All Things Being Equal

by Jude Feld (reprinted with permission of our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerThe horseplayer’s main job is to look for mistakes and exploit them. Most often this involves public perception of a horse and the wagering on it. Multiple wins, high speed figures and a solid performance in a troubled trip are just a few of the things that people latch on to when handicapping and the prices on those horses becomes deflated.

In the 2012 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) run at Churchill Downs, Wise Dan embodied two of those harbingers of favoritism – three wins in-a-row and a massive 117 Beyer speed figure earned in his last race – a 10-length score in the Ben Ali (G3) at Keeneland.

All things being equal, it seemed like his race to lose.

Alternation had won four straight races coming into the Foster, including a game performance in the prestigious Pimlico Special (G3) in his last start. He has a legion of fans and was certain to take some betting action.

Churchill Downs’ racing secretary and handicapper, Ben Huffman, assigned Wise Dan 123 pounds and made Alternation one pound less at 122. It is clear that he, like most of the fans, found the two pretty close in form and ability.

People who listen to the Horse Racing Radio Network broadcasts often hear me say, “Grade 1 horses win Grade 1 races.” This is a good rule to follow, especially in handicap races, where the horses are experienced and have proven form.

There were only two Foster entrants who had won a Grade 1 – Wise Dan captured the Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs and the Ron the Greek won the Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

Ron the Greek hadn’t run a bad race in over a year. He had a troubled trip in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) in his most recent start, but still managed a second-place finish. His speed figures weren’t as gaudy as Wise Dan’s, but they were, for the most part, better than Alternation’s.

He was assigned 119 pounds for the Foster, four pounds less than Wise Dan and three pounds fewer than Alternation. Here was an inconsistency to exploit.

If Ron the Greek was indeed faster than Alternation and carrying less weight, he should beat him like a drum. So his real competition was Wise Dan, who was giving him four pounds. At a price 10 times better than his only true rival, it was probably a good idea to back Ron the Greek.

The actual result was a lot closer than you might think.

According to Trakus Racing, Wise Dan traveled 42 feet more in the race than Ron the Greek, who had a ground saving trip. This translates into a nearly five-length difference at the wire, so all things being equal, Wise Dan, beaten a short head, should have won.

It was Ron the Greek who got the trophy and the bulk of the $400,000 purse, while rewarding his backers with $20.80 for every $2.00 wagered. That left everyone who singled Wise Dan in their all-stakes pick fours heading home to make pari-mutuel ticket soup.

They don’t run them on paper.