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A Quick Preakness Post for 2018 May 17, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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I don’t think I’ll be betting this race very big.

The favorite and likely winner Justify is currently at 1-3 on the morning line, the likely runner up Good Magic is 3-1, and the only big-odds horse that has some potential to money in this thing beyond show might be Lone Sailor, at 15-1.

Between those odds and the small field, the exotics won’t really be worth it. Maybe a couple of bucks on something, but not much more.

I’ll save my bankroll for the Belmont. If Justify can take this one and stir up a lot of excitement for a Triple Crown, AND face some high-odds ringer horse who runs the Belmont without running this or the Kentucky Derby, we may have the ingredients for tempting trifecta and superfecta combos.


Kentucky Derby Picks 2018 May 3, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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I’m sitting here nursing a sudden spring cold, trying to make sense of past performances while running on soup and antihistamine.

So take that into account as I break down this year’s Kentucky Derby, running this Saturday around 3:50pm Pacific.

The opening line favorite, #7 Justify, certainly earns the spot – 3 and 0 lifetime, Baffert trained, Mike Smith in the seat and coming off a blazing gate-to-wire Santa Anita Derby.

But the field provides a lot of ammo for Justify to be a beatable favorite. Running 2nd in Santa Anita was #11 Bolt D’Oro, a horse that has all the earmarks of a bunch of commentator’s “safe” pick for an upset, but I don’t think so. I’d put this one on exotic combos, to be sure, but at 2-3-4, not first, even with the switch to Victor Espinoza in the saddle.

My candidates for upsetting Justify? Well, let’s start with #5 Audible, 4-1 lifetime and showing great speed in the Florida Derby recently, along with some solid works.  Trainer Tod Pletcher’s two other horses in this race are also interesting picks – #16 Magnum Moon (6-1) and #18 Vino Rosso (How can I resist Italian red wine, especially at 12-1) – they both show competitive speed with Justify and Audible, although their far-out post positions mean they’ll have to start pretty well and not get boxed out.

My real wild card is #14 Mendelssohn, the 2nd favorite at 5-1. No split times available for this foreign import for anything other than his winning Breeder’s Cup juvenile turf race, but finish times & other ratings are certainly strong.

If I had to pick a likely upset to Justify, I’d go with Mendelssohn. I’ll think about various exotics with the others between now and Saturday, depending on how zonked out I am on cold medicine.

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 Predictions 2012 June 7, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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So, will we have a triple crown? It’s certainly been a while since Affirmed took it, back when disco ruled the airwaves and Saturday Night Live was funny.  1978 was a long long time ago to be sure.

Why? Well, probably because horses really aren’t being bred and trained for the Triple Crown anymore. There are hardly any mile and a half races like the Belmont, and horses aren’t running long routes every two to three weeks the way the Kentucky Derby-Preakness-Belmont clip comes along. So most often, the Derby winners fail to win the Preakness. Every so often like this year, we get the excitement of a Derby/Preakness winner going into the Belmont, usually as a favorite only because of the wishful thinking that a Triple Crown winner will generate excitement for the sport in a time when its popularity is waning, especially when pitted against other forms of gambling.

Which is too bad, since it’s a great sport. And all the PR damage & lack of market-building to a younger audience is nearly entirely self-inflicted. Stupid infighting means we have no HD cable channel entirely devoted to the sport, covering all races & providing high quality analysis featuring the leading handicappers from around the nation. The star power of both specific horses, trainers & jockeys is frittered away.

Oh, don’t get me started. But I won’t fly into a rant here about how I’m often the youngest guy in the Vegas sports book betting horses, and I’m an OLD FART, fer cryin out loud.

It’s time to pick the Belmont! Yay!

Well, I’ll state right off that I don’t think we’ll have a Triple Crown. Yeah, I’m sure I’ll Have Another will run a great race, but it’s that long length of the Belmont that becomes the final test, where horses who run a mile or even a mile and a quarter like lightning weaken and falter towards the end of that final stretch. Think back to the Kentucky Derby when I’ll Have Another pulled that late surge to pass Bodemeister… there was also another horse putting on an amazing late surge, but without enough speed to overtake the winner, and that horse was Dullahan. But Dullahan was moving faster than I’ll Have Another at that point, and would passed him with another quarter mile tacked on. And that was after chasing the lightning pace being set by Bodemeister, something that will not be happening here. And Dullahan has had more rest than I’ll Have Another by skipping the Preakness.

