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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Picking Losers

John Hertler doesn't get to the winner's circle too often - an 8% win percentage over the last two years - but he's certainly a capable trainer, and one who makes a significant impact on the tote board when he does. Hertler had two winners at the Big A on Friday - See More Spirit ($19), in the third, and Goodbyeandgoodluck ($29.20) in the 7th. Each of the barn's past 14 winners on this circuit have paid at least 5-1, and three have scored at double digit odds. I actually thought that the longer priced of the two looked like a more likely winner, as he had at least shown some speed, and was in the money this class two out of his last three.

See Some Spirit had some nice back form, but looked outclassed in open company. However here he prevailed despite being solidly four wide for the entire final turn.

Back in second and 4th was the Ken Ramsey-owned entry of Targe and Almighty Silver, beaten favorites at 4-5. Mentioned yesterday that the stable was starting to get some wins, but it's still buyer beware for this owner and his main trainer Michael Maker (he also runs some horses for Charlton Baker). They've now had five horses go off at even money or less - and I'm being generous in counting this entry as only one - and four of them have lost.

Seems like I've been writing lately as much or more about losers as I have about winners. But to me, knowing how to pick losers is what beating this game is all about. You hear a lot of different opinions on what "the key" is in, for example baseball. It's starting pitching, or it's the bullpen, or it's not leaving runners on, or getting them to scoring position. Similarly, we all have our different takes on what "the key" is in handicapping. I think it's identifying the horses who are bet down to odds way lower than their realistic chance to win. My goal is to limit my wagering to races in which I can throw the favorite out, and choose amongst the others, whose odds are therefore skewed in my view. If the odds in a race are roughly in line with what they should be in my opinion, I pass. Well, not always, because I'm not sufficiently disciplined. But that's my goal.

I've certainly written before and in more detail about this, but it always bears repeating, I think. When I'm handicapping on the fly and/or trying to pick out races to bet from vast simulcast options, it just takes a look at the favorite. In only a few seconds, you can pick out a false favorite. You know the usual suspects - a horse doing something it's never been asked to do, as Harvey Pack always says, being chief amongst them. Others are habitual short-priced losers, suspicious drops, or horses from ice cold barns. Just takes a quick glance, and it's almost guaranteed that you'll find at least a couple any day that you're at the track or perusing the menu at home. If I'm limiting myself to these opportunities and tossing bad favorites, then I'm betting horses with value all day long.

Even if I'm wrong, I still know that I did the right thing. Bad favorites can still win, but they're still bad value, and, in the long run, concentrating on defeating them is the only way to maintain a consistent edge and hold one's own in this nutty game, at least in my view. And the cool things are that it doesn't take much work to pick them out....and that you never know when or where you'll find them. There are always surprises out there once the tote board opens, so it pays to not give up on a race just because the advance handicapping doesn't bear fruit.


Amateurcapper said...

Great points, duely noted.

SaratogaSpa said...

Very difficult game, I think it just can't be mastered on a consistent basis (and why so many folks can't understand it and simply head to the racino and push the slots button all day) but I agree with your angle. Especially if you tend to get overwhelmed with information , if you concentrate on the favorite to throw out, the information becomes more manageable and i think..more bettable.

The Turk said...

I agree. Most handicappers focus on betting strategy. It's all moot if you can't pick the losers out and narrow down the potential winners to just a few per field.

Anonymous said...

There are many ways to play the game, and I do the opposite.

I look for legitamate favorites that are not underlays, and either bet them straight or try to find value by hooking up with another horse in straight EX or DD.

So Alan, we rarely play the same race but we agree, percieved value should be the goal and discipline the key.

This is the same reason folks play behind the come line in craps or double down in black jack, lowering the house odds using skill.

Chalk Eating Weasel said...

It's a known fact that favorites don't win most races. Especially, the cheaper you go. Yesterday at GP in a 6250 claimer (It was Calder at GP day yesterday)the favorite was bet down to even money. I said to my wife, "How anyone can bet an even money fave in a 6.25k claimer is beyond me." The winner came in at 8-1, thank you very much.

I set my own odds on contenders and then watch for the one's I believe to be overlaid. Then, depending on the odds and the size of my win bet, I'll take my overlaid play and back-wheel him in the exact with my other contenders.

steve in nc said...

I agree in general with the value of evaluating the chalk, but if they're giving 8-1 on my first or second pick, I'm down regardless of what I think of the chalk, and See More Spirit (I had posted on him before the race) was my top play.

I think this is a good race to question concepts like "outclassed." Whether on Beyer or Sheets, he was fast enough and his last race was a recovery back toward his good races. He did look better on Sheets than Beyer because he is often wide, and Sheets players gave him an extra point credit for dropping the 5 lbs with the apprentice.

I confess the only time I even consider class is the MSW to MClm drop, or a big claiming drop making me question a horse's form. Not that Friday was a day to brag about; See More Spirit was my only winner.