Handicapping Tip of the Day #58 – The Fewer This The Better

Fewer Negatives the Better

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

By ART PARKER

 

About forty years ago on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I sat in the old grandstand building at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. I was in the area where you had a seat without a table among many other patrons. It was shortly after noon and an older man sat down in the row in front of me and opened his Daily Racing Form to examine the races.

I couldn’t help but notice all of the markings on his Form. What I saw was quite an abundance of checkmarks in red ink. I wasn’t surprised to see notations since I, too, make notes all over my racing material. However, I was amazed at the number of markings this man made.

I couldn’t resist, A few minutes later I excused myself and asked, “Did you get the overweights in the first few races?” He responded negatively and smiled. I seized the opportunity and said, “Wow, that’s a lot of checkmarks you got there.” He laughed and said, “I’ve been doing this ever since my dad brought me to the track a long time ago. It was his way of evaluating things.”

Thank goodness I didn’t need to pry further as he simply explained, “I go through the races early in the morning and, I make a checkmark for every negative on each horse. If a horse has a lot more negatives than his competition then it helps in deciding to throw him out.”

I was staying in New Orleans that night and was planning another trip to Fair Grounds the next day. Later that night in my hotel room I was thinking about what the man had told me. At first, it didn’t seem so ingenious. However, the more I thought about it the more sensible the idea became.

I could have kicked myself for not purchasing Sunday‘s Form before I left the track that afternoon. I dashed out of the room and ran a couple of blocks to a liquor store in the French Quarter to buy Sunday’s Form. I purchased the last one sitting on the counter. Back in my hotel room I stayed up late studying the races and making checkmarks by each horse.

I had a good day the next day at Fair Grounds, and I left New Orleans thinking I made a great discovery. In reality, I just stumbled into a new way to improve my selection process.

Over the next couple of weeks, I thought about the negative notations. I realized the first good thing about doing this was that you had to be prepared before you go to the track. Playing the horses well is hard to do. It is very, very difficult. Could you imagine General George Patton leading his army without a plan and without utilizing as much information as possible? Finding the negatives of every horse requires advance study, and you can’t just show up at the track and expect to do all of that between races.

This practice also helped me understand that the best handicapping process must first separate pretenders from contenders. The best way to zero in on a winner is to dismiss those that simply have very little, or no chance to win, and, therefore, picking winners is as much the art of elimination as it is selection.

Arrogate’s Life Unjustly Confiscated

By ART PARKER

Every morning my first action is to make a cup of coffee and go to my office in my home. I turn on the idiot box (computer) to check out the most important news of the day – thoroughbred racing news.

That’s when I saw it.

Champion Arrogate was dead at age seven.

I was stunned.

How much worse can this year get? Track closings, Triple Crown schedule all fouled up, and the deaths of A.P. Indy and Forty Niner, two of our best runners and stallions over the last 35 five years. A.P. Indy and Forty Niner lived long, full lives. Arrogate was not so lucky.

Our sport is no different than other sports or other things close to our hearts. When something unwelcomed happens, it hurts. Sounds silly, right? When Mickey Mantle died, it left an empty feeling for older guys like me that grew up loving baseball. If you have been playing the horses long enough you had that emptiness in September 1989 when Secretariat died. Basketball lovers felt the same way when Kobe Bryant died earlier this year.

Our sport is filled with as much emotion as any other and that is why it is painful to lose a hero, especially if one is gone long before his time. Arrogate was one of those. The term arrogate means to claim or confiscate unjustly. That’s what happened to the horse that bore the name Arrogate. When the news broke yesterday, the vets still did not know what claimed his life. The press report I read simply said, “It is still unclear what the illness was, and a post-mortem is currently being carried out.”

