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Monday, June 26, 2006

An Interesting Object

- As you know, I like to watch the tote board, but the smart money ain’t always so smart. Sometimes an apparent overlay is just that for whatever reason, and the board is just plain wrong. When Sunday’s first race at Belmont was taken off the grass, the two main track only horse figured to be the top two betting choices. River Street (Machiavellian) had shown a bit more consistency than Pretty Proud (Mr. Greeley), and was coming off a sloppy-track second in his last race; but their Beyers were similar, and Pretty Proud had a good wet-track race two back herself. So, they were 1-2 respectively in morning line favoritism, but that's not the way it went down.

River Street was made the 7-10 favorite, while Pretty Proud, for trainer Stanley Hough, was seemingly a dead piece at 6-1. The bettors instead went with Bill Mott’s Jinni, making her wet-track debut, but sporting a lofty Tomlinson of 422; she was 7-2. Jinni set the pace to the half, but was dead last by the three-quarters mark. River Street checked out soon thereafter, and the pair took up the rear as the overlooked Pretty Proud rallied from last and lasted by a desperate nose over 9-1 Philanthropy Lady.

I know this is red-boarding, but there really was little reason for such a disparity in the odds on the two. Perhaps it was because River Street is a Darley horse; and maybe that’s the reason that the bettors keep giving her another chance. Since winning her first start, she’s burned more money than FEMA (well, not quite) in losing at odds of 2-1, 3-1, 7-5, and, now, 7-10. At this rate, she’ll be 2-5 next time out.

As a homebred, River Street didn't sport a fancy sales price tag; actually, Pretty Proud (Mr. Greeley) was pretty expensive at $290,000 as a yearling in 2004. She has some nice pedigree too; she’s a full sister to the Grade 1 (Futurity) winner Whywhywhy, and a half to Spellbinder, who won the G2 San Antonio this year. Her third dam is Equal Change, the filly that had the misfortune of coming along the same year as Ruffian, and who I wrote about here.

I wasn’t at the track on Sunday, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I wouldn’t have had Pretty Proud; not with that kind of board action. The idea of watching the board is too far ingrained in me to easily give up; I’ve been wedded to the concept ever since experiencing an epiphany at Roosevelt Raceway during my formative years, one that I detailed in this post (yes, we’re going back into the archives today) and, though I don’t keep the detailed betting records that we're all advised to, I would guess that the strategy has served me very well on the whole. But still, it sometimes closes my mind to horses that others would see as a steal at the odds. It’s all really paradoxical for me; I talk about getting good value, but I start to salivate if I see a 12-1 morning line bet down to 9-2.

I recently picked up a copy of Tom Ainslie’s seminal Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing; I’d lost my copy many years ago. He is the man who introduced to me the idea that watching the win betting in relation to the show pool can point out horses getting the so-called "smart" money in the win pool. But you know how sometimes you don’t quite remember things the way you read or saw them years ago? Ainslie actually was pretty skeptical on the whole about tote action, and only devoted a couple of pages to the subject.

In my opinion, the tote board is an interesting object but should be allowed to play no role whatever [sic] in the player’s handicapping. His first problem is to find himself a horse [hmmm, there’s a little sexism from the late 60’s for you]. If he finds it, the tote board tells him if the odds are reasonable.
But he does go on to let us in on watching the show pool (he actually says to watch the place and show pools [I strictly watch the show], and never talks about the horse getting bet “on the nose,” so I must have thought of that expression), and adds:
Now that I have done my level best to discourage the reader from allowing himself to be swayed by what he sees on the tote board, I should admit that it seldom pays to buck such betting trends in maiden races at major tracks.
Well, there you go....that’s a lot of races covered in that category, and I think that all of us give more weight to the board in those.

I am trying to keep a more open mind these days, but I still hew closer to the opinion that Brad Free expressed in the column I linked to in the aforementioned post:
It is downright stubborn to ignore unusual betting action without considering the possibility the action is meaningful. When a horse's odds are out of whack, bettors should ask why. Backing a high-odds horse is acceptable, even recommended, as long as one understands the reasons the horse is being ignored by others.
Were there such reasons for Pretty Proud being overlooked in the wagering? With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that Darley horses, and this one in particular, generally get overbet; and while Mott’s horse may have looked classy enough to warrant some action, her best recent effort was on the grass, and 7-2 was an underlay here, considering her lack of off-track form. I’ve always looked at betting the hot horse as a “wiseguy” bet, but correctly identifying the horse that is legitimately overlaid, as opposed to being so for some good reason that only “they” know for sure, can be one of the most profitable wagers at the track. Anyone who had this horse at 6-1 was pretty wise indeed.