Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A key, an angle, and a failure. Avoiding the bad beat.

I have never been a pick 4 player. Mostly because I didn't think it was a wise play for my style of betting. But I like to maximize my profit, so I had been looking at it for a while to figure out the best way to go about it. I am not looking for the big score persay, although I wouldn't mind getting some of those as well. I am more looking to get more bang for my buck on my win bets and manage my bankroll better.
I think there is a time and place to take high value win bets and place them within an exotic like the Pick 3 or Pick 4. I would only play the Pick 5 if I had a very likely big longshot that would allow me to play a small upfront bet and almost certainly take down the entire pool with a 20c base bet. Thereby, maximizing my bet by 5 times in addition to the actual odds I get based on a $1 base bet.
But that is the exception. Mostly, I would play mainly Pick 3's, and some Pick 4's. But the circumstances must be right. I have been watching others play it,  and also practice betting them myself. These are my observations, and to some extent, suggestions.  
One of the things that any serious horseplayer aims to avoid is the "bad beat." Basically that means picking the right horse, getting value, but then just barely getting beat, usually by another horse you thought could beat you. You have to make decisions in life and as a horseplayer, and you make your choice. 
But do you really have to make decisions like that?
I don't think you do. I will explore how to maximize your chances of avoiding the experience of the bad beat. I have been able to do that somewhat successfully lately, for the first time in the 30 years I have been playing the horses. 
It was actually always right there in front of me, but I just refused to employ a strategy to take advantage of it.
After doing a year of testing and formulating, more testing and then honing my system, I was very confident that I could take all that I do, which encompasses extreme data and statistical analysis, very intensive replay watching and years of experience as a savvy bettor, all added to hands on experience as a horse trainer and owner. I can find value and know how to get the most out of it. I can find weakness and exploit it. And do.
Or so I thought. But I would still experience the "bad beat" way too often. It bugged me, and I wanted to find a way to mitigate that.

The impetus for this came back in November 8th at Woodbine Harness. I had been watching CURATOR for quite some time. He had been knocking on the door after a long period of bad behavior and form. On this night, I made several bad bets and others that just got beat.  But my data told me that Curator's race was going to bring a longshot in the range of 10-1 or slightly above. Curator fit that range, as did Drain Daddy, who was around the same odds. At post time they were both 10-1, with Drain Daddy remaining there and Curator finishing at 11-1. I had to go with my top pick, Curator, because I liked him at any price on this night. But I was mindful that he was beatable enough. In reality, either would have been fine as a 2 horse key in an exotic, due to the value they provided. That is how I should have played it. 
The rest of the race was littered with spotty, mediocre horses at lower odds who figured on paper to have a shot but all knew how to get beat for various reasons. And the track that night was favoring the front end to a major degree. I had figured Curator to take this night to go to the front and try to bottom out the field, which is exactly what he did. Drain Daddy has always been a horse who liked the front or the pocket, and had the gate speed to get that trip. That is exactly how it played out. Curator was on a mission, and Drain Daddy tracked him. At the top of the stretch, it was clearly those two, with Curator looking like he might hold on. 
But he had gone too fast, and Drain Daddy just nailed him on the wire. My friend Garnet Barnsdale's first post right after the race to me was "bad beat."
And it was. I had a 10-1 shot, and unfortunately, I had two of them and picked the wrong one. So, it wasn't really a bad beat. It was a bad play. A bad bet. A bad strategy. I needed to correct that to turn things around. 
How could I have played it? Well, I view a pick 4 as basically 4 different races where you have multiple ways to create value, and adding them together to make a much bigger return, while allowing for some variance in the outcome.  In other words, I don't need to pick a Curator or Drain Daddy, I pick them both and only have to be right about the race and the possible winners. Picking one winner is mostly a fools game. 
Now, I think playing an exotic like a Pick 4, or Pick 3 in some cases, boils down to 3 things,  with some variance on the possibilities. But you MUST have these variables covered to be successful over time. You need a key, an angle and a failure. All of them. If you consistently can get that, then you will win steady and significant money, and your bankroll will be as safe as if you just churned race after race playing show bets. If you do this right, and play nightly, you should hit 40 to 50 percent of the time, and increase your bankroll in the process.
On this night, my key would have been Curator and Drain Daddy as a 2 horse key in Race 10, which was the 3rd leg of the pick 4. I was very confident in that selection, and I might have graded them in some way, weighting higher to Curator, but certainly only used those two. Race 8, the first leg, I had Nickle Bag rated highly on my data analysis, and he was 18-1, but I thought he was an iffy proposition, as you would expect an 18-1 shot to be in the FFA. It was a 7 horse field and I would have only excluded one outsider longshot, Alexie Matoosie, who finished a well beaten last and was just filler to make the race go. The rest were viable. My angle was that it was wide open and I needed to get that leg over with and might hit the longshot. I would have in fact. Nickle Bag did win at 18-1, after sitting back and out of a speed duel. The ticket would have been made right there. Instead, I played Apprentice Hanover for the win, and he got beat. It didn't feel good, and it shouldn't. Betting poorly and getting beat when you know you shouldn't doesn't feel good. The sting of it should slap you into some sort of action and reality. As it did for me later.