I have talked to many racing fans that say Arrogate was the best they have ever seen – when he was at his best. I believe he was the best since Secretariat. His 2016 Travers win was so impressive I grabbed my wife and made her watch the replay. I told her this guy was something special. His last win came in Dubai and the way he won that race took my breath away. Gate traffic left him way behind at the start and I thought there was no way he could ever win. What I saw next was the most spectacular race I have ever seen other than Secretariat’s Belmont. He went in between and around horses and, in almost of a blink of an eye, went from almost the rear of the field to the lead. He defeated a great horse named Gun Runner by several lengths and Mike Smith was gearing him down before the wire. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I don’t know or can explain why his last three races at Del Mar were bad. Could have been the surface. It could have been that the trip to Dubai took something out of him like the trip did to Cigar in 1996. He just wasn’t the same horse he was before winning the World Cup.

The son of Unbridled’s Song leaves us with only two seasons at stud. That is a real shame and a major loss for both racing and the breed.

We all know that the great ones occasionally get beat and they all die. Sometimes the defeats and deaths just hurt a little more.

This is one of those times.

Did you read?

Handicapping Tip of the Day #40 – Thoroughbred Race Horses are Not Machines

Handicapping Tip of the Day #55 – The Only Race

Handicapping Tip of the Day #56 – Assessing Second Timers with Changes and Trainers

Handicapper Art ParkerBy ART PARKER

If horseplayers wager on maiden races often they are faced with a tough assessment. A second-time starter that failed to graduate in ts debut offers a unique challenge to the horseplayer. There are many reasons why this situation is a challenge. Therefore, it makes sense to first find and assess any changes made for the runner’s second outing.

Even good trainers search for the right mix for a horse. What is the best distance, best equipment, best rider, best surface, etc.? This is one reason so many trainers rarely win a debut race – they are searching for answers. This is one reason I generally do not play maiden races. I really need to spot changes and answer the question of “What’s going on here?”

The 2020 Belmont Stakes will be run in June.

If I analyze a maiden race and see a field full of horses that have run five, six times or more I usually cease and move on. I look at those races like I do the horrible non-winners of two lifetime with a field of horses that can’t get to the next level and have the record to prove it. Playing the races is tough enough without having to find the best of a bad bunch. On the other hand, I generally avoid a race with debut runners simply because too many questions cannot be answered.

Changes and Trainers

So what is attention-getting in a maiden second timer?

I look for a troubled first journey, on paper, and then pull up the replay to see for myself. Watching a trip, especially on rookie runner, can tell one quite a bit.

horse racing blinkersI look for a change of equipment, especially blinkers going on. If a trainer adds blinkers to a horse it is because the horse didn’t pay attention, didn’t get into the race early enough, didn’t run straight or other reasons. When I see a blinker change on a second-timer it tells me that the connections are paying close attention to their horse. My interest elevates when I see a sizzling workout after the debut race with a blinker change.

Was the horse heavily bet in the debut? If so, then that tells me something didn’t go as planned or he was just beaten by a better horse(s). If not bet heavily it suggests that the connections may not have been expecting too much.

Of course one looks at a jockey change. If the trainer goes from an occasional rider to the stable’s money man, then that is viewed as a major plus.

Distance changes, surface changes, and medication changes tell a huge story especially if the breeding suggests it to be a smart move.

Last but not least, and probably most important, is trainer habit and history. What the trainer does well is critical. When I find a change in a second timer, I try to discover if it is a proven, successful move for this conditioner.

When examining a second-time starter first look for a change. Remember having knowledge of a trainer helps to answer any questions regarding changes.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #55 – The Only Race

A sharp trainer uses the condition book to plan the future of a horse especially when it comes to conditioning and training. However, things don’t always work out.

by Art Parker for AGameofSkill.com

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

I became friends with a trainer during my first year of playing the horses – the days when I was learning something new every day. One day I noticed he entered a horse above his usual class. After thinking he couldn’t possibly win, I decided to ask him why. I caught up with the trainer late in the day and asked him that very question after his horse finished seventh in a field of nine.

“It’s the only race I could find for him. He is fit and ready to run. That was the only thing close to where he belongs, so I entered. It looked like it would be another week or so before another race would be available, and I would rather run him and keep him in shape,” the trainer explained.