So, I’ll be picking Dullahan as my top choice to win.

I think I’ll Have Another has a great chance to hit the board, however, and I’ll certainly include him in any exotics I put together, although I can only see two other horses possibly winning this race: Paynter & Union Rags.  Both of them can probably run this distance well, and both accelerate nicely in route stretches.

And that’s the 1-2-3-4 order I think they’ll finish. The only possible surprise I might throw into the mix for hitting the board and not winning would be Street Life, who has gotten steadily better with each race, is in good condition, and also runs very well in a route stretch.

I’d love to see another Triple Crown, but I don’t think it’ll happen this year. But I’ll be happy to be wrong since it’ll be good for the sport (though not as good as all the ideas that would flow from my brilliant rant. And that rule applies to nearly all subjects.)

UPDATE: So, the radio greets me this morning with the news that I’ll Have Another has been scratched due to tendonitis & will also be retired to the stud farm. I keep writing to Victoria’s Secret about the idea of retiring me to a slightly different style of stud farm with no success. Conspiracy theories abound on various horse racing boards, but the bottom line is that a lot of the excitement has gone out of this race. I’ll stick with my picks for the top 4 possibilities, however… although after seeing how many random posts to comment boards list the same horses I have, I’m guessing the payoffs on exotics will be minimal here. Dullahan has already gone from 5-1 to 9-5 in the morning line. Ah well.

Preakness Picks 2012 May 18, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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Considering how well I did in calling the Kentucky Derby a couple of weeks ago, I fully expect some 50-1 longshot to flush me down the toilet on my picks for the second leg of the Triple Crown, but I’ll post them anyway.

It’s the eternal optimist in me, I guess. One of the main considerations in this race is the short two week interval between the Preakness and the Derby – usually horses ought to be given a three week (at least) rest between races, especially major stakes races where even finishing fifth can mean decent purse money. The first thing I look for when handicapping this thing are competitive horses who did not run in the Kentucky Derby.  This year, I can only really see one of these, Zetterholm, having any sort of shot at it, although I’d say the chances for a win are slim.  He’s won his last 3 races, though all of them were at a considerably lower class level and his running times are not quite competitive with the top picks I’ll name below… BUT: this horse closes well in the stretch and will most likely pass a lot of the field once they come around that final turn. He’s in better form now than he was a month ago at Aqueduct when he won a 75K stakes race, and at 20-1, he makes a very tempting bet to simply wind up in the money or be part of any exotic combo.

The more serious contenders, to me, are all horses that did well in the Derby, starting with my #1 pick for this race, Bodemeister. He barely lost the Derby in the end, after setting a blistering pace for nearly the entire race. My guess would be that he’d once again be the pacesetter, but I’m sure Baffert and Smith would rather he conserve just a little more energy, maybe adding a second or so to those split times, still leading & with enough in the tank in the end to finish this slightly shorter race.  For the #2 and #3, I’d go with Derby winner I’ll Have Another and fellow SoCal entry Creative Cause to once again keep pace with Bodesmeister, with Went The Day Well & Daddy Nose Best as contenders for third or fourth.

So, throw Zetterholm in there and you have six horses to play with for exotic combos, perhaps keying the top choices. I haven’t really figured out how I’ll actually bet yet, I’ll have to sleep on it & see if there are any last minute considerations like weather, but I’ll probably Exacta-box my top 4 at the very least. Unlike the Derby, the Preakness will have a ten cent Superfecta, so I might use all 6 horses in that somehow. I’ll amend this post with my results.

Results: Well, I had the longshot Zetterholm hitting the board in the Super like I figured he might, and got the other top 3, but since I keyed a couple of my exotics to Bodemeister winning, I basically broke even due to the small payoffs all around. Ah well… at least I called it well & I hope any of you who took my advice set up your own tickets more successfully!  I’ll try again in a couple of weeks with the Belmont.

Derby Day 2012 May 4, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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Well, it’s been a while since your humble correspondent has offered some sports prognostications. I didn’t want to keep a blog record of my horse betting – not that the IRS would be chasing after me (trust me, that’s not a major problem), but I thought it would get tedious.  But with a big national race like the Kentucky Derby that gets lots of attention, I thought I’d offer my humble take after handicapping the thing today.

