Out of Many Figures, One Result

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerby Jude Feld (reprinted with permission of our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

This week, it seemed like every top handicapper I know was lauding the speed figures they use. These people are not just casual fans, but folks who make a living with Thoroughbred racing – turf writers, handicappers, owners, trainers and breeding farm executives.

Beyer aficionados, Brisnet followers, Equibase devotees and Ragozin sheets users – they all cited their favored speed figures as a reason they liked a particular horse or credited them for their success at the windows on Saturday at Keeneland [Lexington Stakes day, April 21, 2012].

All this discussion caused me to reflect on a couple of issues that often come up in handicapping discussions during forums at every level and on every medium. It also helped confirm to me that my assertions about those issues are correct.

Many people say handicapping at Keeneland is “impossible.”

Evidently this idea is nothing but a bunch of crap perpetuated by people who don’t know a good horse when it stares them in the face.

Two of the handicappers I know cashed winning late pick four tickets to the tune of $32,294.25 for 50-cents.

Another had the $3,715.30 late pick three for a buck.

Others managed to hit exactas and trifectas whose payoffs were excellent bankroll boosters.

The bottom line is these players did not consult tea leaves or flip playing cards to find the winning combinations, they used traditional handicapping methods and although the payoffs were not totally life-changing for any of them, they were considerably more than what was risked and will certainly allow them a nice Caribbean vacation should they opt to take one.

Keeneland’s Polytrack can be beaten by conventional handicapping – including speed figures. I have been doing it and saying it since 2006.

There is a speed figure pecking order – Some speed figures are better than others.

In his classic book Picking Winners, Andrew Beyer put the spotlight on speed figures. Handicappers were fascinated and some become as obsessed as he with the numbers. Ragozin and Thoro-Graph become hugely successful in the final 10 years of the last century and their refined numbers command a legion of followers. Brisnet and Equibase have both spent tons of money and countless hours developing their speed figures and also have their own devotees.

It is easier to convert a Muslim to a Jew or a Baptist to a Catholic than it is to get a “Rags” player to use an Equibase speed figure or a Brisnet purchaser to buy a Daily Racing Form to get the Beyer figures. It would be close to miraculous.

People will argue ferociously that the brand the use is, “the way, the truth and the light,” to cashing more pari-mutuel tickets and anyone who uses another type is doomed to eternal losing.

How can it be that they all show up at the same cashier’s line when their numbers are not aligned? How can Beyer, Brisnet, Equibase and sheets people all cash in on the same race?

It is because there is more to handicapping than that tiny bold-face number in the past performances. That is what makes handicapping so much fun – there are many ways to reach the same conclusion.
Trainer angles, horses for courses, pedigrees, distance switches, jockey changes, pace scenarios, trouble lines and weight shifts are just a few of the subtleties.

Speed figures have their place in that litany too.

No matter what the brand, they are an excellent way to compare entrants and narrow down the competition.

Nobody wants to bet on a horse that is too slow to win the race, but it is important to remember figures are just a guide. Some creativity of thought in regard to improvement or regression will pay dividends to the player. “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.”

And now there is Trakus – A figure for the rest of us.

Rebel Without a Clue

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerby Jude Feld (reprinted with permission our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days at Oaklawn Park and broadcast the Rebel Stakes (G2). It is a beautiful little track, dotted with Bradford pear trees and redbuds and blessed with some of the nicest customer service people on the planet.

The Arkansas fans are loyal to Oaklawn and loyal to their hometown trainers and jockeys. They really enjoy the game and will talk your ear off about it if given the chance. Many of them know one another personally, as almost everyone has, “been comin’ to Oaklawn for years.”

Despite all this charm, I have never bet Oaklawn on a regular basis. My last trip there was in 1983, when I went to saddle Pewter Grey for the Razorback Stakes. Most of my life I have lived on the West Coast and the rest in the Eastern time zone. Central time zone tracks never seem to fit into my busy schedule.

I’m always careful when I go to a track I don’t follow. I love handicapping and I love horseplaying, but it is best when you are at a strange track to temper your enthusiasm for wagering, or at least your wagers, until you get a feel for the place.

Take less money. Remember, you are out of your element. If you were at your home track, you wouldn’t plunk down lots of cash on a first-time starter from an obscure barn, being ridden by a jock you’ve never heard of. If you don’t regularly play the track you are visiting, every bet is just like that. If you bet $200 a day at home, take $100 and be most careful on the first day of your trip.

Watch a few races. My Uncle Earl was not the racing aficionado that my father was, but he would often accompany my dad to the track. An engineer for IBM and very analytical by nature, he never made a bet until at least the fourth race. He liked to see how the track was playing, how the jocks were riding and just get an overall view of what was going on before he ventured to the windows. This is good advice on a racing vacation.

If you must bet, keep the wagers small and analyze the results of your handicapping. Most importantly, check for a track bias. The three days I was at Oaklawn proved to me that closers are at a distinct disadvantage and horses that make the lead into the stretch get home on top most of the time, especially in races using the first finish line.

