Sunday, October 16, 2016

Opportunity to get value

Last week, I picked two of the important variables when presented with those choices on Dave Schwartz's Facebook Page, Talking Handicapping. Those two were Thoroughly Vet The Favorite, and Knowing When To Pass. They are connected, but in my view, the first one is the door you have to go through before you even decide if you have to pass the race. If I can't vet the favorite and make an informed and educated value judgement, then I have nothing to work with.
I will start and expound on all that from that specific starting point.

Here is something I know. Young horses are inexperienced and unproven.
That sounds so simple, that everyone agrees on it. But, they don't bet that way. They treat very green, potentially fast horses as proven older ones. They don't account for the reality that these horses are just toddlers, many with only one race under their belts. Some with two. A few with 3. And in many cases, they have dominated horses that will never amount to anything at all. They are fast, and its expected they will continue to become faster, stay sound, and be able to withstand the accumulation of wear that a racehorse will encounter as the races pile up. The reality is that most of these wont measure up or make it. They will regress, or they will simply not go forward. They will become claimers, work their way down the class ladder, or go lame and gradually lose value and ability. Some just will become tired and/or sore and not want to try anymore. These are the flaws that racehorses have. It is a consistent thing. These horses are flawed. Most horses are flawed. But, in spite of flaws, they have gotten away with it to that point and to the average player, they appear to be solid. As such, these bettors are on the wrong side of the bet--the value proposition--the next time they race.
For me, that spells opportunity. Opportunity to get value. If my competitor, which is always the other bettors, are treating very risky propositions as if they are very reliable, virtual short priced cinches, they are handing me value.....over time.
Sure, some of these will still beat me because they will come through. Not at the rate the odds they attract suggest they should, but still many will continue to overcome the flaws that make them risky and not reliable. None of that matters to me. I just want to find the races, the places, the connections and the bettors who play them. As long as I can do it, and I am right, I just have to pick my spots and be consistent in how I play. Play against them.
"Play against" is an important phrase. One thing I learned along the way, and this is something the vast majority of horseplayers cannot grasp, is that if you want to be successful, don't try to pick winners. Pick losers. The only thing I really have to do is figure out who can't win the race. If I can do that well, I just need to see who is left and if the odds that are left for me to play justify the value I need to turn my time and money into profit. If someone or a group of bettors are playing a risky young horse at 1-5 or 1-9, and the chances are they are at best 4-5 plays, then I am already sitting in the drivers seat. Everything else in the race has value. I just have to pick from those and be right enough. 
The first thing I like to do is spot where the most foolish bettors are and at what track they play. I tried playing Finger Lakes, because as a rule, that is the track with the most shortest priced favorites and bridgejumpers, day in, day out.  But those guys are sharp. They rarely make mistakes on very heavy favorites. And if that horse fails, they have a 2nd one right behind him at short odds as well. So, trying to beat those just cost me money over time. Sure, I beat a few, but mostly, those favorites beat me. A lot. And why is that? My contention is that the people who bet the really big money at that track are either insiders or just know the horse population so well, or both, that they don't make many mistakes with very large bets. So, trying to beat them, less the takeout I face at any track, was foolish. And I took some big hits trying. That was okay. You have to take hits to learn how to get better.
Knowing that, I began to search for tracks where the bettors were more than willing to be wrong a lot and with big money. When I say big money, I'm talking about bigger fish, mostly whales, who are willing to put in many thousands on one horse. Why would they do that and be wrong? Wont they lose money doing that?
You would think that, but in specific cases, you would be wrong. Two examples of that reside in West Virginia. Mountaineer and Charlestown. Why those two places?
It's really very simple. Those that bet that track get a 50% break on their large bets at only those two tracks. How does that work?
One thing most don't understand about bridgejumper type players is why they do it. And when I say I am referring to these types, I am referring to those that actually do it with purpose. Not the small time guys that try to piggyback on them. Not the group of bettors that bet $500 or $1000 here and there. They add up too, but they don't really matter. And those people will always lose. They don't know what they are doing, and don't matter. I am referring to the types that bet 50k or 100k or more on a race. They do that because, in their minds, they are getting an overlay. It might not seem that anybody that bets knowing they are getting back $2.10 on 2 is getting an overlay, but in fact, since horse racing has never actually adjusted odds and return to the exact amount the pool justifies, they are. In many cases, they are getting an overlay, times 10. No matter how much is bet to show, or even win, on a horse, that bettor will get $2.10 on that horse. If the pool and return had been adjusted, they should be getting back $2.01, or even a fraction of that. That is an overlay you can almost never find in racing.
That would be good enough, but when you even improve that 50%, these people jump on that, and they will be willing to assume a lot more risk, even knowing the horse is unreliable as discussed above. A horse they would never jump on with a $2.10 return they will be all over at $2.20.
When they make a bet that is large enough to generate a $2.10 return, they get $2.20 back. That is a monumental edge for a player like that. If they are even half good at doing what they do, this is the place they make maximum return. What do they care if they lose a few of those bets? They don't. So, they will take risks on very risky types because it doesn't matter if they lose those. It's just volume, volume, volume with these people. That is where I come in.
I understand the overall game these people play. I don't play that game, because it's not my way of playing, but I do understand they aren't foolish, stupid people. They can and will make a nice profit over time by playing very large amounts and taking a small percentage return with very few large hits. They have to play large amounts, and play a lot of bets to do that. It works for them. It wont work for me. What does work for me is what they create.
I know they will make these very large bets and create spread value. While they have to be right well over 90% of the time at other tracks they might play like this, at say Santa Anita or Belmont, they can get away with a much lower percentage at these two West Virginia tracks. Being that is the case, they will take the risk. With risk comes the likelihood of failure. They are giving me value on the losers, and they don't care. They still make money doing it.
That is where I come in again. If they are going to accept failure that they wouldn't otherwise, I am happy to play the other side of that failure for profit. Because they have increased my possibility of return on the other side of the bet. Its just math. And cost analysis, risk/reward return.
Now, the guys at Belmont and Santa Anita, they cant afford to be wrong like that. One hit, and it can wipe out the profit margin. So, they are more careful. Thus, its harder for me to beat them. Which means I very rarely try to. I watch, and if I see something, that I think they are just plain wrong and are missing something, I will make a play. But its rare. I am playing against the reality that they wont make those bets there unless they know they are going to be right to the high percentage they need there. I want to play where they don't need the high percentage but will make the same bet.
The guy at Mountaineer who hosts the in program analysis has mentioned how foolish these players are to take the risks they do on very risky horses. But what he doesn't consider is that they do it for a reason. Because they can. And still make a profit. In that way, he is foolish to not see that. He doesn't understand how to bet and make money.

