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Wagstaff’s Picks: Belmont Stakes 2017 June 8, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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The house feels weird without my cat around. It seems bigger. It’s definitely quieter. And making some chicken salad yesterday without her pestering and bullying me for some felt very lonely.

So I’ve been keeping busy. I’m refining the story outlines for two more books and preparing another for publication in the next few months. Watch this blog for updates! This new book will be the start of a second series, a scifi adventure series for older kids, but certainly one that adults could also enjoy. As much as I bitch about living in the age of terminal adolescence, I may as well try to cash in on it.

And speaking of cashing in, I’ve gone through the lineup and past performances of this year’s Belmont Stakes entries, and have the following thoughts. (more…)

Wagstaff’s Picks: Preakness 2017 May 18, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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Picking the Preakness is my least favorite part of the Triple Crown sequence, to be honest. The field is smaller (so much for big exotics pools) and the did-they-run-in-earlier-legs factor isn’t as strong (so much for nailing some Johnny-come-lately longshot).

I’m not sure if I’ll bet on this one, since I’d have to pick the 4/5 morning line favorite along with everyone else, Derby winner #4 Always Dreaming.

BUT – there are other horses that might sneak in there, so here are some brief thoughts on what I see.

I like #1 Multiplier, with solid speeds and closing, a well rested non-Derby runner stuck with the rail, but with Joel Rosario riding, that might not factor in as much. Multiplier won the G3 Illinois Derby and has never competed at the G1 level, but the works look great. Always Dreaming will want to set the pace for this thing and go gate to wire, but I could see Multiplier dueling from the start. And with a morning line of 30-1, an across-the-board bet might pay off here.

At the other end of the field, #10 Conquest Mo Money, should also get in on an early speed duel, and could have lasting power to the end. Works look good, and the horse can compete at this level, even if the trainer and jockey stats look weak. And he’s got a morning line of 50-1!

Wild card factor? I’d have to go with #2 Cloud Computing. This one’s a total jockey/trainer angle. Castellano and Brown are very often winners together, and the horse has the potential to hit the speeds necessary, although I’m questionable about his ability to close out over the speed duelers mentioned above. He’s at 12-1, I’d probably throw him into a trifecta or superfecta if I went in that direction. We’ll have to see how much I drink that afternoon. With 50 cent trifectas and 10 cent supers, I might not need much to take some chances here.

That sound you hear is the Wagstaff Retirement Fund going down the drain….

Wagstaff’s Picks: Kentucky Derby 2017 May 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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a-day-at-the-races_tootsie-fruitsey

This year’s Derby gives us one of the most open fields in years. Add to that the weather conditions – 3 straight days of likely rain – and we get the random factor of sloppy track conditions to make it all the more unpredictable.

So I’ll go ahead and make some predictions. It’s the rebel in me.

After going through the past performances, I looked at speed, condition, jockey and trainer records… the usual sort of thing. I looked at which horses like to close, which like to lead, and which ones like stouts and porters as opposed to pale ales.

Twenty horses running on a sloppy track means a lot of mud kicked up in the faces of the horses off the lead. The majority of the horses running have no racing experience with that. How will they react?

Some horses have run in the mud before. Some of ’em did pretty well, too. Some of ’em came from behind to win, telling us that the mud-in-the-face factor only makes ’em MAD!

When I put it all together, I’d lean towards the following. I don’t have a definite winner like I did with American Pharoah & The Belmont, or like I did with the pasta I made last night. But I think I’ve got some good prospects here with some good odds to use in various combo bets that might pay well.

#8 Hence at 15-1 (!) looks fast, well conditioned and ready to go. He closes well, and has closed well in sloppy track conditions.

#5 Always Dreaming at 5-1 hasn’t run in the mud, but his overall speed is near the top, and he’s in great shape right now. If (and it’s always a big if) he can handle the mud, he should do fine.

#14 Classic Empire is the current favorite at 4-1, and usually when an opening line favorite is that high, it means there’ll be a lot of changing of that particular status come post time. He’s got the best speed of the bunch, but the only time he ran in mud was for a 4 1/2 furlong low-level race…. but he came from behind and won. I wouldn’t count him out here, not at all.

