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I recently stumbled upon a livechat featuring Jerry Bailey and it got me thinking about the roles Jockeys play in the outcome of a race, and the art of jockey handicapping in general.
At this summer’s Belmont Stakes meet Junior Alvarado and Javier Castellano are battling it out for the riding title. They both have a 23% win percentage.
In what other sport can you crack open a bottle of champagne and celebrate attaining your profession’s highest honor though you have only been successful 23 percent of the time? So, on any given 9 race card the best jockey is still probably going to win 23% of the races on the card- a whopping two races!
This is not to say throw out jockey handicapping altogether, this is to say understand its limitations as well as what it can do for you.
There are two factors only that affect a jockey’s ability to ride-the surface and the horse’s running style. There are two surfaces and four primary running styles for a total of eight types of riding situations a jockey can find himself in. A jockey can ride a frontrunner, stalker, closer or a deep closer and he can do this on dirt or turf (we will pretend polytrack doesn’t exist for now).
So, let’s look at the maestro himself; Garret Gomez. Garret has a 18.38 win percentage on turf and 17.62 on the dirt which makes him pretty adept at both surfaces. If I had to make a jockey’s chart for Garret Gomez it would look something like this:
Needless to say, I wouldn’t hesitate playing a horse because Gomez was riding, but I should also note that I wouldn’t play a horse simply because Gomez was riding either. Now lets say that Garret Gomez was on the second best horse according to the TA Indicator and the best horse according to the TA indicator was ridden by Dean Butler. Though some of you are going to be completely surprised to hear this, Dean Butler’s turf and dirt numbers are almost identical! Here is how my jockey chart for Dean would look like:
I would go with Dean in most circumstances, but would seriously consider Gomez if he were on a stalker and Dean was riding a deep closer. In this circumstance I do think that Garret could steal the race away from Dean.
The main argument that I am trying to make is that I would use the TA indicator as well as my gut instincts about the horse’s abilities to make my decision, but my tie-breaker would be the jockey if it were a special scenario. It has also been my observation that jockeys do not struggle with distances or track conditions, but rather with surfaces and running styles. Patrick Valenzuela was great at sprints because frontrunners are also great sprinters, but if they were great routers he would’ve won a bunch of routes as well. His biggest win was going a mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby, and it was on a little black colt with lots of early speed. Valenzuela was never average; but if there was a situation were he looked less than spectacular, it was with deep closers. This means that if he were riding a deep closer, then that horse would have to have the best TA indicator in order for me to play it.
It is important to remember that the best jockeys will win 2 out of 9 races; the key is figuring out which two races they are going to win. The answer to that is usually the two races where the surface and the horse’s running style play to the jockey’s strengths.
The Belmont Stakes is here and needless to say I am excited.
From Sarava to Birdstone to Da’Tara the Belmont Stakes has always provided huge paydays, and it’s for one reason and one reason alone, the conditions of the race itself are the ultimate anomaly.
When will these horses ever run on “Big Sandy” again?
When will these horses run in a field of 14 horses?
When will these horses see 12 furlongs (a mile and a half) again?
This is why I believe horseplayers always get the Belmont Stakes wrong. They play the race like an allowance non winners of two going a mile when they should play the race for what it is: a bona fide grade one going a mile and a half; it is truly the test of champions and the last great American horse race.
The question you should now be asking yourself is how do I play the race the way it should be played?
I used Thoroughbred Analytics’ proprietary model to handicap the race and here’s what I came up with.
The biggest metric in my opinion is Lengths gained.
You have to pass a lot of tired horses to win the Belmont, and though horses do win this race gate to wire, more often than not the winning jockey sees the backside of eight to ten horses on his way to claiming victory. There are three horses that our model has shown to be strong in this metric. The first is Revolutionary he has done most of his running from off the pace and has demonstrated the ability to make up a considerable amount of ground. This is important because it shows that he is not getting tired. Anything can happen on Saturday but I would feel safest putting my money on a horse that wants to go the distance and Revolutionary is that horse. The second horse is Orb. I always thought Orb and Revolutionary were such similar horses that if they didn’t look different, I wouldn’t be able to pick them apart. Now this is where the model comes in handy, Revolutionary scored an 86.80 while Orb scored an 86.20. This means that though they are similar, Revolutionary is slightly more likely to pass a tired horse in the stretch and could have the edge over Orb in the Belmont. The third horse is a longshot who deserves some serious attention. Unlimited Budget scored an 85.60 which reassures me that she has the closing kick necessary to steal this race away from the boys. Like I said before, this is a different type of race and you have to think differently in order to handicap it. Revolutionary, Orb and Unlimited Budget have passed the test in what is the most important metric.