Read the “Standings” page in your program. The leading trainers at the meeting have barns of quality and their horses have obviously been running well. The leading jocks have the best agents who have their pick of mounts. Let them guide you a bit. It doesn’t mean you have to turn things into a chalk fest, but be aware of the top players. During my recent Oaklawn visit, the leading trainer, Allen Milligan, popped with a first-time starter at a $132.80 mutuel!

Gravitate to the best races. Any horseplayer worth their salt knows that a Grade 2 stakes is much more predictable than a conditioned Arkansas-bred $7,500 claiming race. It is good to adopt an elitist attitude as far as handicapping on a racing vacation. The best races at almost every track, every day, are late in the card. Go easy on the early races and save your prime bets for the allowance and stakes races later on.

See the sights. Use every race that you pass as an opportunity to check out the facilities and talk to the fans. Go to the gift shop and get a t-shirt to remember your trip. Visit with the locals and get some insight. Take a trip to the paddock. Watch a race from the rail. Eat the track’s signature dish. (At Oaklawn it is the corned beef sandwiches.) Drink it all in.

Hay, I am all in favor of making a major wager when the opportunity presents itself, so if you fancy an overlayed steed at a track you don’t usually follow, “be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” The rest of the time, keep these concepts in mind. It is o.k. to lose your luggage, but don’t lose your bankroll.

Weighing In

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

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerI was standing near the customer service booth adjacent to the paddock at Gulfstream Thursday afternoon when a large man with a big personality approached. Although I was attired more like a beach bum than a Gulfstream employee, I think the fellow was under the impression that I manned the booth.

“Can I ask you a question?” he said.

“Sure,” I replied. “Fire away.”

“Why don’t the jockeys weigh out in front of the public here? I’m from New York and I can watch the jockeys weigh out right in front of me. Here, I don’t know if the jockey that I bet on carried more weight than it says in the program.”

“I think the main reason is that not too many people care about weight anymore,” I said. “It has really become an afterthought to the bulk of handicappers in the United States. It is a handicapping factor that American players don’t consider much.”

“Well I consider it”, he said. “And I would like to see them weigh out. I’m not a schmuck. I wanna know the game is on the level.”

“I’m sure the game is on the level,” I replied, knowing that I was now representing Gulfstream Park, albeit unofficially. “They weigh out in the jock’s room here and the Clerk of Scales is very astute. I’m sure he has the public’s interest at heart. “

The guy seemed somewhat satisfied, thanked me and headed off to the hot dog cart.

Sunday, I was the guest of Gulfstream Park’s house handicapper, Ron Nicoletti, on his paddock handicapping show, so I had spent considerable time Saturday night and Sunday morning reading the Form.

My marathon ratings had come up with two horses with a big figure advantage over the Mac Diarmida (G3) field, Musketier and Simmard. Both were trained by Roger Attfield and although it was obvious looking at their charts that he tried to keep them apart, the few occasions they competed against one another, Musketier had proved the better of the two every time.

Now 10-years-old, Musketier had narrowly defeated Simmard, now seven, in their last start, the William L. McKnight Handicap (G2) at Calder Race Course, on November 26, 2011. Musketier had shouldered 121 pounds that day, with Simmard in at 116.

Musketier was asked to shoulder 123 pounds in the Mac Diarmida (G3) while Simmard would carry 117, a mere one pound shift in the latter’s favor.

I called attention to this weight shift during the paddock show and made Simmard my selection. Ronnie looked at me a little strangely, as I am sure most of his guests refer to Rag numbers and Beyer speed figures, not weight shifts. They went out with the ark.

As it always happens in handicapping articles, Simmard won the race. Did the one pound make the difference? Who really knows?

Simmard had youth, a lighter impost and slightly better odds on his side, so that is the way I bet.

“The whole game is based on weight,” Bobby Frankel said to me one afternoon at Del Mar.

I have never forgotten that.

This Bud’s for You

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerby Jude Feld (reprinted with permission from our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

Bud Strelitz was one of the best handicappers I have ever known. His sons, Roger and Lenny, were classmates of mine at Temple City High School. Bud was a daily visitor to Santa Anita, often found reading the Form, under a shade tree, in the paddock garden near the walking ring.

Since he spent so much time at the track, Bud saw a lot of races. He had a keen eye for trips, and was a great source of information in the days when replays were not nearly as readily available as they are today.

Because the paddock was his main hang out, he also had an eye for horseflesh, although he often downplayed those skills to me, saying, “You would know better than I.”

We often compared notes on the races and although we were not always on the same horse, we had mutual respect for one another’s skills. Bud cashed on more longshots and had more big exactas than anybody I have ever known. His secret?

“I never bet a horse dropping in class.”

We were standing on the mezzanine level near the escalator at the Great Race Place when Bud said those words to me. I remember it like it was yesterday. He had just cashed an exacta for $976.

I had thought the odds-on favorite, a W.R. Johnson-owned gelding, trained by Joe Arena, who was dropping in for $10,000 off a victory for $12,500, looked too tough to bet against and I passed the race.

“Any horse can get beat,” Bud said, “Especially at this level. Nobody gives money away. I like to bet horses that are improving. If the trainer thinks they can win a bigger purse, who am I to argue?”