The next leg, leg 2, had 4 logical horses and they were hard to separate. I didn't bet the race, but the angle was simple. A grab bag. No failures, but possible price. The favorite, Windsun Revenge, ended up winning at close to even money. 
Leg 3, was Curator and Drain Daddy, and I mentioned that I would have used them as a 2 horse key. I would have made it to leg 4 with an 18-1 shot, an even money shot, a 10-1 shot and I would be sitting on the last race and able to cover anything I hadn't used earlier because the profit was locked in. In that race, Race 11, it looked wide open and I would have had to take an all, graded heavily to the top 6, and then weakly to the bottom 4, of which if any of them had come in I would have likely taken the whole pool with a 20 cent ticket for about $50,000. As it turned out, my top 4 picks finished top 4, but the favorite won. It still paid $4638 for a dollar base bet. 
I would have had to lay out approximately $250 to get that $1 ticket. And the point of it all, was that I didn't really get the fail I thought I might in the 9th or 11th race, and if I had, I probably would have gotten $10,000 or more. And secondly, although I had the races figured out somewhat accurately,  I didn't pick one outright winner or key him that way. Which is what I tried to by winning betting Curator and Apprentice Hanover, who finished a very close 3rd, another bad beat, while Curator got nosed out and finished 2nd. I had done some great handicapping and went home empty and a big loser on the night. 
One of the things I discovered through my testing is that I could do much better if I always played 3 or 4 horses as opposed to just one. Anybody could probably make that claim. Having 4 choices is a lot better than 1. But of course, if you bet 4 horses, you need to be right a lot more often, and the return on the win bet must average many times higher than most can with just 1 choice. 
How to mitigate that?
Well, my solution was to develop a system to take advantage of the many bits of knowledge I have. Not just the winner of a race, but a race where I can narrow it down to 2 or 3, and add that to some others where I can't pick the winner, but I am fairly accurate at predicting the demise of the favorite, and in some instances the 2nd favorite. In other words, finding the false favorite. But that doesn't give me the winner in that race.
Here is what it does do. It gives me a decent priced winner in one race, and a big winner in another, although I don't know who that is. Separately, they don't add up to value. But put those together, and add a 3rd race where I have a decent angle, but not a cinch prediction, and I have 3 races of a pick 4 right for a very decent return, and then I just have to make sure I get the 4th leg by using as few combinations as possible without being taken out. 
I do that by grading a race like that, so that I basically have them all and can't get beat in that leg. The more I like a horse in that leg, the higher I weight them and vice versa. I wont get beat in that leg.
It all hinges on the other 3 legs. Now, I wont be right every time. Nor do I have to be. As long as I am right a good amount of the time, and I hit one huge pick 4 and several medium to large payoffs the rest of the time, the few times I am wrong will not matter. The overall return will be very high. Why is that?
Well, here is the first rule I go by.
If I am playing the pick 4, I never key a chalk horse. Never. I have done it before, and for the most part, I wont get a high enough return when they come in. So, while I realize I will get beat a few times by not keying a chalk I think might beat me, it makes poor financial sense to do so. I will take the hit when that happens. If I really can't see the chalk going down, I just don't play. If I think they could go down, I will weight that horse low, and play others I think have a legit, yet risky chance of beating them. If I truly believe the horse can't be beat, I avoid the race, and if it falls in my pick 4 sequence, I wont play it. 
My theory is that the money I am using to play the chalk is another horse I could have bet, and while that means I will get beat sometimes doing that, the time when I am right will make up the difference and then some. Why is that?
Because the majority of people who bet pick 4's key a chalk in a race. They find it easy and it allows them to focus on the other legs. The problem being, they either get that chalk, along with everyone else, and it pays little overall, or they get taken out with the majority when he fails. There is virtually no value in keying a heavy chalk. You will lose over time  doing that. That has been my experience and observation, which I have tested backwards and forwards.
Many people play the Pick 4, or at some tracks, the pick 5, or pick 6.
And the pick 3 is popular. At many tracks,  it is a rolling pick 3, so you can play it almost every race. 
Why do they play those hard-to-cash wagering types of bets?
Mostly, I think they are looking for the big score. It's a lottery type of mentality.
In reality, you will likely lose more over time than win, even if you hit the one big score. And you could go weeks, even months, before you hit one. And there is always the chance that you hit it, and it doesn't pay near as big as you expected.
It can play serious mind games with your confidence and break you. I know a few guys who have really been hurt by it.
I'm not a lottery player. I have never bought a lottery ticket in my life. I am not looking for the big score. I am looking for maximum return overall. I don't play table games in a casino, or slot machines. I play games where my skill matters and I think the public at large make bad bets. Because the reality of making money at the horses is that I have to take your money, not the houses money. I have to figure out where you make a mistake, and put that money in my pocket. Betting and keying the false favorite in a pick 4 is the number way I have found that people do that.
So, I approach the 4 races of the pick 4 with these questions.  I don't know what I will find, or what the answer will be until I look them over. Then I put them together and make a plan to make profit. 