The morning line favorite, Bodemeister, seems a good bet – great speed & stretch performance, properly conditioned, and one of the best trainers in the biz, Bob Bafftert. He ran away with the Arkansas Derby at a pace that suggests even more potential for speed in a tighter race. I have him as my Number 2 horse, however, slightly leaning towards the possibility that Dullahan, who won the Bluegrass and looks in nice shape, might eke out a victory. My only issue with him is that he seems to prefer polytrack to actual dirt, but all his numbers indicate that he does well over long distances.

And think about this – the morning line favorite is 4-1. This is usually a wide-open race anyway, but a favorite with odds that high tells you just how wide-open this year’s field comes out.

My other two choices for upset-special are the two from the Santa Anita Derby. Both I’ll Have Another and Creative Cause have impressive speeds and stretch performances at distances close to the mile and a quarter they’ll run here. I’m also going to include the undefeated Gemologist – a horse with a record of fighting hard to outrun the others, even when falling back early. This one seems to want to win, so despite slightly weaker times & speed figures,  I don’t want to count him out. Another possibility is Daddy Nose Best, a Beyer pick for second, although I think he might be outclassed by some of my other picks.

So in the end, I’ll probably Exacta-box my top 5 of those for $20, and Superfecta-box them for $12, unless I get cute and decide to include Daddy Nose Best and narrow my picks for the top spot on the super ticket.

Here’s hoping I win enough to buy more cat toys…


Well, I got my Exacta! In the shoulda-woulda-coulda dep’t, there was the Trifecta, but I’m never that comfy betting more than $50 on a combo with a field of this size. Ah well… my top 3 were the top 3, and my top 4 were 1-2-3-5. I guess I should be grateful that Churchill Downs suspends the ten cent superfecta for Derby day since it saved me $12.

Belmont Stakes Results 2009 June 6, 2009

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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Shoulda woulda coulda…. boxed that superfecta! Then I would have had it, with #4 Summer Bird sneaking into first instead of finishing second or third. But since all my bets were based on either Dunkirk or Mine That Bird finishing first (and they came in 2nd and 3rd, respectively), down the toilet I go.


Not that it would have been a huge payoff on a ten cent bet… $42.60, to be precise. Not really worth it, but better than losing fifty bucks.

Now, the pick 6, which paid nearly a million… THAT’S the bet I’d’ve liked to win…

Maybe next time… or maybe at the end of July, on my next Vegas trip.

Handicapping The Belmont Stakes, 2009 June 4, 2009

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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I won’t be in Las Vegas for this year’s Belmont, as my bowling tournament was a week earlier than usual this year and I did all my sportsbooking last week. If you’re curious, I went 7-1 on baseball/basketball/hockey bets, thank you very much, and notice how I HAVEN’T mentioned my horse betting…. well, it wasn’t THAT bad, only lost $26, most of which went towards an all-longshot-filled Pick 4 at Hollywood which would have brought yours truly an astounding $13.5k if I had gotten the other half of it.

But ignore that FAILURE and bear with me as I prognosticate this year’s final leg of what I think will be a personal Triple Crown for Calvin Borel.

Yes, I think #7 Mine That Bird will win the Belmont… after watching him burn up the end of the Preakness and nearly catch the winner, I’m thinking he’s got the stuff to go the distance in a race where maintaining energy to the end of the long mile and half run is usually key. When I went through the past performances of the ten contenders, I was mostly looking at (a) which horses run better at longer distances and (b) who had the best accelerating pace figures late in such races. Sometimes I could gather hints from the works times of some contenders, but nearly all of these horses have run routes at stakes levels (except for #9, Miner’s Escape, a tempting inclusion in exotic combos at 15-1, but I think there are better candidates out there for even that) and the majority of my decision making comes from looking at the results of recent stakes races.

The other horses I can see challenging Mine That Bird until he outruns them in the end are #8 Flying Private (4th in the Preakness) and #2 Dunkirk, whose lousy Derby run I’ll treat as a fluke. They are the only two horses in this race with speed and pace figures comparable to what Mine That Bird has been doing lately.

In the next group, I’d include #3 Mr. Hot Stuff, who ran a lousy Kentucky Derby, but is in great form and has great potential, #4 Summer Bird, who ran a decent Kentucky Derby and closes well, #6 Charitable Man, who runs well towards the end of a route, but it’s still a question mark whether or not he can go this distance, and I’ll take a chance on #10 Brave Victory, whose best races at lower stakes levels come close to the best horses here – so at the long odds he’ll probably get, why not add him to the party?

Ever been to a horse party? The smell is hard to take, but they sure can drink and dance.