Understanding the Condition Book

That was before I learned all about a condition book. Once I got my hands on a book, I began to understand. We know that racing secretaries must write races that have a higher probability to fill and to make the races as competitive as possible. What is not possible is to have a ready-made class system that is fair to all and will provide an abundance of opportunities to all horses. Nor is it possible to have enough horses to fill all races and all races be competitive.

Understanding the Condition Book

I borrowed the words from a West Point Thoroughbreds website that best describes a condition book. “A condition book is the schedule of races for a given track during a certain period of time, usually a few weeks or a month. It is this schedule that provides a framework for trainers to develop the training regimens for their horses for this time period. While this seems straightforward, there are a number of factors that can change the timing of races. You see, just because a race is in the condition book doesn’t mean that enough horses will enter the race to warrant it being used. That is why you’ll see substitute races in the book as well. These are races that also get entries and can be used in place of another race on the card.”

A sharp trainer uses the condition book to plan the future of a horse especially when it comes to conditioning and training. However, things don’t always work out. A race perfect for one horse may not fill and a substitute race is used. When that happens a trainer that has a horse ready must find another race that fits his charge, but that is not always possible; hence, the horse may be placed in less than an ideal event.

When you examine past performances and you see an awful race last time out, don’t quickly conclude that the horse isn’t what he used to be. That last race may have been the only option for the trainer.

Great horse racing videos – the late, great Forty Niner versus two of his top rivals

Handicapping Tip of the Day #54 – Risk Evaluation in Horse Racing

By Art Parker for agameofskill.com

In the financial world the “risk-return tradeoff” states that the potential return rises with an increase in risk. Individuals associate low levels of uncertainty with low potential returns, and high levels of uncertainty or risk with high potential returns. According to the risk-return tradeoff, invested money can render higher profits only if the investor will accept a higher possibility of losses.

What exactly is risk? Risk is the likelihood of an adverse event occurring within an identifiable sector, such as the private sector or government sector. Those who are risk analysts often work with forecasting professionals to minimize future negative unforeseen effects.

Profit Risk Evaluation in Horse RacingLet’s look at what happens when you go to the bank for a loan. The bank asks you to complete the application first. Why? This is the primary method by which the bank can analyze you as a risk. If the application looks good the bank orders a credit report, which is a critical way to evaluate you as a risk. If the bank then lends you the money it will tell you the terms, which is primarily the interest rate and other things. If your interest rate is lower than most, it is because you are a good risk.  If it is higher, then you are riskier to do business with. All of this is done so that the lender can expect a certain return with all risks balanced.

As far as horse racing goes, it would be unwise to select a horse in an upcoming race, regardless of the odds, without considering the risks, or what could happen to prevent the horse from entering the “Winner’s Circle.” Once the risks are analyzed it should be easier to grasp what the return should be.

How many times have we seen the lone speed horse miss the start, get squeezed or have early traffic trouble? If that lone speed horse can’t get the lead and no matter what the odds, all is lost. How many times have we seen the closer from hell become a victim of a slow pace or have traffic trouble and just can’t catch the speed?

It reminds me of a friend of mine, a very good player who loved to analyze pace. If he determined a horse was the lone speed in the race he would then look at those in the adjacent post positions. If those runners next to the lone speed have gate problems then the probability of the lone speed could be compromised. That’s very good risk analysis in our game.

In a recent piece I talked about finding the bargain horse, an effort that requires risk analysis in the overall race evaluation. A horse may be a bargain at 7-1, but if the amount of risk is excessive then 7-1 may not be enough.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #52 – Prepare for the young ‘uns

It is clear to me that more attention should be paid to Biamonte’s two year old debut runners than other first timers.

by Art Parker

Almost all tracks are down. Racing is nearly at a standstill. By this time of year most horseplayers would be researching everything they could find about the Kentucky Derby.

For us that love horse racing the best part of life is the anticipation of normal days ahead, whenever they come. But what do we do until those days arrive? The answer: Prepare for the future, collect and analyze information.

The best horseplayers I have known do not show up at the track, buy past performances and go wager. The best ones spend a great deal of time preparing, and researching, away from the track. There is never enough information for the good horseplayer.