The second biggest metric is speed. Secretariat needed speed, Point Given needed speed and the eventual 2013 Belmont winner will need to have some tactical speed so he or she can be in the mix by the time the horses get to the three-eighths pole. Look at it this way, the race is longer than any other in America, but it’s still not a five mile steeplechase race where the horses will be trotting for two whole minutes before the real running starts,
so some speed is critical. Speed only stops mattering after approximately three
miles. The highest scorer is Vyjack. He scored an impressive 90.27 which makes sense considering that he is probably the most naturally talented horse in the race. Think of him like Smarty Jones: A miler who can carry that speed. I’m glad the model gave credit where credit is due because I was pleased with how he chased a solid pace in the Gotham and
still finished in 1:44 flat. He has Julien Leparoux in the irons, so expect him to relax a little more this time out; also, if you draw a line through his Kentucky Derby which is reasonable considering the slop and the trip, he’s a pretty consistent horse. Second was Incognito but I don’t really like him and luckily neither does the model as he is ranked tenth overall. Third was Revolutionary.
The third thing that many handicappers overlook is that it’s a Jockey’s race! I honestly believe that if you are a jockey, winning the Belmont should be your ultimate goal. There is no other race where the jockey has so many opportunities to mess things up for his or her horse. So, what does our trusty model have to say about these jockeys; Unlimited Budget seems to be the biggest beneficiary when it comes to having a pilot. Unlimited
Budget will be piloted by Rosie Napravnik who scored a staggering 100.63 rating. Even though she hasn’t won a Triple Crown race, she has won the Oaks and she’s easily in the conversation for best jockey in the country, and she is somewhat familiar with Belmont. Orb came in second because he has Joel Rosario in the irons and Joel has seemed to channel his inner Willie Shoemaker as of late. Joel will not move Orb prematurely. Obviously, Johnny Velasquez is loyal to a fault when it comes to Todd Pletcher and that is
why he will be riding Overanalyze. I’m pretty sure Todd pulled Johnny aside and said “which one you want?” and Johnny choses this fine thoroughbred specimen.
So who do I recommend? I would go with either Revolutionary or Vyjack. Both horses rated strongly across all metrics and they both have the necessary turn of foot to do well on Saturday. If you’re looking for a price, Vyjack will be much higher than Revolutionary, but they both have an excellent shot at winning this race. Unlimited
Budget is also a great play, though I would use her for trifectas more than anything else. The beauty of Thoroughbred Analytics’ TA indicator is that it allows us to go less with our gut and more with an objective view of how good these horses are in the areas that actually matter. I’m sure some of you thought Orb was a shoe-in, and I liked him too, but when I
realized that Revolutionary was gutsier down the stretch and that Vyjack is naturally faster, I realized that Orb is too risky a pick at too short a price.
The model got me to take a closer look at Vyjack and I’m starting to realize that he’s got too much natural speed and too good of a running style to be any lower than 10-1. The Derby was a fluke. He didn’t like the crowd and he didn’t like the trip he got. I’m sure he’ll run much faster this time around. Revolutionary is a horse that is consistent and easily got the distance in the Derby. He probably shouldn’t have been on the rail as it was playing a little slow that day, so his third is actually better than it looked!
Notice that I have yet to mention Golden Soul. This is because he finished 11th out of all 14 horses in TA indicator, and didn’t finish in the top three in any of my Key Metrics. He
seems to be this year’s money vortex. Each year there is a horse in the Belmont that takes all of the “stupid money” he seems to be that horse for this year’s Belmont- who knows though. What I do know is that using the TA indicator and the Thoroughbred Analytics’ model has given me more confidence in playing Revolutionary and given me a reason to use the seriously underrated Vyjack in all exotics and trifectas and maybe even a small win bet.
I am not saying that my picks are guaranteed to win, and if you play them and lose, I will most certainly not pay you a dime- I’m pretty cheap. However, I do think that Revolutionary and Vyjack are worth a closer look, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them in the winner’s circle.
Becoming a good handicapper can take years of following the horses. You must watch thousands to understand the intricacies that go into determining which horse has the best chance of winning a particular race. Most horse racing enthusiasts, who horse handicap, wind up losing thousands of dollars based on inaccurate or incomplete analysis of all the available data.
One way to overcome poor handicapping is to use handicapping analytics to evaluate a race. Using this advanced type of analysis, it is possible to combine the most important factors that go into determining the outcome of a given race.
Formulas assign different weight or importance to such factors as speed, class, condition and pace. They go much more in depth than most handicappers who do their analysis with the charts in the Daily Racing Form. Using the power of computer generated analytics to handicap horse races allows other, more obscure data, such as track variants, detailed trainer records and bloodlines, to be added to the mix of data.
While it is great to have so much data available for analysis that, by itself, will not necessarily lead to better predictability of the outcome of a race. Tools, that are designed to give you an edge while wagering on the horses, are only as good as the choice of data that it is programmed to analyze. Does it really matter that a jockey weighs 112 pounds or 113 pounds when he or she is sitting on the back of a 1,200 pound horse?
