 3 hours.  Playing the races is great, too – but you might put $120 into a Trifecta only to have it pay $100.  In contests, the prize is clear.  

A site like DerbyWars offers dozens of games every day – so you can choose the size of your investment, the number of players and what you’re trying to win. 

Q:  Online poker players have long been accustomed to “free play” or “cheap play” tournaments. Do you feel this is a way to attract that type of market, and possibly increase racing’s reach with newbies, or poker players? 

A:  Yes, smaller entry fees are an exciting component of tournaments.  Everyone loves to enter for a little and win a lot.  DerbyWars features games every day that you can play for free or as little as $1 or $2.  To get a couple hours entertainment from a $2 contest entry – we think that’s pretty cool!

But one of the most exciting things for us in launching DerbyWars was seeing how readily newer racing fans embraced tournaments.  When you think about it, tournaments are much simpler than betting at the windows.  You don’t have to figure out what bet, how much, which horses and how to structure it.  You simply have to pick a number.  So you pick the 4 horse, and you see that 3 other people in your game picked the same horse – and you realize – that maybe you do know a little about what you’re doing.  It’s just so much less intimidating.  

With the simplicity of contests, we see that we’re converting new customers to racing, and that’s tremendously exciting for us.  We’ve also seen that we’re converting new players to contests.  For example, Eric Moomey, a top tournament player, had never played tournaments before DerbyWars.

Q:  What are your most popular games? 

A:  Our $10,000 Saturday game is very popular, and every Sunday we run a $5,000 High Stakes game with only 12 players.  The response to the High Stakes has been tremendous and we’re now running it on both Fridays and Sundays during Keeneland.

Other popular games include Head-Head Games, where you take on one other player, usually on just one race card.  It’s an entirely different strategy than playing in a big tournament; it’s all about picking winners and staying ahead of your competition.  Head-Head takeout can go as low as under 7% for our $800 Head-Head games.  The other thing about Head-Head games is that it’s very much about your competition as well as the races.  

We also have daily Survivor games that are very popular, plus a Lockdown feature where all picks must be in ahead of the first race, which is great if you can’t play live race-by-race.

Q:  How many games do players have to choose from on any given Saturday?

A:  We’re running about 75 games on the typical Saturday starting around 12:30 ET and running to nearly 9pm ET.

Q: Any advice for someone playing for the first time (stakes, type of game, etc)?

A:  The best way to get started is to set up a free account and get 1,000 points for free to get started.  When playing for money, the best place to start is in Head-Head games and small 3 to 5 player games.  Those are great way to start competing and start winning!

Q: Thanks for your time!

A:  Thanks for the interview!  We enjoy supporting HANA and look forward to hosting our third annual HANA – DerbyWars game this spring!

Pat Cummings Must've Got the Idea From This Video

Pat Cummings caused quite a stir at the RTIP conference in December, by suggesting racing needs to look at better camera angles to promote the action in a race.

Bettors - hey, we're stodgy and we know what we like - didn't think much of the idea. However, some of us thought maybe on television, during big events, it might look pretty cool to see some new, innovative angles. We're all not against change, if it brings in a new audience.

Well, a tweet (thanks @njderek) yesterday got me thinking. This would look pretty cool on network TV the first Saturday in May.

I get your point Pat. I might be a drone fan too

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Do the Rainbow Six Rules Need Tweaking?

Last week a man had a Rainbow Six ticket that he took for $1. He was close to a pool shot, but never had the chance. Despite him having it on one ticket, which is the supposed "rule", that ticket was taken, technically, for 5 times the base amount. No winner, even if he was the only ticket.

Today, races were taken off the turf due to the massive storm that hit south Florida. Those races, in the Rainbow Six sequence, were considered "alls". "Alls" in a hard to hit (some might say near-impossible to hit at these levels) bet are not even a bet at all. No one had a remote shot to hit the Rainbow Six today, and it brought in hundreds of thousands in handle.

If someone hits the Rainbow Six on one ticket, regardless of denomination, it can be argued that it's fair he or she takes home the prize.