Delaware Park walking ring, horses. June 2013. Photo by Art Parker for AGameofskill.com

copyright Art Parker & AllStarPress.com

Let’s assume that we get back to normal sometime early or mid-summer. That just happens to be the time we start to see an increase in two year old races. In my opinion races for the freshman class is another world entirely. I’ve never played many two year old races and usually avoid them – unless I see something that gives me a clear advantage.

Those that possess credible information on breeding have something of an advantage when playing two year olds. Sires that produce young speed demons are far more likely to win freshman races than those produced by sires known for late maturity and plodders.

In my opinion the most important advantage in handicapping two year olds is knowledge of trainers. Let’s face it. Different trainers excel at different things. Some are masters at a first time layoff. Others are absolute killers when it comes to a first time claim. The same holds true when it comes to winning with two year olds.

What’s important is not the winning percentage of a certain trainer move, solely. What’s also important is how well that trainer succeeds when compared to other moves and how or what does he/she actually do when winning with a move.

A good case in point about two year trainers can be found at Woodbine. Over the last ten years or so Ralph Biamonte, always one of the more successful conditioners in Toronto, has some unique history with his freshmen debut runners. Overall, Biamonte’s debut winner’s account for about 10% of his total wins. The critical piece of information is that Biamonte’s two year debut winners outnumber all other debut winners about 4-1. It is clear to me that more attention should be paid to Biamonte’s two year old debut runners than other first timers.

So what is the tip off? What is the key to these specific runners winning?

Biamonte’s two year old debut winners have their last work from the gate 80% of the time and it is usually a “hot” work. The other noticeable trainer habit is that that last work comes almost always 6-7 days prior to race day.

Naturally there are other things to consider such as the rider. Eurico Da Silva has ridden about one-half of Biamonte’s winners with a long list of riders making up the other 50%. So if DaSilva is on board a two year old debut runner meeting this description my interest escalates.

It is not always possible to do all of the research you wish to, but it is important to do what you can. One little tidbit may reveal a huge probability of success that can bring you a much larger ROI and, if so, it is worth it.

What to do now? Research the past to unlock the future. By the time we are back to normal the babies will be running. If you are going to play them be prepared by researching thoroughly.

More Handicapping Tips from agameofskill.com

Horse Racing Opinion Piece: Essential Business

by Art Parker

What is essential? People or a business?

Even though I now play online almost exclusively, I’ve been going to race tracks for decades. Last time I went to a track was last August when I visited my daughter in the Washington D.C. area. We slipped over to Laurel for the Friday afternoon card.

At Laurel that day, I observed the same things I’ve seen for years and years. Track employees and vendors. The people selling beer and hot dogs. People selling programs and Racing Forms. They didn’t charge for general parking but there was still a man at the gate watching cars go by. There were a couple of fellows handling valet parking. Naturally there was security and police as expected.

Empty row of seats at racetrackWe didn’t go where any real meals are served, but I imagine there was plenty of employees taking care of the many chores related to cooking and serving. And of course there were plenty of people constantly cleaning – I guess us horseplayers are just messy folks.

Of course there were pari-mutuel tellers taking bets. The list of people making things happen goes on and on. These people were there because patrons were there. You take away the patrons and all of a sudden a track is a ghost town.

The employees I didn’t mention are there to work – patrons or no patrons.

Here is my beef with the decision to close tracks because of the corona virus. If we race without patrons very little will be different than the days when there is no racing at all. Open the doors, be diligent with all precautions regarding the corona virus, let the patrons play online and let’s run.

Horse racing was slow to embrace television and that probably cost us a generation of potential players. When we caught up with the times and used technology, we held a possible edge – simulcasting and online wagering. In this day and time an enormous percentage of our handle comes from online wagering. I have been told by several that online wagering is now 85%-90% of horse racing’s handle. The sport is staying alive without patrons on site. Why shut it down? The risk for the few people is minimal. I read in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune where top trainer Bob Baffert said, “It’s safer out there (track) than going to a grocery store. Those are packed.”

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I think Baffert is right. In fact, I went to the grocery store yesterday and saw more people in close proximity than one would find in three gate crews.