The Virtual Bets:

I’d put ten bucks on both #7 Mine That Bird & #2 Dunkirk to win, as well as including #8 Flying Private in an exacta box for another twelve.

Trifecta play: 7/2,8/2,3,4,6,8,10 for ten bucks, and a Superfecta (ten cent bets) of 2,7/2,7,8/2,3,4,6,8,10/2,3,4,6,8,10 for another eight bucks.

Fifty virtual dollars total out there. We’ll see what happens to those odds as we get closer to post-time, but I think I’d probably stick with all of these if this week were last week and I was parked in the Wynn sports book enjoying my free beers (thank you, anonymous angry old Noo Yawka horseplayer who I chatted with & gave me some free drink coupons) and smelling the inevitable douchebags smoking cesspool-brand cigars.

And this year unlike in the past, I think I’ve FINALLY learned how to bet on baseball games and do well! I guess I could do more virtual betting to test this theory, with the possibility of another Vegas trip this summer in the offing… we shall see! Maybe I’ve just been lucky. After all, I DID find a DIME on the sidewalk today!!! Yay!

The rest of the summer? Well, I have VOWED I will finish my new book. I have to design a new art & music history class, which I will model after my film class. I should watch more movies & blog about them here. Stay tuned.

Wagstaff’s Picks Results – Las Vegas Edition November 25, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football, General, Horse Racing.
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Yes, when I think of Las Vegas, I think of William Demerest, don’t you?

If only he could have danced like Ann-Margaret in that movie, where Ann’s body gyrates & her hair flies all over, but her head manages to stay perfectly still throughout except of course when she spins it around like Linda Blair. Then again, maybe Demerest DID dance like that on My Three Sons until Ernie told him it made him hot & gave him a dollar.

In fact, I think I remember that episode. But I just had another birthday and am getting more senile. So don’t take my word for it.

So after actually betting REAL money on my football picks this week, I wound up actually hitting a 3 team NFL parlay that made up for some losses, and my total football betting of 36 college and 8 pro games netted me a grand total of….. FIFTEEN DOLLARS!!!!

Now I can retire!!!

Oh wait, I gave it all back & more by blowing money on horse races that went very very badly, especially today. The only tracks available on a Monday are mostly the minor-league stuff, where things are unpredictable and the odds vary wildly. But I went with the stupid idea of “Well, I’m here, I may as well bet something!” and kept getting hammered over and over again. My day started out by hitting a trifecta in my first race and winning a grand total of $3 because of lousy odds. On my last bet of the day, I bet $12 and got the superfecta, getting the top 4 horses in order out of a field of 12, and for my BRILLIANT HANDICAPPING got a payout of….


Not exactly what I had in mind after spending the time & effort to handicap a half dozen or so races the previous evening & as I went along today. I suppose over the long haul I’ll make money back on a few big bets, but I think the lesson today was to be much more selective & have a back-up plan for visiting the Vegas sports books on off-football days, such as bringing a crossword puzzle book, perhaps along with a couple of strippers who have a big vocabulary, or who understand paramutuel odds better than I do.

On a Monday in the race book, you find the serious horse players – the guy sitting in front of me was betting Philadelphia Park and having about as good a day as I was, and went off on a rant of several minutes where it seemed he was caught in an endless loop of the old George Carlin “Seven Dirty Words” routine. Once he had finished marching up and down the aisles shouting his obscenities, he looked at me and apologized, saying he just does that to blow off steam. I told him it was okay and asked if we were related, and he laughed. He told me he’s been playing the races for fifty years, and does it for a living. He only bets a couple of horses each day, regardless of the odds, which told me he must be betting much larger amounts than my $12. No wonder he was so pissed when he lost.

Other highlights of today’s racing adventures: looking around the place and seeing perhaps only one or two guys about my age or younger. The rest all looked like they came straight from the retirement home. One guy was on his cellphone yelling to his friend that he’d bring his nitrate pills right after he was done betting.

“That heart attack will just have to wait Murray, I’ve got a hot tip on the sixth at Calder!!!”

The place was full during the football days of Saturday & Sunday, however, and various small encampments of alumni fans were spread around – Michigan here, Ohio State there, Oklahoma over there, and so on. There was also the usual assortment of douchebags with crappy cigars along with regular cigarette chain smokers to ruin the breathing for everyone. At least on Sunday, the Superbook at the Hilton opens up their theater as a non-smoking big screen assortment of every NFL game. I went in there after a while just to clear my lungs up.

