The Science of Betting

Profile Picture: Derek Simon

Derek Simon

August 30th, 2012

Originally, I’d planned on discussing a variety of racetrack issues in this week’s column — Dullahan’s surprise (at least to me) victory in the Pacific Classic, hopes that Frankel may travel to Paris, etc.

But some comments on a couple of recent TwinSpires blog pieces have caused me to change my mind.

Regarding a piece written by Ed DeRosa entitled “ bettor plays name game to scoop Pick 6 at Del Mar” that — surprise, surprise — details how a TwinSpires account-holder made over $500K by hitting last Thursday’s pick-six as well as a few other multi-race wagers at Del Mar by keying on certain names, an anonymous poster had this to say:

“Betting on horses is ridiculous. It's honestly the dumbest thing you can do. You might as well go play ‘War’ in the casino.”

Later, Old School explained why betting on horses is ridiculous:

“This is just another example of the true odds one faces wagering on horses. An industry that loves the [shadows] and refuses to punish lawbreakers creates results that can only be hit this way…

“Give the government their 60% cut and learn to play poker. It will last longer.”

Added to this, were comments I received from a guy named Kyle on my piece “Fit vs. Fragile.” Among other things, Kyle thought I was dead wrong about the effect of takeout and the importance of one’s winning percentage as it pertains to ROI:

“The more bet collectively on a set of winners the lower the return; the less, the higher. How often horses of either set win is beside the point,” he explained.

“Yes, takeout is not currently tied to field size. It should be. But racing does work that way — field size overcomes take at a certain point. You admit that (I didn’t and don’t). You just don't believe it, I guess.”

Kyle then challenged me to a handicapping/wagering contest to, as he put it, “show you how much more knowledgeable I am than you.”

Now, to be fair, I’ve since communicated with Kyle and he apologized “if he came off arrogant” (I did likewise). However, I still disagree with certain aspects of his approach — mainly, his dismissal of win percentage and what I consider to be his over-emphasis on field size (although, curiously, Kyle told me on my latest podcast that he does not pay attention to field size when he bets).

I also took him up on his challenge. Each of us will start with a $1,000 bankroll — mythical for Kyle, real for me — and we will make bets up to and possibly including the Breeders’ Cup.

I did this for two reasons:
1) I want to show that the races can be and are beaten — in a myriad of ways. Frankly, although I certainly want to beat Kyle in our little head-to-head showdown, I also want him to show a nice profit — using techniques that are surely different from my own.

2) It is my hope that this demonstration will help generate more interest and understanding of the wagering side of the game. Toward that end, I will periodically list some of my proposed plays. I won’t be doing this all the time, mind you — because I am betting real money, I want/need to concentrate on what I’m doing and not be sidetracked by social media stuff — but I’ll shoot for a post or two a week. (Kyle, on the other hand, doesn’t have my time management issues and has graciously allowed me to post his plays on my Facebook page.) 
While Kyle has already started betting in earnest, I still want to finish a few database tests before I start officially, hopefully in early September. In the meantime, however, I’ll make a few action bets... just to keep things interesting.

Below are my plays for Thursday, Aug. 30 (ignore races carded for turf that come off the green):

2ndCanterbury Park (turf): $15 to win on 3-Love Makor.
5thDel Mar (turf): $15 to win on 9-Marlenadarlena.
7thFinger Lakes: Conditional $15 to win on 6-Say Mr. Sandman (at least 7-5 odds with 0 MTP).
3rdHoosier Park: Conditional $15 to win on 6-Our Blushing Rose (3-5, 0 MTP).
7thRiver Downs: Conditional $15 to win on 8-Louimpressme (6-5, 0 MTP).
10thSaratoga (turf): $15 to win on 10-Notacatbutallama.

Check back for other plays this weekend.