The most interesting statement I have seen came from Southern California trainer John Sadler, who was quoted in the Press-Telegram as saying, “I don’t see how not racing the horses makes us any safer. This isn’t a factory where you can shut the doors and turn out the lights. People are still going to have to be there to look after these equine athletes.”

I’m sure the real problem with closing race tracks comes from the words “non-essential business” and “essential business.” What is not understood by decision makers is that while a race track may truly not be essential (like a grocery store), it can be closed but still open for business. Why? The non-essential people will not be there if the track is closed to patrons, but the essential people must be there regardless. I don’t know any thoroughbred that can take care of itself. They need to be bathed, groomed, exercised and fed. They can’t pick up the cell and call Pizza Hut to get a pizza delivered to the barn.

Comparatively speaking very few hands are needed if a track is running but closed to patrons. Have you ever been to morning workouts? If so, how many actual track employees were around?

With no patrons in attendance the handle will diminish some – no doubt about it. But purses can be adjusted for that and I promise the horseman would rather run for a little less than not run at all. Don’t forget that 100% of nothing is nothing.

Many horsemen are going to be in dire financial need if they can’t run. Many will go out of business and/or they will need to jettison some stock. Other trainers will not be willing to take stock off their hands because it will only deepen their financial burdens.

The corona virus is very serious and many precautions must be taken. But when it comes to horse racing I don’t think anyone will convince me the open track without patrons is more dangerous than a grocery store full of them inside an enclosed structure.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #51 – Find One Percent More

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

By ART PARKER

If you play this game long enough and if you love it then you will try to figure things a million different ways attempting win. I’ve been playing the horses virtually my entire adult life. I just got my Medicare card in the mail so that will let you know about how long it has been.

Like many of you I have done one study after another, researched no telling how many angles and I have one of the very finest sets of trainer pattern files you have ever seen. Once a month my wife gives me an authoritative lecture on all the stuff in my office in the house. Of course what she really wants to know is when I will dispose of more of the horse racing stuff. I simply say I can‘t get rid of any more right now. When she asks why, I always responded with, “Because there may be another winner somewhere in that stuff.”

I was like everyone else in my early years in racing in that I thought about how to get rich every time I went to the track. I would see a huge Pick Six payout and think I just had to start playing for all of those big jackpots, and I have hit a few in my time. I’m just scared to tally up the losses incurred trying to hit a boxcar payout.

After many years I finally realized that those who hit the big ones and make money in the long run are few and far between. I realized one is better off taking a profit, ever how small, and then achieving the same result the next day.

The difficulty in the “grind it out” approach is that us humans can‘t equate making a weekly profit at the track to getting a weekly paycheck. When we go to work we don’t expect to get rich on Thursday, but we expect that in one afternoon at the track.

I majored in corporate finance in college. I learned all about stocks, bonds, warrants, options, mutual funds, balance sheets, P&L, and all that boring stuff. In that field there is one thing you never forget – the importance of a percentage point; if I had just one percent more return, if cash flow was just one percent better, etc.

Just recently I conducted another study using a few variables regarding speed and class with results below.

 

Win bets only.

Number of races = 526.

Number of winners with method tested = 176.

Winning rate = 33.46 %

Total payoffs = $ 1,080.5

Average payoff = $ 6.14

Total invested at $2 per win ticket = $1,052

Net profit = $ 28.50

Return on investment (ROI) = 2.71 %

 

Many would look at this and see very little money. Well, if you wagered $20.00 per race then your profit would be $ 285.00. Of course, it would still be the same ROI.

Now if the efficiency with this method were increased by only 1% then another five (5) races would be cashed. That would increase the total winnings by $30.70. Again, not much money. But what about ROI? The winnings increase to $59.20 and the ROI increases to 5.62%.

Just think. If you can increase your winning efficiency by just 1%, you would more than double your return on investment.

Does that sound like a good deal?

I believe it would sound good at any business school.

Did the Tampa Bay Derby make sense?