By the way, I am NOT going to include any totals from my predictions for this weekend into my virtual scoresheet. I went 17-19 in college and 5-3 in the pros if that means anything.

Other Wagstaff Vegas Goodies: On Sunday I had an interesting conversation with the guy sitting next to me who turned out to be a pro football gambler. He told me how he basically makes 6 figures a year betting football, and then explained his theory of how NFL games are fixed & how he adjusts his betting accordingly. So, I’m sitting there listening to this, pegging this guy as either a lucky paranoid or a towering genius who has found the ultimate way to beat the system. And then I start thinking about some of the truly horrendous bone-headed officiating in the NFL this season, especially in games involving San Diego, especially this past Sunday where the refs stopped the clock for NO reason giving the Colts a chance to regroup and score the winning points COSTING ME FIVE DOLLARS, and I’m leaning towards “genius” for that guy.

I should have gotten his phone number & had him make my horse picks today.

Overall, the trip was fun. Had a wonderful dinner Saturday at Enoteca San Marco at the Venetian, which might becoming my new favorite Italian restaurant in Vegas. My airport shuttle driver today was a cross between Carl from Carl’s Cuts & Barney Fife and was entertaining. He might have been the only obligatory tip I paid out on this trip that I actually felt was worth it.

Yes, I am THAT MUCH OF A CHEAP BASTARD, even though I’m actually a generous tipper. I just like BITCHING about it afterwards.

Then when I got on my flight back, I look across the aisle, and there’s a Hasidim along with his son so I think to myself “Wow! I’m in the JEW row!”

However, this theory is then shattered once the two seats next to me are taken by a woman who looked like a gene splicing between Rosie O’Donnell & Kathy Griffin and a guy who looked like Bobby Trendy after the accident. God forbid the fabulous babe exotic raven haired beauty I saw waiting along with me at the airport sit next to me. God forbid she return any of my dirty old lecher smiles at her. God forbid she stop talking to that cop and pointing at me…

Kathy-Rosie smiled at me, however. At least someone has good taste, even if their arms were covered in spiky-chain-link-fence design tattoos.

Just my type!

Perhaps I should have HER make my horse picks next time.

Horseplayer Academy September 1, 2008

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, General, Horse Racing.

For pretty much the same reasons I enjoy picking football games once I have enough past performance & odds data to work with, I’ve plunged into the world of handicapping horse races by analyzing the past performance data in The Daily Racing Form. Once again, I get to look over a bunch of different and often competing variables and try to determine the outcome of a sporting event I’ll enjoy watching anyway. Once again, I get to see if I get it right as if I’m solving some sort of gigantic complex puzzle. And once again, perhaps I might get some money out of it – not enough to retire on with my cheap betting, of course, but enough to pay for celebratory dinner or to add to the Wagstaff yardsale shopping fund.

I started out with Brad Free’s excellent introduction to deciphering the racing form tables, Handicapping 101. Every horse bettor weighs the different categories of comparison their own way, and Free explains all the important ones to look for & offers solid advice for how to consider each one.

Think of everything going on here for a moment – what surface is the race on, turf or synthetic/dirt track? Much the way tennis players are markedly different on grass or clay, horses run differently on those surfaces. What is the class of horses running in this race? Has a major leaguer been slipped into a lower grade race, or vice versa? How fast does the horse usually run? How has the horse been running lately? Blinkers on or off? What’s the distance of the race? Is the horse better at short sprints or long distances? Are the oddsmakers and other bettors overbetting a particular horse or underbetting a real contender? What’s the trainer’s record in races like this, with horses like this? How about the jockey?


Free’s book helps you navigate through all of this without your head exploding. He also covers the Los Angeles area tracks for the DRF as well, so whatever subtleties of his own handicapping have been determined by the particulars of Santa Anita, Del Mar or Hollywood Park might have worked their way into his overall views on the subject. Fine by me, since those are the tracks I’d go to or pay attention to for the most part (except during any Vegas trip when the tracks I focus on are purely dependent on what time of day I’m in the sports book when live races are happening). As a back-up to the nuts and bolts of handicapping techniques, I also read Las Vegas racing columnist Richard Eng’s Betting On Horse Racing For Dummies, since I certainly felt like one the first time I hung out at a Vegas sports book one June, with no football to bet on, and began chatting with horseplayers over whatever methods they were using. One guy tried explaining the racing form to me, but he concentrated so much on his own narrow technique that I only wanted to know what all those other numbers and stats meant even more – after all, if he knew what he was doing, why the hell was he talking to ME?

