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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sucker Bets

- Joe Takach has been writing about “physicality handicapping,” the art of interpreting the body language of the horse, for many years. In fact, somewhere in a box in my house somewhere I have an old VCR tape of his about what to look for in the paddock and on the track before the race.

Besides my lousy money management, an inability to avoid getting distracted by simulcasts, a tendency to space out, indecisiveness, a general lack of courage of my convictions, paying too much attention to the tote board, drinking too much (at all, actually), and my penchant for leaving the track with less money than I came with, physicality handicapping is the weakest part of my game. I must admit that I sometimes fall into the category of Takach’s Sucker Bets – Part 14 - BETTING A HORSE WITHOUT WATCHING THE POST PARADE - part of a continuing series he’s doing for John Pricci’s Theyareatthepost.com.

In order to avoid this “sucker bet” you must believe that horses are warm-blooded athletes rather than lifeless machines and you have to get your face out of the past performances long enough to view your potential wager.
He points out that simulcasts offer the “5 second glimpse,” which Takach feels is usually enough. He lists seven specific things to look out for, so check out the column in its entirety.

The work doesn’t end once the race is over either. Takach publishes the Daily Southern California Horses To Watch (SCHTW), and chief among his observations are the gallop-outs - and the return to the front of the track for unsaddling - following the race. Sucker Bets – Part 10 is betting a horse that PULLS UP POORLY IN THE POST-RACE.
A normal post-race warm-down at the conclusion of a race is a slowing from a gallop to a slow canter that continues to the backstretch with a turnaround at the 5/8 or 9/16 pole (mile track). The runner is then slowly cantered back for unsaddling. If there are no major post-race negative observations, the horse is said to come out of his race in “good order”.

Just as a horse needs a proper pre-race warm-up to maximize potential in his upcoming race, so too does he need a proper warming down in the post-race. This helps the runner to cool out properly when returned to the backside and avoid any unnecessary muscle soreness that could last into his next outing.

Anything less than this proper gallop-out would be considered a bad pull-up of some kind. Bad post-race pull-ups are very bad next out wagers regardless of whether the horse was pulled up prematurely by a lazy jockey or he’s pulled up too quickly because of injury or an aggravation of a prior injury.
Of course, there are different degrees of bad pull-ups, ranging from the worst, being eased or the “quick pull-up” - at a dead stop within 100 yards past the finish line (kinda reminds me of “Mission Accomplished”), to an OK gallop-out but a slow walk back.

All of them are bad bets according to Takach; he cites a 2003 SCHTW study which showed that only 9.1% of bad pull-ups won their next out at Del Mar, 9.8% at Santa Anita, stats which I suspect are not as astounding as they may seem. I don’t always mean to make things complicated, but statistics in sports without an appropriate reference is one of my real pet peeves. To me, it’s meaningless that, in a hypothetical example, the Buffalo Sabres won 30 out of 35 games in which they led going into the third period unless I also know what the league-wide average is. Learning the Green Bay Packers’ third down efficiency on 3th and more than 5 begs the question of how the rest of the league does in that same situation.

Similarly, what percentage of the bad pull-ups finished their race in such a manner that you wouldn’t bet him based on the past performances anyway? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but my guess would be that that number is pretty high. A more meaningful stat to me would be the percentage of bad pull-ups who won or finished within a certain number of lengths behind the winner failed to win their next race. Sorry for making it more complicated than it should be; I just can’t help myself. In any event, Takach has some interesting things to say and the series is worth checking out; though some of his sucker bets, like “Won With a Dream Trip Last Out” are rather obvious.

2 Comments:

Anonymous said...

Seems to me 10% is more of a positive than negative stat for bad pull ups. Assuming average field size of 8, 12.5% is the normal percent of winners you would expect. If 10% of runners that are "bad pull ups" return to win it renders his point statisticallly insignificant. Considering most probably ran poorly if they pulled up bad it may even indicate a wagering opportunity since you should receive value on these horses. Sorry, but can't help myself when it comes to stats either.

However, I wholeheartedly agree with his paddock and post parade comments. If you are seriously gambling your due diligence must include a good look at the horse and it's behavior before the race, especially with the unraced. For example, in an above post I am touting in 5 in today's 2nd race at Belmont and would prefer to view him before wagering. With DD's and multiple race wagers this is impossible so these types should be bet seriously only in the win pool. I will disregard and play in the DD's solely because his main opponent appears to be a huge underlay.

KanatiDev. said...

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