#2 Thunder Snow at a big 20-1 is my wildcard. He’s only been races overseas, I have no fraction times for him… but he wins. And he wins at decent times, and at least from the reports, he comes from behind and closes. No mud, but he’s one of the few horses who have run on turf, and he’s run & won on soft turf. That tells me the feel of a muddy track won’t bother him at all – it’s only the mud-in-the-face factor that might come into play. Still, I’ll have him in my combo bets, and 50 cent trifecta combos might be the way I go overall.

I had two other horses as possibles before cutting them on a second go-round, and they were #16 Tapcrit and #18 Gormley. I just don’t think the speed is there in either case, and I think trainer Todd Pletcher has a better shot with Always Dreaming than he does with Tapcrit. Could they finish 3rd or 4th for a trifecta or superfecta? Maybe, but I’m thinking my top 4 picks will out run them.

Will I bet a lot under these conditions? Probably not. But with the odds where they are, the idea of hitting a trifecta could potentially mean a big payoff for a small bet, my favorite score at the track every time.

It’s also supposed to rain here in sunny southern California on Saturday, a rarity for May. Maybe I’ll take that as a sign to stay indoors & gamble.

And on other days, I’ll remind myself that it’s probably raining somewhere.

Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of November 26, 2016 November 25, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Football, Horse Racing.
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mattel-footballboxIs anyone making money following my advice?  You could be, I guess.  Especially last week, where I was a mere half point away from running the table and going 8-0.  Perfection eluded me, but I improved my totals: 22-15-1 in college, 16-10 in the pros, for a grand total of 38-25-1.

I’m taking a bigger chance this week, picking favorites to cover only. I’d like to think the push for better bowl bids will drive a lot of the college picks, but who the hell knows? I’m going with teams I think will want to score big in the college games, and teams I think will simply win outright in the pros. It’s not an exact science.

The idea of “exact science” in sports handicapping always fascinates me, however. It’s what attracts me to the horse races as well. And in a BIG THRIFT STORE SCORE this week, it turned out that some fellow degenerate gambler donated a stock of horse handicapping books to Goodwill, just waiting for me to find them.

Well, three out of the four, anyway. I already had a copy of Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing

But I did not have On Track/Off Track by James Quinn, a collection of short pieces on various aspects of horse betting that, perfect for me, focuses mostly on Santa Anita racetrack. I also picked up a copy of Steven Davidowitz’ Betting Thoroughbreds, and a copy of Thoroughbred Handicapping, State of the Art by William Quirin.

Well, state of the art for the mid 1990s, when all these books were published, which makes them a little out of date in terms of what sorts of information is readily available nowadays as opposed to calculating stuff on your own (like pace figures and such), but the general advice & strategies are still sound.

Each book was only two bucks!

I love poring through outdated sports betting books from the days of scratch sheets and people programming their Bowmar calculators to figure point spreads. There’s something about digging through all the outdated technical and computer instructions to get at the fundamental algorithms in making the picks, and then applying them to the current technologies and data available.  This is what I did when reading the long out of print Sports Betting by Jim Jasper. You have to wade through all sorts of instructions about what numbers to punch into the pocket calculator to figure baseball and football odds, but once translated into modern available data, a lot of Jasper’s overriding ideas are good ones.

Whatever. It provided me some nice reading material during my week off.

Oh yeah, my picks….

In the college games, I’ll stick with Temple to cover 21 over East Carolina, Penn State by 11 over Michigan State, Colorado by 9 over Utah, and USC to cover 17 1/2 over Notre Dame.

In the NFL, I like the Chargers coming off a bye by 1 over the Texans, the surging Dolphins by 7 1/2 over the Forty Niners, and the strengthening Seahawks by 6 over the Buccaneers.

And now, back to goofing off….

 

 

Some Breeder’s Cup Picks (A Pick 6 Sequence) For November 5, 2016 November 4, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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marxbroraceWell, I don’t mean to brag…. but I’m ahead FOUR DOLLARS after making two bets on two different Breeder’s Cup races today (Friday). With that amazing amount of confidence on hand, I went ahead and handicapped the Pick 6 sequence in Saturday’s line up, culminating with the big 6 million dollar Breeder’s Cup Classic.

And the Pick 6 will be worth taking a shot at. There’s a half million dollar two day carryover going into it, which pretty much translates to a Pick 6 pool of at least 2 million dollars. And with all those pick 6 players (like me) also playing the late pick 4, the pick 4 pool ought to be north of a million, at least.