And so, we get to the bet I made at Charlestown. Charlestown is a very new track to me. I never considered playing it before. Firstly, I'm not a T bred guy, and secondly, when I do play them, I tried to stick to the bigger tracks where I know at least something about the horses, the breeding, the trainers and jockeys. But, that was a mistake. That didn't play into my advantage.
Realizing what my advantage is/was, was the key to all that. I understand what looks like failure to me might look like success to most players. I am a race ahead of them in figuring that out. That doesn't really have that much to do with who the jockey or trainer is, who the horse is, although it can and those can be factors. My advantage is who the other bettor is and what they are willing to do wrong and hand me. The bettors at Belmont and Santa Anita are smart and sophisticated. They know at least as much as me, and in many cases, a lot more. I'm not going to beat them, and I don't even try. I am working against myself even attempting it. In racing terms, I am the 40 claimer taking on the stakes horse. I can try as hard as I want, I can't run as fast as the stakes horse. He is better than me.
I started to watch Charlestown, and I had been watching Mountaineer for awhile. I noticed how many very suspicious horses were being bet down when they looked horribly risky. Since I am a replay watcher, and I have actual horse training experience, I can spot horses that have issues that can be considered troublesome and probable to repeat themselves in a predictable way. Most of that is not on the program page. It takes the work. And again, if I am going to do that work, I want to do it where the players that play can also do that, but don't care and make the bet anyway. I don't want to do it at places like Belmont or Santa Anita where the actual risk will be considered. I am not using my time wisely if I try to find horses to beat that wont have the odds that give me the return. It's bad betting strategy.
I can be very certain that if I just watched Charlestown and Mountaineer, did my homework, stayed patient, there would be plenty of opportunity to get the value I spotted. On this particular night, it just fell right into place.

