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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Well, state of the art for the mid 1990s, when all these books were published, which makes them a little out of date in terms of what sorts of information is readily available nowadays as opposed to calculating stuff on your own (like pace figures and such), but the general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I love poring through outdated sports betting books from the days of scratch sheets and people programming their Bowmar calculators to figure point spreads. There’s something about digging through all the outdated technical and computer instructions to get at the fundamental algorithms in making the picks, and then applying them to the current technologies and data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

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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

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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.

Kentucky Derby Picks 2015 May 1, 2015

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whenuseeit.com_8546_1385960416

I’m not sure how I’ll actually spread my bets on the Derby this year, but I think I can narrow the always enormous field down to a handful of likely candidates for finishing in-the-money, if not winning it outright. While I’ve been using a slightly different handicapping protocol for the current season of Santa Anita with mixed (but better than historic) results, I’m making these picks based on my usual parameters for a high profile high stakes race like this one. I’m mostly looking at overall speed, potential to maintain (or increase) speed at this distance, a distance new to the majority of the field, and whatever I can gather about their current condition & training.

So here it is: Like the opening odds, I would favor the two Bob Baffert entries in this one – American Pharoah and Dortmund. They’ve both got lightning times for races leading up to this and have not faded in stretches. They’ve also won at this level, and by a lot, gate-to-wire in numerous instances. I’d give the edge to American Pharoah from a numbers standpoint, but these two are really close.

One horse I could see sneaking  into an upset victory would be Firing Line. He’s lost to Dortmund twice by a head, but he just flew in his last race, and a repeat of that performance, I think, would give him the edge here. He’s 12-1 on the morning line and worth taking a shot at. My other long-shot wild card possibility (though lesser) would be Upstart, who has some great speed ratings (although erratic) and looks to be in great form. I also can’t resist picking a horse that’s also a gag in Duck Soup. And I also can’t resist including a long-shot possibility when he’s 15-1 morning line and seems to have a reasonable shot at it.

Bets? Still not sure. Probably some win bets on all of them and perhaps an exacta box of all four. I’m never comfy going into deeper exotics with a field of this size, and prefer to save my triple crown bankroll for the Belmont, which I always find the easiest of the three to handicap deep into the field. The only thing I can really guarantee is that I’ll be petting the cat while the race is on.

I’ve been toying with the idea of regularly posting Santa Anita picks on a separate blog page for anyone who might be interested in following my picks or betting along with Wagstaff.  After all, I’ll need company in the poor house for Scrabble games and trivia contests , so join in! Though to be honest, I’m up a few hundred bucks since the start of the year overall. I do about the same or better than the professional handicappers in the newspaper and at the Daily Racing Form. Why can’t they hire ME instead? With ME, you get picks you can trust, PLUS bonus  jokes!

Like this one: A little boy runs home from school and says “Mom! Mom! I got a part in the school play! Aren’t you proud of me?” And the mom says “Oh, that’s wonderful! The drama teacher must think the world of your talent! What part did you get?” The little boy answers “I play the role of the Jewish husband.” The mother gets angry and says “You go right back to that school and tell that god damn teacher you want a speaking part!”

You’ll be telling that joke tomorrow. And maybe you’ll win the Derby! See how valuable I am?

Reckoning Update: Well, I’m pretty valuable after all. Out of the 4 horses I gave you, I got the 1, 2 and 3 finishers.  I bet the exacta and made a $60 profit, which will soon be blown at Brent’s Deli, the best deli in Los Angeles. Stay tuned, we’ll see how I do with The Preakness or if I start posting my Santa Anita plays.

Belmont Stakes Predictions 2014 June 6, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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mred

So will we finally have a Triple Crown winner after all these years?

The morning odds certainly think we will, with California Chrome a heavy favorite at 3-5. The racing world would love a big positive boost of publicity for the sport, especially as (sadly) the sport continues to wane in popularity, especially against other forms of gambling. I guess that means if you believe in conspiracy theories & the mob fixing everything, California Chrome is a certainty.

Despite the black helicopters over my house, I’d put California Chrome as a favorite, but not as the horse-to-beat-against-a-weak-field favorite he was in the Preakness. The Belmont field has a few legitimate spoiler horses who have the potential to take this race. With Chrome running hard to get the crown, barring any freakazoid reason for him to be pulled, I would put together a number of boxed combo bets with him & the following possible spoilers, which I’ll discuss in order of what I think is their likelihood of paying off as winners or merely in the money:

Tonalist ran a great Peter Pan stakes a month ago on a sloppy Belmont track and gained speed and power as he went. The biggest factor for me every year in the Belmont is the distance involved – a lot of route horses simply run out of gas when asked to run a mile and a half, so I always look for the ones who can keep pace and reserve the energy for at least a mile or so before turning it on at the end. Tonalist is a likely candidate for such a finish, and his last speed figures and speed figure potential for Saturday is in the same league with the amazing numbers of California Chrome. And he’s 8-1!

Right up there with Tonalist, I’d put the surprise of the Kentucky Derby, Commanding Curve. The late surge stretch run he did, almost catching Chrome, made me think he’d be the horse to watch in the longer Belmont since he would have passed Chrome on that Derby run if there’d be another quarter mile. All he’d have to do is rest up by skipping the Preakness (check) and keep in top form (check – his works at Belmont are the best out there, better than Chrome). He’ll also probably do better in a smaller field, and one where he isn’t all the way on the outside. With less traffic to negotiate & a better position for a late burst run…. well, it could happen. And he’s 15-1!

After those two, I think Wicked Strong, the #4 Derby finisher, will challenge again here. Well rested after skipping the Preakness, Wicked Strong also has the power to finish well at a mile and a half. The other wild card is Ride On Curlin, who ran a great Preakness and finished the Derby strong, but in each case,  I think the jockey had a lot to do with it. He’s got a new, third, rider this time, so who knows?

If I had to grade them, I’d give California Chrome an A, Tonalist and Commanding Curve A-, Wicked Strong B+ and Ride On Curlin B.

My ten cent superfectas, fifty cent trifectas  and one dollar exactas will be designed accordingly.

Preakness Predictions 2014 May 16, 2014

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marxbrorace

So close…. SO close on that damn Derby, where my 1-2-3 finished 1-3-4 thanks to a last minute surge by a 30-1 shot to sneak into 2nd.  I have to admit that even if I’d spread more money out to throw some longshots in to exotic bets, I don’t think I would have included the placer. Good thing I only bet on the cheap….. but a trifecta hit for what probably would have  been a few hundred bucks would have been very very nice.

After looking at the field for this year’s Preakness, it’s really Derby winner California Chrome‘s race to lose. None of the other horses in the field, I think, can really challenge the speed levels of Chrome, hence the 3-5 opening line.

But there’s always the “too soon after the last race” factor that figures into the Triple Crown cycle, and the way that Chrome faded a little bit towards the end of the Derby stretch, making me think as the races get longer (especially the Belmont coming up), Chrome could be overtaken by a late-surger.

I don’t see a late surger in this field, but if I had to pick a 2nd-likely-candidate to win in case Chrome has a bad day at the track, I’d go with the Baffert trained Bayern, also a nice price at 10-1 right now.

I can’t really put together any combo bets since the rest of the field feels so random to me. I think I’ll wait until the Belmont when some Derby performers return, rested, to see what some more predictable scenarios might be.