In these picks, I’ve listed the horse I most think will most likely win first, and second the horse I think will win if Horse #1 messes up. In one race, I’ve picked 3 for reasons I’ll go into.

Race 7: Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint (2pm PDT): 2 Obviously, 13 Holy Lute

Race 8: BC Juvenile (2:43pm PDT): 6 Three Rules, 2 Syndergaard

Race 9 (also the start of the Pick 4): BC Turf (3:22pm PDT): 4 Flintshire, 10 Found

Race 10: BC Filly & Mare Sprint (4:01pm PDT): 2 Haveyougoneaway, 8 Carina Mia

Race 11: BC Mile (4:40pm PDT): 10 Limato, 2 Alice Springs & 13 Midnight Storm. Both Limato and Alice Springs are foreign horses with very identical profiles, so I’m throwing them both in. Out of the American horses (STAND UP AND SALUTE, MISTER!) my top pick would be Midnight Storm. I’ll use all 3 in my pick 4, mix ’em up for pick 6 combos.

Race 12: BC Classic (5:35pm PDT): 10 Arrogate, 4 California Chrome. Yeah, that’s right. Every handicapper I’ve looked at says to single California Chrome here, but I’m thinking Arrogate is a better bet. So there.

There’s no way I play a $196 monster pick 6 ticket for all of my picks. I’ll play different combos, not sure how I’ll mix them up yet. However, a $12 monster pick 4 ticket is certainly within the cheapskate Wagstaff betting bankroll budget.

The weather should be clear & beautiful. Races at this level, well… anything can happen, really. But it’s worth a shot. Here’s hoping I run the table….

 

Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of November 5 November 3, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football, Horse Racing.
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07-07-20_mr_creosoteThe gut continues to be more successful than the deep analysis. I went 5-2 last week, bringing the college pick totals to 16-11-1 and the NFL to 9-7, for an overall total of 25-18-1.

Not too bad, not too great. I’d like to get a winning percentage above 67% by season’s end, although keeping it over 50% is always the basic goal.

The Breeder’s Cup races are at Santa Anita November 4 & 5, a bunch of high stakes races with the best horses in the world. The weather ought to be perfect, and I haven’t looked at ANY of those races and past performances yet, but if I put together some picks over the next day or so, I’ll post ’em here, since I may as well make this a one-stop shopping central for all things sports gambling.

Although my stats tell me that not too many people care about these picks. Well, YOUR LOSS if I keep my average up. Watch the Dow Jones tank, suckers… I’M giving you free ways to make money here, regardless of the election results next week.

AND the gut will get its due this weekend – I’m planning on cooking myself some nice dinners.

This week in the college games, I like Kentucky plus 2 1/2 against Georgia (sorry David), Washington to cover 17 over California, and Baylor by 7 1/2 over TCU.

In the NFL, I’ll go with the Eagles plus 2 1/2 against the Giants, the Cowboys to cover 7 1/2 over the Browns, and the Saints to cover 4 1/2 over the Forty Niners.

My Patriots have a bye week, so it will be a relatively unemotional weekend…. until I pet my cat and swoon.

Or if I manage to hit a pick 4 betting the Breeder’s Cup. But we’ll see about that after I handicap the lot of ’em.

Football Is Back! And So Are Wagstaff’s Picks. September 8, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football, Horse Racing.
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93660I spent most of my Labor Day weekend watching football & betting Del Mar.

I probably should have watched more football.

The closing days of Del Mar are ALWAYS a crazy crapshoot the way I see it. For the past several years, the pattern has been for 25-to-1 shots and up to win the non-stakes races down the card, with no discernible pattern to it whatsoever. This year, after picking likely winners in the stakes portion of a THREE MILLION DOLLAR pool pick 6 sequence (Yow!), and getting all of ’em, thank you very much…. I tried picking the other half of the races in the sequence based on whatever factors I could assume led to huge odds upsets. My horses in those races finished 2nd, 4th and way, way out of the money. So much for that thirty bucks.

I’ll be taking a break from the SoCal tracks until Santa Anita gets going again at the end of the month. The pools at Los Alamitos aren’t quite there for me yet.

In the meantime, I can regale you with football picks.

