Final Time Tom Foolery (Handicapping Tournament Advice article below this entry — click on RPM Blog button below for other entries including Mark Cramer Research)

Final Time Tom-Foolery



While anticipating a play at Arlington at Caesar’s racebook last July, the fellow next to me leaned over and asked, “How much emphasis do you put on final time?”

I thought for a moment, and answered “About as much emphasis as I put on the colors of the jockey’s silks.”

He looked at me incredulously.  “Are you saying you don’t even look at final time?  C’mon, how else are you going to know how fast a horse can run?”

“I’ll tell you,” I replied, “if you mean do I sit down and compare final times for each runner in the Racing Form, the answer is ‘no’.  I haven’t done that since maybe 1979.  I determine a runner’s ability in other ways, and at times it has little or nothing to do with the horse.”

He just shook his head, unable to comprehend the point I was trying to get across.  In the meantime the horse I was considering playing – a runner fitting the description in the last sentence of the previous paragraph – finished 2nd, returning a nice $6.80 to place and hooking up with one of my ‘key’ horses for a $59.80 Exacta.

Oh well, I thought, there’ll be plenty of other opportunities like this one during my stay.

What I was trying to convey to this fellow, and would have been happy to expound on the subject if he had asked, was that the #1 trait of the losing horseplayer is being a follower rather than an innovator.  Final time?

Honestly, I hadn’t even considered it seriously in my handicapping for years.  I had instead for years been concentrating on factors that I knew had merit and was confident that only a small segment of the handicapping population was using.

My contention was that players were putting too much emphasis on the horse and not enough on the human factor, i.e., the jockey and the trainer.

Afterall, a horse doesn’t walk down to the racing secretary’s office and enter himself in a race.  He doesn’t go to the feed store and purchase the high-energy mixtures and vitamins he needs to stay in top condition.

He doesn’t work himself out in the mornings, or place himself on the hot-walker in the afternoon.  He doesn’t choose the jockey who will be riding him in his next race.  Who does?  Why, the trainer, of course.

The top-notch trainer is much like a successful Hollywood talent agent.

The agent searches out spots where he feels his client has a good shot at getting the part.

He knows the strengths and weaknesses of the actor he is representing, and thus does not send him out on a ‘call’ where he may be outclassed by better, more seasoned performers.

He, in short, is directing this person’s career.  The successful trainer is doing the same thing, only with a four-legged animal.

So while speed, pace, Beyer numbers, etc., all have their place, in my mind I consider the jockey/trainer factor the biggest part of the game.

One of the terms I use often in this context is The 70% Factor.  In other words, I consider that the majority of my handicapping is done after completing three steps:



1) Gauge Jockey Competence via % wins.
2) Gauge Trainer Comptence via % wins and/or in-the-money %.
3) Gauge Team Strength via % wins and/or in-the-money %.



I know that horses who have strong jockey/trainer teams and or percentages are usually ‘well-meant’.  In other words, they aren’t just in for the exercise.

Once I have a clear picture of where the jockey/trainer ‘strength’ is in the race, especially team-strength, I apply my other handicapping techniques to determine if I have a potential play.

But back to the main point of his short chapter.

Players who continue to place heavy emphasis on factors that everyone else is looking at have little or no chance to stay ahead of this game.

You’ll get your share of winners, but because you and everybody else is focusing on high Beyers, speed and pace formulas, you’ll very often be betting the favorite.  And believe me, the horseplayer cannot live on chalk alone.

You need the occasional ‘bomb’ and an average win price in the $8 to $10 range.  And to accomplish that goal, you will need to employ techniques that isolate horses not embraced by a large segment of the crowd.

My work, and results, strongly suggest that the jockey/trainer team concept is a technique that will continue to provide the player with an edge, largely because most players are either unaware of it or are simply too lazy to use it.

“Players who continue to place heavy emphasis on factors that everyone else is  looking at have little or no chance to stay ahead of this game.”


Finishing In-The-Money in those Big Buck Handicapping Tournaments


I’m a battle-scarred veteran of those big-money handicapping tournaments held in Las Vegas several times a year.  I’ve yet to capture the top prize, but a 2nd-place finish at the Hilton’s Pick The Ponies contest last May, a nice $26,600 payday, and several smaller awards have kept me coming back for more.  I’ll tell you one thing, if you are serious about making a go of it at this game, there is no better training ground than one of these mega-buck tournaments.  It’s a great learning experience.  The competition is intense.  You’re forced to make last-minute decisions that can make or break your bankroll.  You will become a better, shrewder and more seasoned handicapper virtually overnight, or over three nights, that is, which is how long the average tourney runs.  I’ve been relying on the ponies for part or all of my living for almost 15 years now, and I come back a wiser, humbler handicapper after each tournament experience.



You are competing for big money in these contests, with the 1st-place award normally in the $50,000 to $75,000 range.  With that kind of coin on the line, you better believe you’re also going to be competing with some of the top handicapping minds in the business.  Some of these players buy more than one entry, and thus increase their chances of finishing on the board.  But don’t let that discourage you.  I’m going to show you an intelligent strategy that will give you a fighting chance to finish in-the-money in these tournaments, and it’s not as difficult as one might think.
Basically, here’s how the tournaments are run.  There are many variations as far as the amounts that you bet go, but they all pretty much work like the description below.



