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Monday, November 20, 2006

Time Was

- I recently had a sudden and unexplained desire to listen to the album Argus, by Wishbone Ash. Released in 1972, it's a guitar classic featuring the dueling lead guitarists Martin Ash and Ted Turner (no relation to Ted Turner), and by far the pinnacle of the band's career, which, I learned from Wikipedia, continues in name today in a Spinal Tap-type story complete with an experimental phase and two electronic dance albums. When I slid the vinyl LP sleeve out of the cover, a pile of newspaper clippings came out with it. They were from the Daily Racing Form; circa September, 1992.

Looking through the clippings, mostly past performances of individual horses, with a few excerpts of articles mixed in (and one complete Dave Litfin column entitled 'Watch 'outsiders' from Club Med' concerning an outside bias at the Meadowlands), I came to realize two things. For one, I hadn't listened to Argus, by Wishbone Ash, in more than 14 years. Yet I was still able to hit every note on my air guitar. And secondly, while 14 years may be a long time between listening to a record, it's really not that long in the scheme of things. Yet that scheme, when it comes to the tools we have to handicap races, has changed drastically.

Though I can't remember specifically what I had in mind in cutting out the pp's of race winners - perhaps to compile a file, by trainer, of their winners in order to learn patterns - I well recall the days of cutting out charts and taping them into notebooks. And of taping the half hour replay show on my VCR, and fumbling through the tapes, and fast forwarding, and rewinding, and fast forwarding again until finding a race I wanted to watch. The amount of time we spent on these activities, as compared to today when it's all available via a couple of clicks on Formulator or on a replay site, seems staggering now. I don't know how we did it. Tasks that could have taken a half hour can be completed in a minute now. We must have really loved this game. Though actually, based on the sight of these clippings hidden away for 14 years, I guess that after a (short) while, I wasn't willing to do all that work

The Form looked basically similar in style in 1992. The Beyer figures were already in place, but many of the features we see today were not yet present. There were no rankings of workouts; no breakouts of the horses' records by wet/turf/today's track. We weren't told what the horse's public auction price was, nor what was his sire's stud fee or who his sire was. Subsequent race winners were not italicized. How we got by without all this vital information, I can't say!

This all returns me to the question of why, at least in this handicapper's case, the bottom line has not increased in proportion to the quality and efficiency of the tools available. I'm certainly able to handicap more races from more tracks, but I can't say that my results have improved nearly as significantly as the Racing Form and its products have. Sure, I've had my share of clever winners for which I could brag about picking up something in the replay that wasn't noted in the charts (or vice versa); or by correctly evaluating the true quality of a horse's last race by inspecting, via Formulator, the past performances of all of the other horses it competed against; or by meticulously finding a relevant trainer patter that fits the bill.

But how many others have I missed that I would have had in the distant past by sticking to the core values of class, pace, speed, and tote? By getting so involved in the intricacies, how much do we sacrifice in good old basics, common sense, and the gut feelings that come from experience? I wonder if there are any statistics showing whether handicappers as a whole have improved over the last 15 years? Given the amazing advances in handicapping technology, one would think we'd all be grinding out a profit. Yet how many people do significantly better, if at all, as compared to 1992? There are times that I feel as if my handicapping Argus is long in the past, whereas it really should be now. Perhaps it's time for an experimental phase of my own.

Below are some notes from newspaper clippings that I found in the pile. Other NY old-timers may recall some of these names.

John Veitch has two grass winners, Recent Memories ($7.60) and Bank Key ($6). Each worked a handy five furlongs five days prior to the win.

Allan Jerkins has six winners at the meeting. Three of them - Miss Iron Smoke ($4.40), Missy's Mirage ($3.40), Celeste Cielo ($25.40) - are fillies who won their second start back from a layoff.

Gasper Moschera's most productuve owner is Joques Farm; five of his six meet-winners are from that owner - Ebony Magic ($3.80), Carli's Command ($7.20), Huckster Rose ($31.20), Butter Cream ($6.80) and Red Hot Red ($27.60). Butter Cream and Red Hot Red each received a freshening after "even efforts" for $35,000, returned at that level off sparse workout lines, and won stretching out.

Brittney Erin and Luv to Mumbo Jumbo are 4 year old claiming fillies who each won for Murray Garren off a stretch-out from a sprint to a mile and a sixteenth.
Some of the trainer names are quite familiar to us all: Shug McGaughey, Bill Mott, Lisa Lewis, John Kimmel, Mike Hushion, Dominic Galluscio, Angel Penna Jr. Others, such as William (Red) Terrill, Mark Reid, and Peter Ferriola, are names out of the past.


Anonymous said...

You don't do any better with more information because we ALL have the same "more" information! As you improve, so does your competition.... One day, ask somebody to take the form and cross out everything that has been added in the last 14 years. Then make your selections. Then make them again with the current form. THEN compare.

El Angelo said...

I'd bet a big difference is that favorites, while not winning at a more frequent rate, are shorter prices than they were 14 years ago. I'd also bet that horses you'd consider "sleepers" based on hidden breeding aspects, poor trips, key races, etc., are now bet down a lot more by virtue of the information the Form gives.

Michael said...

But even that being said, how much information does the form offer that the track program doesn't?

Look at the folks who don't use the form (or Bris, or something similar) and appear to just be using the track program... how in the world do THEY do it?

Patrick J Patten said...

vinyl? what the hell is that. Can I play it on my Ipod?

Anonymous said...

Great piece Alan. . .Wishbone freakin' Ash.. .

It's hard to say if handicappers as a group are better or not -- depend on your criteria. Obviously, due to the nature of markets, things that work at one stage get corrected and don't work anymore as time move forwards. It's all about finding an edge, wherever that may be. In a way, you were a lot better off when had to do all that legwork. Then again, if you can process the available info better than the rest, it doesn't really matter.

One idea is to pick spots where the obvious data, ie the beyers/HYPE, lead to MOTO horses you don't like. One pro I know says that at this point he'd pay to keep the beyers in the Form because of the instances where they get so overbet.

As for that idea someone mentioned that faves are shorter than they used to be, that has been proven right I believe.

It used to be there was a famous study (maybe by a guy called Fabricand) that showed that you lost less money betting every fave than you did every longshot. But nowadays the market is a lot more efficient.

But the game is the same as always in this repsect -- you've got to have something that will give you the takeout + 1% edge over the crowd or you should keep your money in your pocket.

Anonymous said...

Great seeing the names of those horses and trainers in print, thanks for the memories.

One of the reasons favorites are shorter priced today is the rebate shops. I bet the Bush entry the other day at 9-5 with 1 minute to post figuring I would get 8-5. Gate opened at 8-5, they crossed the finish line at 6-5, unfortuately in 2nd and 3rd position.

The article on the "robotic wagering system" in DRF recently was an eye opener. The damned thing even makes P3 wagers.

Alan Mann said...

That is a fascinating column by Crist that I'll try to post on. He speculates that the rebate shop bettors are somehow getting information on potential P3 payoffs before the bettng closes.