I don’t like making picks the first week of college ball, although the 11 points Houston got versus Oklahoma would have tempted me plenty in Vegas (and turned out to be right). After reviewing the odds of both college & pro games this week, here’s what I think.

In the pros, with nothing to go on but team reputation in week one, I’d take the Bengals to cover 2 over the Jets, and the Steelers to cover 3 over the Redskins.

I don’t have high hopes for the Brady-less Patriots playing in Arizona, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised. They went 11-5 with Brady out for an entire year, and Belichick could probably coach a Star Trek convention trivia panel to win an NFL game, so who the hell knows?

In college games, there’s still not a lot to go on comparative-stat wise, so I’ll go with historic patterns and my (pasta) gut and pick Ball State plus 16 against Indiana, and a wishy-washy pick of Alabama to cover 29 1/2 against West Kentucky.

Want a scientific saber-metric type approach to football? Check this article out, it’s pretty interesting.

This weekend needs to be spent editing the new Wagstaff book. It’s on the way…

 

 

Random Thoughts On My Sports Betting Bibliography August 26, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Football, Horse Racing.
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14020c_lgSo one day while killing time between a dentist appointment and an eye doctor appointment, I wandered the nearby neighborhood and wound up in one of what’s probably one of the few used bookstores left in LA in the age of the internet.  As much as finding specific old rare stuff online is easier, browsing through smelly old stacks of long-abandoned tomes always turns up stuff I’d NEVER heard of or would have even thought of. Web surfing doesn’t quite produce the same effect.

I rolled the reach-to-the-top-shelf store ladder over to explore the top shelf of old dusty sports books, and came across a pristine copy of Sports Betting by Jim Jasper, dated 1979. A quick skim of the thing  fascinated me – not so much for the advice and system offered, but in that the 1979 world I’d stepped into involved a book suggesting I base my betting systems on the lines of BASIC he offered up for me to punch into my TRS-80 to determine whether or not Ron Guidry and the Yankees would defeat Scott Macgregor and the Orioles.

Turns out Jasper wrote two other books (at least) filled with suggested BASIC coded programs for tracking football & baseball bets throughout the year, as well as following horse tracks. I found them both at the LA Central library. I’m guessing they haven’t been loaned out in quite a while.

As out of date as they all were, Jasper’s basic theories and structures are fairly sound – he number crunches all the data he can to determine league averages in various categories, assigns some weighting in terms of home field and the like, and then bases his betting on how far above or below average particular matchups turn out to be, in both baseball and football.

In other words, a general method easily reproduced using whatever categories of comparative stats are readily available online.

Much of Jasper’s number crunching and data recording, especially when I got to the horse racing portions of the two BASIC books, reminded me of the olden days where handicappers would calculate their own speed figures and track biases. When I used to haunt the sports books in Vegas betting the tracks whenever I was there, I’d see the older guys with their notebooks filled with their own timesheets and speed figures. Old habits die hard, I guess.  I have some older horse handicapping books that painstakingly go through how to do it, like Andrew Beyer’s Picking Winners or the more recent (1995) Dave Litfin’s Expert Handicapping, but since relative speed figures are now available in nearly any racing form, there’s not much point (at least to me) in doing my own calculations. And as far as comparing the value of speed figures on Brisnet sheets versus Equifax versys the Beyer speed numbers in the Daily Racing Form… well, if I’m comparing different speed numbers calculated the same way between horses in the same race, I don’t really see what difference it makes. I’m getting comparative ratios, aren’t I?

While I use websites like Statfox to see comparative football, baseball and basketball team stats, spread records and the like, I use Brisnet past performances for horse racing, because like Statfox, they’re available free online if you know where to look.

The best basic edjumacation in reading horse past performances I can recommend would be DRF’s Brad Free’s Handicapping 101, the first book I read on how to go through the racing form. It covered everything in plain language and served as a nice launch point for studying more complex material or systems offered up by others.

My own systems? Well, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing my own book about betting methods, whether in Vegas where I can bet the team sports legally, or back home where I can bet the track in person or online. But I think I’d want to string some sort of Wagstaff story around it. This post served as  a way to empty my mind of all the things I’d probably try to work in and get them down in print. Maybe I’ll post more in the future about particular strategeries that work, maybe I’ll try to weave them into some hybrid how-to book down the line.