This was an important moment in my development as a horseplayer.

The public gravitates to class droppers and sometimes they win, but the prices are so short that they are a bad long term investment. Any time your handicapping turns you into Captain Obvious, it is probably best to keep your money in your pocket.

Always be on the lookout for the improving horse – one with speed figures on the rise or one showing better early speed or one moving up off a solid maiden victory. Jump on the bandwagon before the public catches on to them.

Whenever I am handicapping my final contenders, I always hear Bud’s soft-spoken words in my head and it helps me to focus on the best bet among them. It was just a 30-second conversation as we passed each other in the grandstand, but it turned into a lifetime of better-priced winners for me.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

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

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerEvery day, Equibase, the official source for Thoroughbred racing information, publishes a “Top Carryovers” section on the home page of their website. Obviously countless horseplayers are interested in these “bonus” payoffs and the prospects of playing for what amounts to free money, lost on previous days’ races.

Gulfstream Park offers the “Rainbow Six.” Unlike the name suggests, this is not a wager exclusively for gay people and Hawaiians. It is open to everyone and only requires the player to pick six consecutive winners. There is a twist however. You get the whole pool if you possess the ONLY ticket on the winning Rainbow Six combination.

Fair Grounds has the “Black Gold 5.” Not a bet just for Steelers fans or Jed Clampett, it is a five straight winner concoction with same singular ticket payoff rule.

These bets often offer life changing pools and they are certainly preferred to playing the lottery, but to say they are tricky would be the understatement of all time.

Just think about how many times you have hit the Pick Six.

Then think of how many times you had the only ticket.

Do these wagers still interest you?

I have been a serious player since 1978. At one time, I was part of a small Pick Six syndicate that won the bet seven days in-a-row. Only once in that stretch did we have the only ticket – a $75,000 score at Los Alamitos.

Twice in my life I have had a chance at a “whole pool” life changing score in the Pick Six. Once, at Del Mar, when I was singled to a horse I was training, who was running in the last race of the day, for a $200,000 payoff – he finished third. The most painful was a $640,000 chance, when my single in the feature was scratched, and by rule, I got the post time favorite, who also finished third.

In over 30 years, my handicapping and racing luck was that good twice…and I still got beat.

I am certainly no Hindu holy man. The siren call of winning enough money to retire to a beach house in Barbados resonates in my soul almost every time I see huge carryovers. But you’ve gotta pick your spots.

Last year, at Gulfstream, I really liked three longshots in the Rainbow Six sequence. Singling those three, I used four in two races and two in the other race, purposely leaving every morning line favorite off the $32 ticket.

I had four winners and two seconds, making my ticket excellent scratch paper.

That was the only time I played the Rainbow Six in over a dozen days at Gulfstream. The other times, the pool was small or I liked too many chalky types.

Thankfully, I backed my longshots by themselves, so although my day wasn’t life changing, it was extremely lucrative. It is always nice to win when you lose.

Winning When You Lose

by Jude “Pontiff of the Pick Four” Feld

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

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerWagering on Thoroughbred racing is a game of probabilities, not certainties. Anyone who tells you, “This horse can’t lose,” is full of crap. Even Zenyatta got beat.

As horseplayers, it is our job to study the race before us, determine the top contenders and then decide at what price we will bet them.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we won money, even if our selection got beat?

In his popular book, Thoroughbred Horse Racing – Playing for Profit, the late, great handicapper Ray Taulbot discusses a betting plan invented in 1912 by Robert M. Carlton. Dubbed the Carlton Sureway Method by its author, it is a century old this year and just as effective now, as it was back in the day.

The method is a simple “across-the-board” play – $2 to win, $4 to place and $12 to show. The beauty of this wagering plan is that a show price of only $3.00 will break the player even and anything over that will produce a profit on the race.

Even a chalk player can benefit from wagering this way. A winner that pays $5.00 – $3.60 – $3.00 results in $31.00 in payoffs for the $18.00 wagered – a profit of $13.00 on the race. But the beauty of this plan is that if the horse had finished second, the player would still show a profit of $7.20!

I love it when you win even when you lose.

Even if the above mentioned horse finished third, the player would have broken even on the race, preserving capital and maintaining equilibrium despite being wrong about the result.

In my own play, I rarely make straight wagers on horses less than 4-1 on the board. Those horses finish first or second between 40% to 50% of the time, year in and year out. I prefer to bet more to win and place on my selections and eliminate the show feature of the Carlton Sureway Method, although a few times a year I’ll have a horse finish third, paying big double digits, and I wish otherwise.

With a winner who pays $17.80 and $8.60 you get back $35.00 for your $6.00 investment – a profit of $29.00. Should the horse get nosed out at the wire you still make a profit of $11.20. That’s 44% interest on your wagering dollar!

I love it when you win even when you lose.

In today’s society, instant gratification is the rage. Huge carryovers on exotic bets offer payoffs that could be life changers, but remember the story of the tortoise and the hare…slow and steady wins the race. Everybody likes to shoot for the moon once in a while, but building a bankroll through steady profits is the really the way to play successfully…not the only way, but the Sureway.

— Jude Feld