Handicapper Art ParkerBy ART PARKER

The Tampa Bay Derby was not on my docket of possible races to play so I didn’t examine the race at all the day of the event. I caught the replay that night just trying to keep in touch with the Kentucky Derby trail. Upon watching the replay of the Tampa Bay Derby I was motivated to find out why the public let the winner, King Guillermo, go off at odds of 49-1.

We all know that hindsight is 20/20 but some things must not be overlooked when examining a race, such as the company line of previous races. The 2020 Tampa Bay Derby is a prime example.

First take a look at the clear favorite, Sole Volante, who went off at 3/2 in the 12 horse field. Any horse that goes off at odds that heavy, especially in a full field, must look almost invincible to the bettors. Sole Volante was three of four and his trio of wins came from noticeably off the pace.

There were only two horses in the race not nominated to the Triple Crown, the winner King Guillermo and Texas Swing (almost 20-1), the latter finished third behind Sole Volante. Maybe the two runners not nominated lost some pari-mutuel appeal when the players failed to see the TC nomination next to their name.

It is true that the last two races by King Guillermo were on the turf, including his maiden victory and the Tampa Bay Derby is run on the main dirt track. King Guillermo’s second turf race saw him close up and in possession of the lead from the half mile call until the final furlong. He finished third that day in another big field and was the beaten favorite. In fact he finished third, just 3 ½ lengths behind the winner, Sole Volante, who went off the board at more than 13-1.

How can a horse in his last start be bet so heavily and lose to a 13-1 by just 3 ½ lengths, and now be at 49-1, while the other horse is 3/2?

The public gave a 40% probability of winning the Tampa Bay Derby to Sole Volante. The public gave a meager 2% probability of victory to King Guillermo.

It’s easy to miss longshots, but it is easier to hit just a few more by asking the question, “Does that make sense?”

Monster horse. Monster price.

How I got 31-1 on star Mendelssohn

By Art Parker

As of today there is only one question remaining in my mind.

Before the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Mendelssohn caught my eye. His pedigree is very impressive. Putting the late Scat Daddy with Leslie’s Lady was a very good idea. As a broodmare, Leslie’s Lady has delivered three Grade One winners counting Mendelssohn. Leslie’s Lady gave us the great champion Beholder, which is enough for any broodmare’s resume. Mendelssohn was sold at Keeneland for the monster price of $3 million, the most expensive yearling in North America in 2016. Before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last year I was anxious to see if the colt could live up to his pedigree and auction price. He did. After the race I was convinced that he would improve greatly with experience.

Mendelssohn’s Breeders’ Cup triumph was on the grass but I saw no reason why he could not be effective on the main track. I couldn’t resist the 31-1 offering in the November Kentucky Derby future pool. I told myself that he is surely better than that monster price, even on the dirt. I was happy to take those odds realizing that I could have a losing ticket if he failed to make it to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Mendelsohhn by Gary TasichI was even happier with my Derby longshot when Mendelssohn embarrassed and obliterated the field in the UAE Derby a few weeks ago. The colt (I presume he was named for the famous German composer, Felix Mendelssohn) covered the 1 3/16th mile distance in track record time at Meydan in 1:55.18 and did it with incredible ease. He won the UAE Derby by more than 18 lengths. It was truly a monster effort.

In the big race for older horses a couple of hours later, Thunder Snow won the Dubai World Cup traveling 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.38. When comparing the sophomore Mendelssohn to his elders in the World Cup his time is very impressive, especially since he could have stopped the clock earlier if he pushed the issue.

Mendelssohn has won three straight races on three different continents and all on a different surface. He is conditioned by one of the finest trainers in the world, Aidan O’Brien.

I like Mendelssohn even though the game will get tougher for him in Louisville. He will meet some very good horses, including the probable Derby favorite, Bob Baffert’s Justify, another son of Scat Daddy.

As of today there is only one question remaining in my mind. Will Mendelssohn ship well? I know he has shown that traveling doesn’t affect his performance. But he has logged a lot of miles for a very young horse, and the trip to the states after going to Dubai may be too much. We will not know about the travel until his trip in the Derby is completed.

I think Mendelssohn is the real deal, potentially a monster horse, and I really like my monster price of 31-1.