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Horse Sense, Longshots, and Ugly Dogs

   by Al McMordie - 05/13/2005

If you’re looking for a time frame to write about long shots, the week following Saturday’s thrilling Kentucky Derby would be the favorite, so to speak. One of the mistakes novice bettors make, in all sports, is looking at too many favorites. Always remember that betting lines are carved out not on whom someone thinks will win, but on who they think the general public thinks will win.

This is an important distinction, because the public looks at sporting events far different than the wise guys. Wise guys possess patience, endless statistical data, and far more knowledge on games than most players. Those three factors are positive with respect to predicting outcomes. On the other hand, the public has three negative things in their corner: Impatience, gut-feelings and thinking too much about what happened the last game. If a star pitcher in baseball is a three-dollar favorite, for example, the general public looks at that game and thinks, “That team can’t lose.â€쳌 A good sports bettor knows that anything can happen, and looks for wagering value, something always available with live underdogs.

Take Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. The general public doesn’t understand the nuances involved with horse racing. Ask 50 people a week ago about who they think might win the Derby and most would have said, “Bellamy Road. Because I’ve read his name in the newspaper all week and he’s owned by some rich famous guy.â€쳌 Hence, enough public money came in on Bellamy Road and he closed as the 5-2 favorite. In the end, that horse ran more like Ralph Bellamy, finishing seventh. While we’re on the subject, here’s an analysis I wrote for my customers just before the Kentucky Derby:

“Both High Fly and Bellamy Road are very talented horses with plenty of front end speed, but they have never been pressured on the front end like they're likely to be on Saturday. The likes of High Limit and Spanish Chestnut will likely set a blistering pace and if these two chase it, then they won't last. The other knock against Bellamy Road is that he is too lightly raced, only having two starts as a 3-year old and bounce players will also want to stay away from him. If you live and die with Beyer speed figures, then clearly he's your horse. At a likely price of 2 - 1, I'm staying away. Besides, it’s fun to root against George Steinbrenner, even in horse racing.â€쳌

Notice that I was staying away from the favorite for three reasons. 1) It had never been pressured on the front before; 2) Experience. Bellamy Road lacked it; and 3) The price was bad. I didn’t think the horse should be that high a favorite, and at 5-to-2, there’s no betting value. In fact, I didn’t focus on the favorites or long shots at all at the beginning. My write up on the Derby worked backwards, looking at the entire field of 20 horses and, through the process of elimination, narrowing down the field to the horses that I thought had the best chance of winning. You can use this kind of analysis in all sports, looking at matchups on the football field or basketball court first without paying attention to the point spread. It helps clear your focus on the essentials of a contest, as the point spread can cloud your thinking as it INTRODUCES A BIAS. At the end of my Derby evaluation I listed two horses: Wilko and Giacomo. Here’s verbatim what the final paragraph of my analysis said of those two horses:

“I have been going back and forth on these two and both should be very long odds. Wilko should be at least 20-to-1 and I wouldn't be surprised if Giacomo was at least 40-1. I'm going to take Wilko to Win, but I'm also going to have money on both of these horses to win, place, and show. If you like exotics, you should also consider a smaller exacta box wager with these two, and keying them both in your trifecta. Also try wheeling them with the field in the exacta. If either of these scenarios comes in, the payoffs should be huge.â€쳌

Notice I wasn’t fixated on the favorite. In fact, I wasn’t even focused on the odds at first, just which horse, carefully and logically, had the best chance to win the race. It was only at the end that I mention the odds, which were long enough to offer excellent betting value. This would be similar to listing all the reasons why the Miami Heat should beat the Washington Wizards in this playoff series, of which any one us could write a small book. However, with the odds currently being Miami minus-3,000….well, there’s no value for your betting dollar! With Wilko and Giacomo in the Derby, however, a 50-to-1 ticket offers just what a serious bettor is looking for – betting a little to win a lot. And the winning Exacta paid 9800 dolllars (so anyone who took my advice and wheeled the 2 horses with the field won a fortune)! So the work one puts into analyzing sporting events is easily worth the effort when one cashes the fruits of victory like Saturday’s Derby. Good luck as always...Al McMordie.


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