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At Long Last…. The Holy Grail Of Horse Betting Has Been Attained! November 5, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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I don’t bet horse races as often as I used to. I’ve been a good boy and have spent more time trying to write & actually be productive in my off hours and especially over the summer.

It’d been a long while since I’d handicapped a race card and spent an afternoon watching Santa Anita. But the closing day of the fall meet came along Sunday, along with a mandatory pay-out of a rather large Rainbow Pick 6 jackpot.

I’ve come close to winning a Pick 6 jackpot a few times… got 5 out of 6 for the consolation pool three different times. One time I’d nailed the Pick 6 on paper in my handicapping but hadn’t bet it.

I’ve gotten trifectas, superfectas, pick 3s, pick 4s, and a couple of pick 5s…. but never a pick 6…

UNTIL SUNDAY!!!!

I got the Pick 6, which due to a large number of favorites and a twenty cent betting amount instead of the usual $2 paid less than most jackpots…

BUT I STILL GOT IT!

Felt great watching every race in the sequence, too… watching my picks either leading or coming from behind, even to beat other selections of mine. I tripled the opener since it had a lot of new runners, and doubled all the rest for a bet of $19.20. I threw in a matching pick 4 for $8.

So for $27.20, I won about $750!

HELL YEAH!

I’ll leave it in the account and use it to bet races for the next several years. There’s absolutely no reason to stop being cheap.

But picking 6 races in a row for essentially a 35-1 bet makes me feel like a genius. I’ll just kick back and savor that.

 

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Belmont Stakes Predictions 2018 June 6, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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The last moments of this year’s Preakness made me think that Justified would not win the Belmont and Triple Crown this year. He ran beautifully for the first mile and into the stretch, but a couple of closers gained on him steadily in the last moments, and had that race been another quarter mile, would have passed him easily.

So when I combine that performance, plus the amount of work for any horse to run in both of the first two legs of the Triple Crown, AND add the lousy draw Justify got for the Belmont at the rail position of 1, I gotta think he’s totally beatable.

I could see him getting off to a good start and keeping pace, but how easily will be get boxed in at the rail? And how could he spend the energy to get out and still have the stamina for that killer mile and a half length when there are fresher horses in this race, many of ’em great closers?

So while Justify is currently a big 4-5 favorite, and while I might include him in trifectas and supers at the 3-4 position, I don’t think I’ll be betting him to win.

Hey, it’d be cool if he did – Triple Crowns being as rare as they are –  but they’re rare for a reason.

So who do I think has what it takes to knock this one out?

Well, putting aside my bias as a Pats fan, I gotta like #6 Gronkowski (12-1) as a possibility, winner of some mile races overseas against admittedly weaker fields, but the overall time and class ratings on this one, plus some nice works on the Belmont track recently make him a very nice play at those high odds.

My other best bet would be the #10 Blended Citizen (15-1). I always like horses that skip both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness who drop into the Belmont fresh, and this one is that but not TOO fresh, winning the Peter Pan back on May 12. While he runs WAY better on artificial than on dirt, his ability to grind out the distance might be key here, and I think he’ll be in the money at the end, somewhere.

Both #7 Tenfold and #3 Bravazo chased Justify down at the end of the Preakness, and as I said before, in a longer race, Bravazo would have passed him – but if they’re chasing Justify down at 3rd or 4th position, I don’t see it as intense, and yet ANOTHER late closing horse who has the added rest of skipping the Preakness, #4 Hofburg (9-2) would be my pick for passing them.

So what might those exotics look like? Well, I’d have the 4-6-10 for getting in the money, with maybe adding the 1, 3 and 7 into third/fourth in a super. Dunno yet, I’ll sleep on it a couple of nights and see. But if I’m right about the 4-6-10 up front, the exotics should pay nicely, as they often do in this, my favorite of the Triple Crowns to bet.

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…..

Horseplayer Academy September 1, 2008

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

Whew!

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.

[Shudder….]

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…..