In the meantime, I wonder if I could dig out my old copy of Microsoft Quickbasic on floppy disc and use it to create a totally foolproof horse picking program….hmmmm…..

Belmont Stakes Picks 2015 June 4, 2015

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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edthesurfer

This year’s Belmont, I think, is the best chance we’ve had for a Triple Crown winner since before I’ll Have Another’s injury took him out of competing in the Belmont a couple of years back. 37 years is a long time, and while the two main Belmont elements that usually combine to scuttle Triple Crown hopes  – the longer distance & the presence of runners who have not run in either or both of the first two legs of the crown – are present,  American Pharaoh still appears as a clear favorite in this relatively small field.

Science also confirms how difficult, if not impossible, it is for horses to win the Triple Crown. And you can’t argue with SCIENCE!!!! (That is, unless you’ve been paying attention to the ever-changing dietary guidelines emanating from the morons who gave us the “food pyramid,” among other crap. But I digress!)

For what it’s worth (and you could scroll down to review my decent success in both the Derby & The Preakness, thank you very much), I don’t think any other contender beats Pharoah if and only if Pharoah runs his standard race and his standard pace. And if he did, he’d run this one practically from gate to wire.  The one horse in the field I could see challenging him early and possibly dueling him right down the line is Madefromlucky, and that’s who I’d pick as the most likely upset if anything goes awry with Pharoah’s standard trip. At a morning line of 12-1, it might be a worthwhile bet, and definitely one to add to any exotic bet.

Assuming a few things go wrong with Pharoah and he’s out of the picture, another horse I could see sneaking in there (that is, is everything goes perfectly for him) is the other Todd Pletcher entry, Materiality. He’d have to run as well as he did in the Florida Derby, and with his jockey switched back from Kentucky’s Castellano to Velazquez, who knows? Velazquez has never lost a race with him. (Castellano will be riding Madefromlucky instead). Materiality has a morning line of 6-1, another one worth looking at for exotics.

If Frosted ran the race of his life, he might also have a shot, but I only see him with a good chance of finishing in the money somewhere other than first, and I’d definitely have him part of any trifecta or superfecta play. I think he’d have too much to make up after trying to keep up with an early pace that’s a little too fast for his liking.

So, that’s my 1-2-3-4 in order, fwiw. In the past, I’ve usually bet exactas and supers on this race, but the fields were bigger and the pools were more spread out. Not sure how I’ll approach this one on Saturday. The idea of an all G1 stakes level pick 4 intrigues me as well – correctly calling an upsetter to Pharoah within it would most likely mean a decent payoff.

 

Preakness Picks 2015 May 15, 2015

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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preakness

So, will the Preakness basically be a rerun of the Kentucky Derby?

I mostly think so – American Pharoah, the favorite despite getting the rail position, seems (again) to be the one to beat. Dortmund seemed to fade in the stretch in the Derby, while Firing Line could only duel & keep pace at second. The way Espinoza & American Pharoah outran those next-best two down the stretch would lead me to give him the nod here, although if ANYTHING went wrong, a bad trip due to the rail, a stumble…anything, really….. I think Firing Line would sneak in there.

As far as runners who didn’t run in the Derby, the only one I can see mustering a challenge or maybe pulling off an enormous upset would be Divining Rod, whose speed figures are somewhat competitive with the leading horses in the field. Not a bad play to think about, since he’s 12-1 on the morning line, but I’m thinking that people will be wondering (again) if American Pharoah will win the Triple Crown after winning this race. Maybe simply betting Diving Rod to show up in the money is the play here, although I don’t even know if I’ll be betting on this one.

And, as usual, I’m sure the answer will be “No” thanks to whatever entry in the Belmont there is who will not have run in this one or the Derby and will be better rested. Same story, different year, and I’ll prognosticate that race when we come to it.

Reckoning: I wasn’t going to bet this one, and when the rain came a’pourin’ down, I was even more determined not to, even if it meant re-handicapping the thing throwing out Firing Line, since he was the likeliest leader to be most negatively affected by having mud thrown in his face. Even with the weather, I turned out to get the winner, and my longshot pick ran 3rd. Not too shabby, but the potential payoffs still didn’t make it worthwhile to me. We’ll see what happens in the Belmont in three weeks.