1)In any race, what is your key, and what is your angle?
2)Who can and will likely fail in this race?
3)what does my data tell me that the betting public wont begin to consider?
4)If I'm right, what will it pay so I can gauge what a reasonable amount of money to lay out?

The most important thing is that you have a very solid key. You must have that, and you must be right. You might get the fail elsewhere, you might not. Some nights that will come through, some nights it wont. On November 8th, it didn't. But I had the key right, and my angle in the 8th race was right. That brought enough value to make it pay off. If Windsun Revenge fails in the 9th, or the winner of the 11th, I get more. But I don't need more. It will happen, and it will make up for the times you go home empty. But the basic is getting the key and the angle right, and not loading onto a chalk as a single key. That rarely provides the value you need to win over time.  

If you don't play it this way, in my view, you are loading the gun that you shoot yourself in the head with.

Here are some other key points.

Using the favorite in more than 2 legs of the win 4 is suicide.
Here's why.
Ideally, you should only play when you like 1 favorite, and single him. if you must, play a smaller backup ticket with 2 or 3 of them.
If you need all 4,don't play the ticket. you haven't figured anything out.
If you do your homework, you will know that the favorite rarely wins more than 2 legs, mostly wins 1 and enough times wins none. Playing all 4 or even 3 means you don't have confidence you can figure out which. If that is the case, don't play it.

You need some sort of data advantage.  
That could be numbers, it could be race analysis. It could be whatever it is that you use. But it better be better than what others have, and something they don't have access to. Because if they can figure it out too, then your advantage is negated and the 25% the house will take on this wager will negate the profit you can make. I know I have this, and I have proven it to myself and others.

I view the data as a foundation. 
Before you start, you have to have this foundation to build any ticket.
You cant have more than 2 faves in your pick 4, and you have to figure out which 2 are in, which 2 are out, and possibly if you need less than 2, which is likely. if you need 2 or more, then you have to figure out what it would likely pay, and then see how many combos you need to cash out and whether it is viable to play the ticket in the first place.
The data guides you here. Favorites are favorites for a reason. That reason is that on paper, on the program, they figure. But we all know that favorites only win about 35%, and at most tracks, that is even less in a pick 4. They stack those with races that suggest the favorite is pretty beatable. You need an edge that isn't on the program to figure out which ones those are. So you can load up against them with other horses who can. You don't know which one most times, but if you don't need the favorite, that is one more you can choose to beat him.
What I see with almost every handicapper, even the best ones, is that they included the favorite in every leg, because, as they put it, "you have to use him" and then they go on to give you reasons why he can get beat. And they are usually right about that. That is working against yourself in my view. I have seen that movie so many times, that I routinely now discard the favorites and then work my way back. I pick the ones that I must use, and otherwise, I roll the dice on the others. That means I do get beat at times, but when I'm right, I more than make up for it. It's just simple math if you work the numbers. 

One key thing is to try and always get to the last leg, so you can cover whatever you need to to lock in the profit. A lot of guys wont play it that way, and that is their choice. It's a gamblers mentality. I am not a gambler. I am an investor and if I have $4800 locked in and I have the favorite, I will spend $500 and play all the longshots that can beat me. It is just wise investing to make sure I still win. When I don't, I regret it. It is just another situation where I can avoid the bad beat. Do I give up some profit that way? Some claim I do. I don't think I do. But even if I did, I will gladly do it. I still make a lot, and my bankroll and psyche is protected.
And one last thing.
I play out the entire sequence in my head. what I need to do, how I will cover, what I expect, where I am worried. is it worth
it? It prepares me to make better decisions in the heat of battle.
In the last month, I have employed all of these strategies, and have hit some very nice pick 3's and pick 4's. I am more than willing to discuss actual examples with anyone who cares to see how it played out for real. And I also missed a few, and in almost every case, I didn't stick to the principles I lay out here. Which only further cements that this is the way to go for me. You might want to consider doing the same.
I know it works.


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