If there are "all" races in a sequence due to, say for example, two or more off the turf races, one might argue a refund is in order.

Buyer beware is fine. But we have to remember, the Rainbow Six is trying to capture new lottery-type players, and perhaps some new fans. Being fair is probably something that should be considered.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

California Players Pick 5. It's Just About Value

As we embark on tabulating the 6th Annual HANA Racetrack Rankings, we were having a discussion about how the rankings exhibit horseplayer "value". That's a tough word to quantify, but if you understand gambling only a little bit, it can come naturally.

The gentleman who hit the Black Gold Pick 5 mentioned today, even with that bet, he was seeking value. "“There were some days when there were some small fields or lots of favorites that I thought would win, and I would sit those days out ...." he said. He found no value.

Value can come from carryovers (which are simply a takeout reduction bet), low takeout, higher field size; many things.

Reading back to the California Players Pick 5 - the bet that was initiated at the behest of primarily horseplayer Andy Asaro, in the throes of massively declining handles after the takeout hike in 2010 - the concept of value comes full circle.

Brad Free, after day one of this new lower takeout "value" bet wrote:

"The low-takeout (14 percent) pick five that made its debut Thursday at Hollywood Park attracted a modest $103,291 pool. Is it a good bet? You be the judge. California recently hiked takeout to 23.86 percent for exotic wagers with three or more horses. Under the standard takeout, the winning pick five Thursday would have paid only $233, compared to $263. Under standard takeout, the amount removed from the pool (the takeout) would have been $24,459 compared to just $14,460. Bettors on Thursday received a "bonus" of nearly $10,000. A bet that would have paid off at 466-1 odds, instead paid 526-1. "

Some in the racing industry will lead you to believe that this increase in payouts (which is what lower takeout is) does not make a difference. This "value" is too small to change behavior.

They're wrong.

Four years hence, the lower takeout pick five does not handle $100,000 like it did day one. It can handle five times or six times as much. In fact, there is a possibility this Santa Anita meet will be down in overall handle (even with the carryovers and all their good weather this winter), while the pick 5 will be up millions of dollars. 

Do horseplayers seek "value"? You bet they do. They do each and every day.

The 6th Annual HANA Racetrack Rankings, with updated, sortable statistics on takeout rates, field size, signal availability, handle size and wager variety, among others, will be released in the April 2014 issue of Horseplayer Monthly. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Professional Horseplayer's Day

This interview with Mike appeared in Horseplayer Monthly. To read the March 2014 issue with 32 pages of Handicapping interviews and insight for free, please click here. To follow Mike on Twitter, he's at @silk1900.
Mike Maloney of Lexington, Kentucky, is one of the select few horseplayers in the sport who derives his living from wagering. He does not have a fancy computer team behind him. He does not write complex algorithms, or have a system robotically looking at the pools. He’s a good old fashioned, hard-working horseplayer, just like a lot of you. 
Mike is also extremely pro-racing and pro-horseplayer. He was involved with the NTRA Players Panel, and is a HANA Member, who served as a Vice-President. 

We thought we’d visit with Mike to get an idea about how he goes about his day. Perhaps some of his thoughts can help you at the simulcast center or racetrack. We thank Mike for taking time out of his busy day to share his insight. 

“Early morning is my only free time,” said Mike. “It’s when I get things done I need to get done that are non-racing related. Not until about 11 A.M. does my day begin.” 

11:00 A.M.:  “I only live about ten minutes from Keeneland, and during that ten minute drive I tend to gather my thoughts for the day. I handicap myself more than most I think, because my past results show money management is something I need to constantly work on.

"One thing I want to do on the drive is get into my mindset of my betting limit, which is what I can lose for the day. If I approach that betting limit I know I have to cut my bets down or stop betting all together. My betting limits change depending on how I am doing, and they help me a great deal. Having a philosophy where I cannot get too worked up, or go on tilt, is very important to me as a horseplayer.

"I also want to think about what tracks I may play, the weather, the bias in my bias notes, whether I have any watch-list horses I want to structure bets around, or if there is something unusual I want to remember, like a carryover in a certain pool."