You pay an entry fee of between $600 and $800, which qualifies you for the biggest part of the prize money (also offered in some tournaments is a ‘consistency’ division for picking the most winners, which requires a separate entry fee).  You are required to make ten bets per day, choosing from the four to five tracks they offer.  You are given a ‘bankroll’, which consists of betting script.  In the most popular Las Vegas tournament, you receive $2,000 ‘pretend’ betting dollars per day in the form of script. You are required to bet $200 per wager, win, place, show or any combination thereof.  If you bet $200 to win, for example, and hit a $10 payoff, you earn 1,000 points (100×10 = 1000).  At the end of the day, your points are totaled and posted on the contest board along with the other competitors.  The player with the most points at the end of the tournament wins the big prize, of course, and you can normally earn at least earn your tournament fee back by finishing in the top 25 or 30.



Odds limits are also enforced.  The maximum win price is normally 20-to-1, place 12-to-1 and show 7-to-1, for example.  This prevents someone from catching one or two lucky $90 winners, for example, and running off with the prize money.



The real key to these tournaments is not big price, as many novice players think, but rather consistency at a decent price.  It only takes a handful of decent wins to put you in the thick of things.  At the last tournament I participated in, for example, I had a lousy first day and finished 260th.  On the next afternoon I hit three winners, $18, $11 and $9 and jetisoned up into 36th place the next day.  In these tournaments, the prize money almost always goes to the ‘steady’ rather than the ‘plungers’.  On average, a player needs to accumulate in the neighborhood of 12,000 to 17,000 points** to have a shot at one of the top prizes.  This means you’ll need an average of 4,000 to 6,000 points per day for the three-day tournament.  Let’s say you hit three winners in the course of an afternoon for $8, $12 and $16.  Playing them all to win, you would accumulate 3,600 points (add the three payoffs and multiply by 100).  On day 2 you catch $21, $11 and $9 payoffs.  You would earn an additional 4,100 points, giving you a two-day total of 7,700 points.  A total like this would give put you in striking distance of the prize money on day 3.



**every tournament has different point structures – the above refers to how they compile points at the LV Hilton.

Here’s what you need to do to have a good shot at an in-the-money finish at the tournaments:



1)   Be Prepared.  Where have we heard this before?  I recommend concentrating your efforts on no more than three tracks.  The night before the tournament, complete as much of your handicapping as possible – you won’t have much time during the hectic hours of the competition.  Pick out what you feel are your top plays at each track (remember that you have to make a total of ten plays daily).  Then, during the competition, you want to look for value.  Let’s say you’ve isolated three horses as contenders in a particular race.  Heading towards post, you have a 8-to-5, 3-to-1 and 6-to-1 shot.  If you cannot separate the contenders, go for the horse with the best price.  In many tournaments you can play to win, place and show.  However, you need all the tournament points you can get, so I’d suggest sticking to the win end unless your contender is 15-to-1 or better, in which case you’re going to get a good price if he places as well.



With the advent of the computer-handicapping age, it is much easier to be prepared and organized than it used to be.  While I still study pp’s and largely bet using my ‘gut’ instincts, I do use a few computer programs, mostly software that points out price plays that I likely would have overlooked.  Since my company sells these programs and this is an article for HP, I cannont mention them here, but if you contact me personally I will be happy to provide you with the details.



2)  Concentrate your efforts on horses in the 4-to-1 to 10-to-1 range.  You only need to pick up two or three daily in this range to be in the thick of things at tournament’s end.



3)  Consider attending the tournament with a partner.  It’s very difficult to do all the prep work and then make the last-minute decisions all by yourself.  I always attend with a friend who I work well with, and who will often point things out I may have overlooked.  I have found it very valuable to have a ‘second opinion’ from another competent handicapper.



3)  If you are nowhere in the standings going into the final day, you have no choice but to take some chances.  Don’t go wild, but look for horses among your top three to five contenders who are going off at 10-to-1 or better and have a competent jockey and trainer (we suggest using a 10% win average for the jocks and trainers – this info is provided in the Daily Racing Form).  Bet to win only.  We’ve known more than one player who has come back to finish in the top ten by employing this strategy on the final day.



4)  Don’t be intimidated by the yelling and screaming in the room while the races are being run.  Sometimes it seems that everyone but you had the winner of the race just completed.  In my experience, most of the loudmouths finish well down the list.  A cool and calm demeanor will aid in reaching your goal.



5)  Remember that everyone is in the same boat in these tournaments.  You all start off with the same number of points, 0, and it is your job to build on that total.  I’ve seen many top-name handicappers go down the tubes, and I’ve seen relative novices pick up nice chunks of the purse, so never feel that you are at a disadvantage simply because some racing heavyweights are in the room.  If you do your homework and manage your betting script carefully, you will often find yourself doing well.  And with a little racing luck, one of those nice 1st, 2nd or 3rd prizes could fall into your lap.