Betting the Haskell (and Any Other Race): Go with YOUR Gut, Not Theirs.

 So today’s Haskell Day (Monmouth), 2017.  And it falls on the day immediately following yesterday’s Jim Dandy upset in Saratoga.  From the outset, no one saw Good Samaritan as the victor in that race–except, of course, his savvy jockey, Joel Rosario.  Oh, yes, and his brilliant trainer, Bill Mott.  (Mott, as you should recall, won the first-ever Breeders’ Cup Classic with “…the Unconquerable, Invincible, Unbeatable…CIGAR!” in 1995.)

Yeah, that Bill Mott.  A legend in his own right.   He doesn’t get a lot of play because he’s not a playa.  That is, Mott is quiet.  He’s not a braggart. He doesn’t trash anyone, and doesn’t have a heat-seeking obsession with microphones.  He doesn’t set up voodoo dolls and cannibal-sized pots of gumbo outside his shedrow.  He just goes quietly about his business of training quality horses in the best way he knows how.  (OK, I’m sure he polishes his trophies now-and-then.)

His encyclopaedic list of owners (WinStar Farm; Head of Plains Partners; China Horse Club and SF Racing Group) knew that their trainer and jockey would do their level best to bring out the best in Good Samaritan.  The morning line odds of 12-1 didn’t make them freak out.  It happens that the odds went down as the day wore on, because of course everyone wants a piece of the longest shot on the board.  And then, that longshot can become a not-so-long-but-long-enough shot.) 

Good Samaritan wins the Jim Dandy, 7/29/2017 by Sarah Andrew/TDN

Those who invested in the concept that longshots make great payoffs when they come in–were rewarded by their act of faith in Good Samaritan.  Not hugely, but still it gave fuel to the fire.

I’m always a fan of a longshot.  Why the heck not?  If the favorites are, well, the favorites–why bother to bet on them?  If you’re lucky, you might make ten cents.  And bragging rights…that, what?  You knew that the best horse was the best horse?  I recall, it was about 2003.  As I arrived at the track, I heard a local DJ announce on the car radio, that the last race at Saratoga paid over $72,000 for the trifecta…all longshots.

Anyone with two bucks, or $12 for a tri box, could have taken home that tasty treat.  It pays to believe in longshots, because, well…sometimes, they believe in themselves.

So here’s the thing–the reason for this missive on this Haskell Day.  Yesterday, the two longest-shots (not all that long, I confess) came in one and two in the Jim Dandy.  Shockarooni.   Still, they weren’t the accomplished favorites, whom everyone expected to duke it out in the final furlong before the finish line.

So anyone who bet the two longest shots as their exacta took home a nice $145.  Enough for a decent dinner in downtown Saratoga.  And those who tri-boxed with Always Dreaming (I love him)–were rewarded with $355.50 for their Bet of Faith.

Longshots. Love ’em.  But I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve been at the track, and checked out the morning line odds.  Like all of you, I look at them, first.  And then I’ve seen the odds grow as the day wears on…

First thing, we look at the odds set by the professional handicappers hired by the track.  Smart move–they know how to create odds.
But then, we make our own notes, based on things like pedigree, jockey, trainer, races run and won, etc.  Essentially, we use the pros’ info as the foundation, and then we do our own handicapping.

But after all our calculations and speculations, even the professionals cannot accurately predict the actions of a group of sentient beings. Sentient beings, who are claustrophobic AND prey animals.  Sentient beings who are FAR-more intelligent than most humans believe (incorrectly)–and who make decisions for themselves.

We saw it yesterday:  the two favorites came in third, and last.  But yesterday morning, as the birds heralded the dawning of a new day–Good Samaritan awoke–stretched–ate a nice breakfast–and said to himself, “Yep.  Today’s my day.  Today’s my day to shine.”

And shine, he did.

So the odds start out the day, predicted by humans (handicappers)  who know the sport better than 99.9% of the people who will do the actual betting.   Ergo, if you’re going to pay attention to odds–as opposed to horse body language, or the glimmer in an eye in the paddock (which many race fans do!)–but if odds is the way you think you should go–PLEASE, for God’s Sake, pay attention ONLY to the morning-line odds.  

THOSE odds, painstakingly created by professionals–are the ONLY odds that have any actual MEANING.

Please read that again.  The rapid escalation of a horse’s odds during the course of the day has absolutely nothing, whatsoever, to do with the horse’s actual ability, welfare or present state of mind.  

ALL it means is that the odds are raising.  Period.

And why are the odds raising?  Well, let’s see…what are the NOT the reasons?  The horse with the high odds has not:
*  Lost a leg since the odds were set;
*  Nor an eyeball.
*  Suddenly gotten laminitis, colic or other medical problem–because if any medical problem, including lost legs or eyeballs raised its head–the horse would be scratched.  No one puts a horse who’s colicking, thinking, “Let’s see how she does!”