Noon: “When I arrive at the track I want to ensure I am prepared to play, so I spread my notes and past performances across my desk [Mike plays the races in a de-facto “office” during simulcast and at a table in the Blue Grass room when racing is live].  I then get all the up to date changes, off the turf and weather. I discuss a few of my thoughts with my playing partner and see if he agrees or disagrees.  I check my database where I keep all my trip and bias notes and notes on any shippers. Currently, Kentucky Downs, Arlington, Belmont and Churchill Downs are the tracks I am most focused on. Other tracks, like Delaware, Fairplex, and Gulfstream are on my radar, and I will make some spot plays at those.”

12:30-2:00 P.M.:  “I am not averse to playing one of my spot plays or a horse I really like early, but for the first hour and a half, my success or failure is maxed out if I tread lightly. I want to check all tracks, even the tracks I am not 100% focused on, for any apparent bias. If I have a “day-maker” I like later in the card who is trained and ridden by a specific rider, I want to see how they are riding, or how their horses raced early, if they have one in.  If a rider is riding well, and if a trainer’s horse really fired early, I am possibly going to up my bet size for their entry later on the card. Throughout my history as a bettor, my results are better in the second half of cards, so I try to stick with this formula. Every half hour I am learning more and more.“As an aside with trainers, I find it important for me to keep track of what they’re doing. I worked on the backside for a time when I was young, and simple things like changing a blacksmith can really throw a stable hot or cold. I joke that I keep my ear to the ground to see if a trainer broke up with a partner or spouse, because in my experience, things like that can make a difference. I want to be in tune with what’s happening.”

2:00 P.M.:  The close of the early cards.  “If I am comfortable in making a larger play, I head to the windows. I could be betting a pick 4 or pick 5, or just the race itself with verticals. I’m comfortable with my ticket structuring because I have been doing this for so long. There are only so many ways to play a race, and I have about 20 different structures based on the size of the field, horse, or bets available. When I am reading off my tickets to the teller I am barely thinking about them, and I can keep an eye on the monitors for any changes or races going off at different tracks. It’s multi-tasking that has become second nature.

“How I approach the last several hours of the early cards is dependent on what I mentioned earlier:  my betting limits. If I am up a certain amount, I will adjust the limit so I take losing out of the equation. If I am down close to my limit, I may make a couple of plays and if they do not succeed, I am done for the day. We as horseplayers tend to be compulsive and we love the thrill of picking horses, but that can get in the way sometimes.

"This approach keeps me in a good frame of mind. When I win, sometimes I get serene and conservative, which is the exact opposite of what I should be doing.  If I am having a good day and feeling it, I want to be aggressive. If I am having a bad day and things are not falling into place, I need to be conservative. This may not be the right approach for everybody, but it’s good for me.”

4:00-7:00 P.M.:  “At this point of the day I’m settling down from my prime cards, and watching the early races at a late track, or watching the last several at a Midwest track like Arlington. I have probably been watching Arlington closely, and I want to remember if horses I thought would race well did, and if there is any bias I can take advantage of for a late carryover bet, like a Super High Five.

“Usually around 6 P.M., if I have no spot plays I am interested in, or the late cards have nothing too interesting, I close up for the day. This involves up to an hour of doing my taxes, making my trip notes, and updating my database. At times I will print out the past performances for the next day and have a quick look at them.

“At around 7 I probably head home, or meet someone for dinner. I unwind for an hour or two and then head back to work on tomorrow’s cards. Sometimes, if I am in the right mode, I can handicap for a few hours to get ready. On off days [generally Monday and Tuesday for Mike] I may spot play, or work on my speed and pace figures.

“At home I find that I’m always immersed in racing. Most of the time, I have TVG and my laptop on, watching a race that’s going off from somewhere. For example, Mountaineer is on right now and the first two races are turf races. Some of these horses may show up at Churchill, so I want to have an eye on it.”

“I hasten to call this ‘work,’ though, because I love it. I consider myself fortunate to have a job that I enjoy.”