Okay, maybe he thought I was hot.


So, I learned how to read the racing form, tried my hand at handicapping one day at Santa Anita last spring when I played hookey from an academic conference (this way I’d be happy with my decision even if I lost money, and I didn’t, so clearly GOD WANTED ME TO IGNORE THE CONFERENCE. HA!) The following June I was back in Vegas again, went to the sports book more prepared, and won a little more on a handful of races on a few different tracks. I wanted to improve my ability to pick the actual winners in a race, or get better at picking the order of several finishers – most of my money was made by betting on horses that ran in the money, but I was collecting a lot of place and show bets, which aren’t really cost-effective in the long run versus other choices. If I was good at narrowing a field of a dozen horses down to a few that had a good shot at running first, second or third, how could I hone those techniques, in addition to repeated practice and error analysis?

So it was back to betting school! I read Andrew Beyer’s Picking Winners and Beyer On Speed, both interesting books that are mostly useful for understanding the mindset of a regular horse player, as well as for understanding what goes into the indispensable Beyer Speed Figures for horses that are part of the past performance tables. Most recently, thanks to one of those “Amazon recommends for you” emails, I discovered a truly excellent book on betting theory, Steven Crist’s Exotic Betting, where he outlines various strategies for multiple horse betting, both intrarace (extactas, trifectas, superfectas) and inter-race (pick 4, daily double, etc.). Covering all your angles in these bets can get a little expensive, but as I was reading, I came across this passage, and I decided that this was the greatest book EVER:

Playing the races is not a means to a reliable profit, but an end it itself, a uniquely fascinating problem-solving exercise more akin to completing a challenging crossword puzzle than to laboring for an hourly wage. Of course, it’s even better than a crossword puzzle when you add in the brave and beautiful horses, the thrill of the contest, and the many other charms of a day at the track. If you told me in advance that I would only break even for the next 12 months at the races, I would still play them for the sheer enjoyment of it, and I think most racegoers would too. (Crist, p.18)

Good GOD, this guy and I are on the exact same wavelength!!! Much like my attraction to parlay bets in football, I enjoy going for multiple horse bets in my egomaniacal desire to solve the puzzle to the nth degree and run the table.

So using the theories in his book, I virtually played the Del Mar races in the past week, going through the racing form and making out tables of bets in a notebook, reviewing my performance each day, making adjustments in both my handicapping & betting strategies, and I seem to be slowly putting together more consistent successful methods of both. So far I’ve “bet” $1,891 on 6 days of racing, and have won back $2,329.32, a gain of 23% or so. The ups and downs are certainly erratic, but I’d rather look for areas where I’m on the verge of improving (such as getting pick 3s and pick 4s) than worry about possible long-term losing streaks (especially when I’m not betting any real money!).

I’m not sure when I’ll actually put all this into practice using real money, though I’ll certainly feel more confident in my choices the next time I actually go to the track live or go back to Vegas without football to occupy my sports book time.

But wait!!! THROWING AWAY MONEY ALERT!!!! Unlike football betting, betting on horse races over the internet is legal in California…. <Shudder, the sequel…> Better put a padlock on my bank account… make that TWO padlocks.

Or not. I’m in no hurry to actually risk over a thousand dollars a week. There’s no guarantee of a 23% return on a regular basis, that’s for damn sure.

At the very least, to paraphrase Crist, I’ve found an enjoyable mental exercise that tops my New York Times crossword habit, helps develop analytical (especially self-analytical) skills and may actually net me some money some day. So – can I out-think the horse races? Only time will tell…

“Your move, chump!”

UPDATE: Holy should I quit my day job, Batman!!!! I just spent part of my afternoon of watching college football virtually handicapping & betting Belmont, and (on paper only, alas) won over eighteen thousand dollars by hitting the pick 6 along with a ton of 5 out of 6 consolation bets! I only called a winner in one other race outside of the last six, so I have the voice of Han Solo in my head yelling “Great shot kid, now don’t get cocky…” Granted, I had to lay out nearly $2500 for those Pick 6 bets, something I’d NEVER do in real life, but I suppose it’s a good start! Regular intrarace “betting” was putting out $207.20 and getting back $263.30, which is far more realistic for the sort of day I’d actually spend at the track.

But what was that I was saying about being able to bet online? Hmmmm…..