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Betting in the Trenches

Offense and Defense: The Difficult Balance

Ahead of time, I do not necessarily recommend the following strategy to all players. It is difficult to find a proper mix between offensive and defensive play. In describing my decision making, perhaps I will expose some weaknesses that should normally remain private.

On the opening Friday night of the Breeders' Cup, three things happened that would affect my play on Saturday.

First: Fabre's filly Announce was scratched at the gate for unruly and seemingly psychotic behavior. Human psychopathic behavior is known to be contagious for people who live under the same roof, and with horses, that have no intellectual defense, it might be even worse. I mentioned this in my BC report.

Adjustment I decided to lower my investment on the other two Fabre horses, Brigantin and Byword, and the paltry 5-1 odds on Brigantin helped the decision. Nevertheless, I invested in both because I had written about them in my report. (A word on that in the conclusion.)

Second: Aidan O'Brien's filly, named Up, who I would have named the "least likely of all entered horses to win a race in the BC," finished fourth, only a head from being in the money in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. O'Brien usually uses the "shit-hits-the-fan" strategy, bringing a boatload of horses from all walks of life, and giving them all Lasix, hoping one or two will fire. He's usually not successful, but the finish of the filly Up made me feel, vaguely at first, that I would need to make an adjustment in races where O'Brien horses were running, not betting the O'Brien, but backing up my horse (if he has good odds and the favorites could be out), to finish show (we have no place betting in the French OTB).

Third: With my agent in the USA, I bet what I felt was a can't-lose double on Friday: My Miss Aurelia and Questing in the BC Juveniles combined with Nahrain and Misty for Me in the F&M. ("Misty" was the only O'Brien horse I really liked, as my second choice behind Nahrain. Aurelia won, but in the F&M, even though my two horses ran exactly as they should have, a zero-for-six horse, loser of Group II, Group III and lesser races, popped up to beat me, at huge odds.

Adjustment. I decided that for any serial wagers, only the ALL strategy could work but having immense difficulty identifying which races could be the ALL (for example, I never would have made the F&M race an "ALL"), I decided to scrap all plans for serial wagers, resolving not to get sucked in by 10 cent bets, though I recognize that more talented serial bettors could use the ALL strategy to their advantage.

Here's what went through my mind on Saturday's card, based on my published observations from Friday.

In the Juvenile Turf, I thought I had great reasons to play Farraaj, which I did. But because of the presence of the O'Brien horse (the eventual winner), I played Farraaj to show twice as much as I bet him to win. He finished third and I made a clean profit.

In the Breeders Cup Sprint, I had mentioned that Jackson Bend was a must-use horse. He ended up as the favorite, so my thinking was not original. I noticed in the French odds which are not applied to commingled straight pool payoffs but which do apply in single-race exotics, Jackson Bend was 6-1 (amazing!) and one other horse that I saw was a valid contender, Force Freeze, was listed at 14-1, approximately double his American odds. There was a separate-pool advantage.

So I combined these two in what is called "the place quinella" (in which you need both of your two horses to finish in the money, anywhere in the money). They finished third and second, and I collected a good payoff, only because I saw overlay odds in the separate pool.

The loss of Brigantin was more than nullified by the two subsequent winning bets and I was up for the day. I passed the Turf sprint, having found too many positive angles on too many horses. I also passed the Dirt Mile, which I found unapproachable.  

In the BC Turf, I lost money, playing an exacta with Sarafina and Dean's Kitten and playing Dean's Kitten win-place. In retrospect, given my published argument in favor of Sarafina, that the Arc produces by far the most BC Turf winners and exclusively Arc losers are the ones who win the BC Turf, I should have also bet St Nick. But I didn't. At least one reader sent me an e-mail saying he had played St Nick thanks to my statistic, showing that the student is smarter than the smart-ass teacher.

I passed the BC Juvenile, fearing the O'Brien horses but not succumbing to fear.

I was still clearly up for the night, but if you look at it clearly, the reason was not because of finding more winners but of betting on fewer losers: I had passed three races!

On to the Goldikova race. I boxed Goldikova with Byword, and played French trios (3-horse quinellas), using  4 horses, as I had mentioned: Byword, Goldikova, Turallure and Geo Ponti. One very unlikely horse destroyed the outcome, a horse that had lost by daylight to Turallure. In what I thought was a very clever backup win bet, I played Turallure to win at 11-1 (I had mentioned in my report that this horse was 3-for-3 with Leparoux and 0-for-4 with other jockeys in his last seven races.)

Good decision, bad result. Defeated by the chaos factor. Still up for the night but barely. I had survived til now by defensive betting in a battlefield of chaos. In this race, I had mentioned in my report that Flat Out was another "must-use", like Jackson Bend. So I played a French Trio, with Flat Out- Drosselmeyer-Headache. By now we were back at my apartment, watching on TVG through the internet, and I reviewed the race that had caught my attention for Flat Out: the Jockey Club Gold Cup. I remembered that Drosselmeyer had also looked very impressive in that same race. Both Flat Out and Dross had superb Churchill workouts. They were on site for a month, training for this race.

I saw the odds board, and Flat Out had become the wiseguy horse, bet down to favorite even though two other hype horses had monopolized the DRF coverage. Meanwhile, Drosselmeyer was 14-1. The differential was unbelievable! I noticed that Mike Smith had been aboard Dross for his Belmont win, at today's distance and track. They were switching to Smith. I would not have been able to put all this together ahead of the race. This is the way I think in the trenches.  It all came to my mind only when seeing the toteboard and the extraordinary odds differential.  

So I asked Alan to phone in a moderate win bet on Drosselmeyer to his French OTB account, which he did.

Drosselmeyer won, and I came out of the Breeders' Cup with a profit.

Looking back, I can see several things. In doing massive Breeders Cup research on the relative strengths and weaknesses of foreign horses, there was the danger of overhandicapping and missing thin slice factors that can rise above the rest.  Furthermore, the Lasix factor for foreign shippers , as I had mentioned, throws a wrench in the equation. Elusive Kate, Sarafina and all three Fabre horses raced without Lasix, which in the end, acts as a chaos factor because the player has no way of knowing which will be the horses that move up on the doping.

Though I feel that there was a problem with overhandicapping, I cannot precisely identify the necessary adjustment. There were several calls that could only have come through the research, such as discarding Caspar Netscher, who was only 7-1, as well as discarding the favored Stacelita, and the findings on the two Varian horses proved to be accurate, since they both finished in the money as non-favorites.

A particular problem is not being able to anticipate the toteboard until I actually see it. The decision on Drosselmeyer could only have been made in the trenches. How to be able to anticipate such decisions days before the race?

In the case of Brigantin, I was able to anticipate a toteboard-induced change, having written:   "If the odds were equal between AU Miner, Birdrun and Brigantin, I wouldn't bet the old French plodder." In fact, both Birdrun and Brigantin went off at 5-1 while AU Miner was not much below, at a hard 7/2. In the end, I did make a reduced win bet on Brig, but only because I feared my readers would do the same. I did not want to be like Goldman and Sachs, recommending one investment to clients and then betting against with their own money. (I have saved the Wall Street Journal investigative article on that subject, and review it from time to time to make sure I walk the right path.)

In the end, in handicapping in the trenches, I made some adjustments, based on the way things were developing. Such a strategy can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but it can also prevent a player from making a life-changing score. So for some, it can be a good strategy, but not for everyone.