Jason Beem's Thursday Column for May 26, 2022

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May 26th, 2022

A good Thursday to you all! Looking very much forward to the holiday weekend this weekend and a five-day race week here in Louisville at Churchill Downs, with the Monday feature being the Grade 3 Winning Colors. Hope to see some of you under the Twin Spires this weekend.

So for today’s column, I wanted to talk about two races from last weekend at Pimlico, one that the wrong horse won and one in which the right horse won. Most of us when we’re taught to handicap we’re taught to try to “pick the winner.” As I’ve gotten older and been blessed to talk with more and more serious horseplayers, I’ve found that it’s much more important in a pari-mutuel game to try to find the horses whose odds are higher than their actual chances of winning. You’ll often hear the term “overlay” bandied about, and that’s essentially what I’m describing. So for me, handicapping really has become assessing a horse’s chances or percentage chance to win the race and comparing it to the price I’m being offered.

Flashback to Preakness day last Saturday, and I was sitting with some friends watching the races from both Pimlico as well as the live races at Churchill. All day long at Pimlico it seemed like speed was really tough to beat on the main track. If you weren’t on the lead or very close to it, you were kind of up against it. So that brought us to the Sir Barton S., which was run as the 11th race at 1 1/16 miles on the main course.

Ethereal Road was absolutely the "name" horse in the race as he had just recently decided to scratch out of the Kentucky Derby, which ultimately let Rich Strike in. You know what happened after that. But Ethereal Road was a closer, just a maiden winner, coming in off a scratch, and given the way the course was playing, 3-2 odds on him seemed extremely low. Me and my cohorts in the Gold Club all seemed to agree he was a huge play against at those low odds. He proceeded to drop back to seventh early on and then make the only huge, off-the-pace move all day to win going away. Womp womp. 

The reason I bring this up is I’m a firm believer that sometimes the wrong horse wins. You might be asking, “Jason, how is he the wrong horse, he won easy by 5?” Yes he did. But given all of the circumstances and information we had coming into the race, do you think he wins that race 40% of the time, which his odds state he should? I sure don’t think so. Even after he jogged, I maintain he was a good bet against. 

Now just over an hour later in the Preakness, we had almost the exact opposite situation happen. With all the money coming in on longshots like Fenwick and Happy Jack, and their odds lowering, someone’s odds must have been inflated. As it turns out, the horse with a ton of upside, who figured to be on the lead, for a world-class trainer, was the one whose odds made him a good bet.

I’m talking about Early Voting, of course, who would go on to score a convincing win at kind of a crazy 5.70-1 and pay $13.40. Most folks when they talk about overlays really are just comparing the horse’s off odds to his or her morning line, but really the morning line is just one person’s best guess of what the final price will be. In this example, though, I think the line was solid and most people would have been pleasantly surprised that Early Voting was 5.70-1. Not the biggest overlay on the planet, but given the course and all things considered, a solid one in my opinion.

We’re all going to be wrong in our opinions at the windows. We’re going to be wrong a lot. A few weeks ago I wrote about how important it is to learn to accept being wrong in this game. Nobody likes being wrong. I don’t like being wrong. But I can accept it if I’m wrong at the right times. I’m happy to get beat at a short price by a horse like Ethereal Road. I’m happy to get beat by those types all day long. Where I don’t want to be wrong is on a horse like Early Voting.

I hope that makes sense and wish you all the best of luck at the windows this weekend.