Horse racing fans, that like to make more than an occasional wager, are always intrigued by any extra knowledge that might give them an edge when placing a bet. They sometimes act on a hot tip from a friend of a friend and may even sign up for a betting service, or they may buy one a tip sheet and base their wager on a so-called expert’s recommendations.
Instead of having to flip through all of those pages of the Form and get ink all over your hands, you can access the same data on your smartphone or other electronic device. While the old timers are busy trying to figure out which horse and what bet to make before the starting gate opens, you can have your mind made up in plenty of time to make a bet and grab a hot dog and a drink.
As is true with most products that are for sale, some handicap analytic systems are better than others. Prices range widely and the best performing systems are not always the most expensive ones. The best advice for anyone considering the purchase of such a system is to try it out for a month or two before committing to a long-term contractual arrangement. If it works, great. If not, try another.
Every serious horse player is always looking for more horse information that will give him or her the edge that can be the difference between winning and loser. Most people who go to the racetrack will buy a program, study the Racing Form or a tip sheet, and then make a wager. Having access to this information is helpful, but, it certainly does not guarantee that you will win.
The overwhelming majority of race fans wind up leaving the track with less money than they had when they arrived. Favorites only win about once in every three races. Making it even more difficult to win are the exotic bets like trifectas and pick four wagers.
Even the most veteran of gamblers can have a difficult time trying to pick the ponies. It can be incredibly challenging to narrow down a large field of evenly matched claimers down to just one or two horses. How do you pick the winner in a race full of first time starters? Part of the intrigue and attraction of the King of Sports is the process of wading through all of the data and choosing what horse information matters the most.
Handicapping is not an exact science. It is much more of an art. One handicapper might choose to analyze a race based entirely on speed figures. Another might take into account the class of the horse or the jockey and trainer winning percentage. There are literally thousands of statistics that can be analyzed.
Horse racing analytics can make it easier to analyze the wide universe of data. There are a number of services that do this type of work and then package it in a form that is easy to read and understand. Some software packages provide proprietary information based on formulas and algorithms. Without computers, it would be impossible to analyze all of the data and make such highly educated picks based on past performances.
Racing enthusiasts can use a horserace handicapping tool to access information and interpret data. Today, there are even apps you can download on your smartphone that will give you an edge at the track. Imagine going to Belmont or Churchill Downs and, instead of rifling through the Racing Form, you pull out your iPhone, touch the screen and get all the information you need to make a bet.
Technology touches our lives in so many ways. The racing community is no exception. While many old-timers are hesitant to try the newest handicapping tools, younger race fans are quick to adapt the latest technology. Who can say for sure whether the 60 year old horse player with a crumpled up Racing Form is better at picking winners than the 25 year old newcomer who has the advantage of a horse racing handicapping tool.
Before the digital era, handicapping thoroughbred horse racing was an art more than a science, a blend of past performances and gut intuition that could only be gained through years of observation and experience. Even with all of that dedication, few handicappers ever made a profit. For many people, the sport has not changed at all following the invention of the Internet. Others, however, have recognized the vast potential to be found in an online database with results from nearly every modern race ever run.
Horse racing statistics alone cannot be used to predict the outcome of a race. There are so many variables that affect finish order, including acts of random chance, that can rob a favorite and send a longshot to victory. The whole point of an odds system is that the same race, run one hundred times, will show many different results. Statistics are not a guarantee. Instead, they look at how similar races ended and, when integrated into a handicapping system, provide an odds-line based on historical evidence.
The questions that influence the efficacy of a handicapping program are which statistics to use, how many and from where. There are the big considerations, like how many maidens win their debut, and then there are the smaller ones, such as how closers are faring over Santa Anita’s new track surface. It’s best to have separate programs, each geared toward a different surface or track. Some of the most common statistics used are the win, place and show percentages of favorites, second favorites and so on; performances of horses rising or dropping in class; Lasix usage; individual trainers and jockeys; and pedigree performance. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of numbers to measure and catalog.
The hardest part of using horse racing stats in handicapping is gathering them and compiling them into an accurate program. Many online horse racing services have extensive archives, including past performances, but translating that information for your own use is a time-consuming process. This is why most profitable players focus on only a few tracks: They have a narrow enough scope to create a specific, functional model. It’s also why many handicappers choose to buy established software rather than create their own.
Don’t forget to give other handicapping considerations weight. A computer can’t know that a horse was badly blocked in its last race, but you can by doing your homework. Always double check before putting down money, and don’t bet the farm before you are seeing profitability. Even if you are managing a positive return on investment, keep experimenting and tweaking to improve your performance. With the right data and a well-crafted handicapping program, you can transform hundreds or even thousands of numbers into meaningful and profitable information.
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