Big Dreamer is the type that horsemen refer to as "not much stock". That basically means they are of limited talent and have other issues that mean you have to get the money while you can as an owner and trainer. She ran once late in her 3yo year in a Maiden Special Weight race and was 4th at 9-5. In other words, she had hardly raced until she was 4 and failed the one time she did. That isn't unusual or something you can do much with, as so many are like that. But, its a starting point. She returned in the spring of 2016 in a maiden claimer, as many do, looking to beat up on others of her kind while she was still capable of doing so. It took her 3 starts, but she finally did beat those maiden claimers. As horsepeople, we know this leaves a horse in no mans land. They have basically, in most cases, beaten the only horses they can beat and now have to face the horses that can beat others. In other words, they are up against it. Any flaw she has, now will be exposed and pounced on by the better horses who make you pay for those flaws. In spite of that, she ran 2nd twice in a row and appeared to be doing well. Her flaws were not catching up to her. What were her flaws?
First, she likes to lead and appears to need to do so. She isn't alone there. Many do. Its hard to pass horses and many who cant will give up. Second, and more importantly, in conjunction with the first flaw, she comes out of the gate a few steps slow and others can beat her to the punch. In her previous start, she did that, but got to the front anyway and went a long way to get 2nd. But, she was tired from having to run hard to get the lead off a slow start and another blew by her late. She didn't run great, but her raceline didn't look bad. She had now run 6 times in her life, and been 1st, 2nd or 3rd 4 of those times. That's a decent record. But when you consider 3 of those times were against maiden claimers, she was doing what she does against horses that wouldn't make her pay for her flaws.
By my view, she carried heavy risk that she would try to run for the lead, get off slow, not get the front..and quit. On September 21st, that is exactly what happened. She was bet to 3-5, which was foolish, but didn't present me with too much value on the other side of that pool, as really there were 4 legit contenders who looked to beat her if she bombed out. However, she had 79% of the show pool, and thus, was bet like a horse that was very likely to make the top 3. That is where the value was. It was a 7 horse field, so, I had 6 to sort from if I was excluding her as one who was not in the mix for the ticket. I determined the two longest shots were not viable, and I had 4 left to play with. Normally, I would grade them and bet them based on the probability they were the ones. In this case, I didn't. I thought it could be any combination of the 4 that filled the 3 remaining spots and virtually, they were all taking the same action in the show pool. I try not to get too smart when I do these things. In my mind, she was likely to bomb, and these were the 4 that would fill the 3 spots that paid me if she did. I played them equally, and they came 1-2-3-4, with Big Dreamer well beaten because she got off slow, tried to run for the lead but couldn't get by this time, and the two longshots well out of it.
It really was that simple.
In reality, could she have gotten off okay out of the gate, ran to the lead, and been 2nd or 3rd? Sure, and some of them will. But, a few wont. If she has 50% of the show pool, then that is about right and I have no advantage, and I would pass the race. I vetted out the favorite, thoroughly, and I was right about that. But that only does me good if she gets overbet because the bettors at Charlestown are either foolish, or don't care in spite of seeing what I see. In my world, I don't care why they overbet them. I just want to know they are probably going to do it. In specific cases, when they don't, I pass the race. In all other cases, I make my play. Win some, lose some, but win enough with the value edge, and make the profit.