So, following this logic, since the odds came out in the morning–set by professionals–but the odds grow during the course of the day (and nothing dire has happened to the horse, or s/he’d have been scratched)–it stands to reason that the odds grow based on betting decisions made by people who do not necessarily know as-much-as (and surely, not more-than) the professional handicappers.

As I’ve pointed out to so many people who yelp when they see rapidly-escalating odds:  See that crowd?  The people walking around, with a cracked can of Bud in their hands?  THEY are the ones who are raising those odds.  And, they’re drunk.

Really, now, I’m not saying or even suggesting that everyone who goes to the races in person is drunk.  Not at all.   But if you use your noggin, and think about it–isn’t that part of the “party atmosphere” at a race track?  Whether the beverage is a six-pack at the picnic tables, or bottles of Dom Perignon in the Clubhouse–alcohol is alcohol is alcohol.   And, as NYRA’s Human Resource trainers actually told me in 1996:  “Alcohol + sunshine = stupidity.”

It stands to reason that at least some of the people who are betting have had one-too-many.  Many people come to the track to have a day out in the sunshine,  with friends.  Much of the time, that day out involves alcohol, because–for some reason I’ve yet to fathom–being within the fence, on the grounds of a race track–seems like a safe place to drink too much.

And come on, people–obviously, if someone’s logic is affected by alcohol, does it not stand to reason that their ability to bet intelligently is compromised, as well?

So, no, obviously–not everyone who goes to the races in person is drunk.  I would be an idiot, if I posited that.   At least  75% of the people who are there, are not drinking alcohol, at all.   (N.B., that the percentages given here are merely ballpark–not scientifically provable, at all.)

But SOMEone is drinking at a race track:  think about it…do you think that the Saratoga Police (or, Louisville Police, Lexington Police, Hallandale Beach Police)–are parked in high numbers on the roads outside of race tracks because it’s prettier to sit there in their cars?  Or to help unsnarl traffic?

So the odds are rising in part because someone has had some alcohol…and that person is standing in line in front of you, betting his brains out.

And then, there are those who bet on a horse because the jockey is wearing purple.  Or the horse’s name is, Emily–and the bettor’s Grandma’s name was Emily.  Or because the horse’s owner is from the bettor’s state.   Or the horse is #4, and four is a favorite number.  Pick a reason–any reason, other than one that is fueled by actual information about the horse, jockey or trainer–and you have another 25%, at least, of the cash going into tellers’ tills.

And every single one of those dollars and bets contribute to the rise and fall of odds.

I know, here in this article and in person, I may sound like a curmudgeon:  when the discussion comes up about shockingly-high odds, sometimes I sweep my arm toward the general crowd, and declare:  “They’re raising the odds!  And they’re drunk–OR betting on their Grandma’s name!”  That sounds awful of me, but everyone knows that exaggeration often contains a kernel of truth.   So here’s the Truth:  When you sit down with the Form upon arrival at the track, READ the morning-line odds.  The only way to make intelligent betting decisions:  read, and think for yourself.  Truth.

Then, pay NO attention to the odds for each race after you’ve placed your bets.  (Unless you see such a high number, like 99:1, that you just can’t resist.  That number could bring Big Bucks to you.)  But don’t waste your time during the day, continuously looking at the tote board and exclaiming, “Oh, my God, he’s 45:1 now!  No, 46!  Forty-nine!” –because if you’re so preoccupied with watching the odds raise, you’ll miss all the races, and the beautiful horses, themselves.  (And that’s kind of stupid.)

Read the morning-line odds.  Take all your notes.  Enjoy your morning, and the nickering of horses.
If you can, check out the horses in the paddock, before their races–they’re the ones who can tell you, best,  if they’re in it to win it. 

Pay no attention to the odds as they grow–they mean absolutely nothing.
The only things that matter are the opinions of the pros–the opinions of the actual horses, who’ll do the running–and YOUR opinion.

When all is said-and-done, pay no attention to the man with the Bud in his hand–or the woman who’s betting for sentiment, ’cause they’re the ones who are raising the odds, artificially.

Trust your gut, and the eye contact you may make with a horse in the paddock.  (And if you throw a few bucks at a horse with astronomically-high odds–don’t worry, his leg didn’t fall off, so she MAY win.)

That way–win, or lose–you’ve bet in the most intelligent, reliable manner possible.  (And, you’ve had fun watching actual horse racing, instead of a cold, hard, LED odds board.)


Photo Credit:

Thank you to Thoroughbred Daily News and Sarah Andrew, for the beautiful photo of Good Samaritan winning the Jim Dandy on July 29, 2017.