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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gut Feelings

- A recently published book entitled "Gut Feelings," by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, discusses the notion of Less (Information) Is More when it comes to making important decisions. In his Mind Matters column in Newsweek, Wray Herbert writes that the book collects a convincing body of evidence for the power of hunches over laborious data crunching.

Hunches, gut feelings, intuition — these are all colloquial English for what Gigerenzer and his colleagues call "heuristics," fast and efficient cognitive shortcuts that (according to the emerging theory) can help us negotiate life, if we let them.
Of course, this book deals with "life decisions," y'know, really important stuff dealing with careers, where to live, and with whom or what. The Pick Four can be pretty intense, but it's not quite as profound (at least I hope not), though it certainly can seem that way at times.

Still, I think we can learn something from the subject matter given the advances in the quality, diversity, availability and presentation of racing data with which to handicap nowadays. The matter of how much information is too much is one that I've often pondered in the last few years, and I suppose that I've yet to settle on a proper balance. Mr. Herbert continues:
Consider the "take the best" heuristic. "Take the best" means that you reason and calculate only as much as you absolutely have to; then you stop and do something else.
[In our case, something else means moving on to the next race instead of obsessing unproductively on a single one.]
So, for example, if there are 10 pieces of information that you might weigh in a thorough decision, but one piece of information is clearly more important than the others, then that one piece of information is often enough to make a choice. You don't need the rest; other details just complicate things and waste time. [Newsweek]
I think that one needs more than one piece of information to properly handicap a race. But do you really need more than one tool, that being the Daily Racing Form, the track program, or, for some, The Sheets? Therein, with the Form being my clear preference, is all the information which, for many years, was way more than sufficient to cash tickets consistently. It contained everything one needed to make reasoned decisions regarding the basics of class, speed, and pace. Or so it seemed at the time.

I certainly don't mean to speak for all of you when I say that I don't feel as if I have more winners now, utilizing all of the various resources, than I did back when I had only the Form, and often couldn't get it in advance. I certainly have different winners now. Many horses that I had in the past, I would never have them now, and vice versa.

The closest I come now to finding the right balance between old school handicapping and modern technology is when I find the discipline to initially handicap the races strictly from the Form, noting my top three selections. Only after doing so do I then delve into Formulator, pedigrees, and replays, and then, only for those top selections. I find that the extra information quite often ends up serving mainly as a reinforcement of my original opinion - my original gut feeling and initial impression based on the knowledge and instincts I've gained over 35+ years of horseplaying. And the additional resources help to distinguish the horses I like from the horses I like. Perhaps most importantly, I don't waste time - the one necessary tool I find to be in short supply - getting bogged down on details of horses I've eliminated on the basics, sticking to the fundamentals that have made me the handicapper I am today (literate and witty *ahem* if nothing else. :)

Steve Davidowitz covers similar ground in Game still the same, his latest entry in the subscription-only DRF Plus section of the Form.
In the old days, good handicappers did not have all the advantages you and I possess in the 21st century. But the game has not changed as much as most people believe. Horses with subtle advantages can be strong contenders. Sometimes they may be slightly fastest or the one most likely to outbreak the field. Sometimes they may be the classiest horse or the most consistent, and sometimes they will combine those elements or possess a subtle pace edge that can trump all three. When to use what element is the secret of handicapping and to uncover that formula requires the best tool you will ever come across.

It is not found in your computer; it is not in any of the good books out there; and it is not on any website. Just as in the 1960s, the best handicapping tool you will ever need is located in a space you cannot see - right smack dab between your ears.


Anonymous said...

That book sounds a bit like Blink,

I always felt most effective as a handicapper using the Form plus my own notes and chart-keeping. I can't believe there's any substitution for observing horses before and after races and examining their trips in between.

The Hunch Concept is fascinating but I wonder if a good hunch is just be an excuse for laziness. At my very best, in anything, I tend to outwork people. But that approach brings fatigue, anxiety,and all the other fun things I always battle.

Good topic

John said...

Great post Alan.

As you know when it comes to handicapping, I am a minimalist so this post hits home for me.

Speaking of handicapping tools. Are you familiar with a song Paul Simon wrote about twenty five years ago called "Think Too Much"

I hum it occasionally when I am handicapping, it's a good tool for picking a winner.

I kid you not!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the old "poor box" joke where 3 men of cloth discuss what they do with donations to the church.
Personally,I try never looking at DRF.
Always spend 90% of my time w/Thorograph, the rest on resolving any questions w/Brisnet.

SantaBarbarian said...

I have always done better at the betting when I could go down to the paddock and watch the horses get saddled up and walked around.

You can often see a horse that looks great on paper, isn't feeling so great that day. (Horses wake up on the wrong side of the hay sometimes, too....) You can see if a horse seems a little stiff, is sweating out, or if they took the heavy medicinal bandages off the front legs. Sometimes a horse will walk by that just ooozes "confidence and joie de vivre" that you just can't help but notice. (I have often done well with playing them just as a "hunch" bet.)

One of my favorite stories from many moons ago was one that ran in Sports Illustrated about a psychic that played the ponies.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Alan, this is why LATG is a must read for students of handicapping!It's so easy to get totally confused trying to separate and priortize all of the handicapping data available, plus all of the stimuli coming at you when post time approaches, especially when at the track. I am a spot player and going on gut is an important part of it for me. Thanks for the academic citations to back it up! /S/Green Mtn Punter

Anonymous said...

Equidaily hit again, Alan! Well done.

Anonymous said...

The KISS rule.

Personally my ROI has improved dramatically since I recognized "rules" for each class of racehorse which I forbid myself from breaking unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

One day the light went on in my head, these were always considerations but once I make them rules it did two things, improved my results while reducing the amount of time it took me to handicap the race.

Keep It Simple Stupid.

If there are 8 entrants in a race, there are usually a few automatic throwouts, and my rules usually allow my to throw out a couple of the others that are contenders from a fig perspective.

I call it Speed Handicapping 101, usually allows me to key on 2-4 horses in a race.

Sometimes it jumps up and bites me but mostly I catch some nice prices both straight up and in the exotics.

Especially useful in multi race wagers.

Alan Mann said...

>>Equidaily hit again, Alan! Well done.

Woo-hoo, thanks. Didn't even have to curse this time either!