Monopoly Money

October 13, 2014

So many horse players don’t get the betting aspect of the game. They just don’t grasp the nature of pari-mutual wagering. Many of them see it as playing against the “house” or track and that simply isn’t what it is all about. The tracks make their money off takeout, concessions and the like. Their bottom line is not affected by how much you win, but by how much you actually play. Your share of a winning pool only affects you and the other winners you are sharing it with. The track, like the house, doesn’t lose, they already have your money and that’s fine, they provide the venue.

Once you understand that, you realize you are playing against the other bettors. They are the ones you have to beat consistently to ultimately beat the game. This is the very core of why value has to be sought when making wagers if you wish to survive in the long term. It is also why going with the masses and often the obvious will not yield the long term results you will need to beat the game or even survive it at an acceptable level. As I have said before, only one thing counts, do you beat the game?

There has always been an overload of opinions at the racetrack. There has also always been an abundance of people looking for and willing to listen to those opinions. In a game where we know going in we will be wrong more than right that seems odd, but I guess human nature wins out over logic and reason. As with all opinions some are better and more guided than others. If you are looking for opinions at the racetrack how do you know which are sound and worth listening to and which can be treated as not much more than gibberish? As you read on I think I can answer that question.

First and foremost let me say this, on a personal level I never ask another handicapper’s opinion unless it is to make polite conversation. I have been doing this a long time and have been friends with trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, owners, etc, and have never asked for or listened to their opinions on a horse race. I back my opinion and mine only. Even when I am asked, which I do not mind most times, I almost never ask back unless it is as aforementioned to be polite. People in the game and connected with a horse are almost never objective, kind of like parents talking about their kids. Those opinions won’t help you beat the game in the long run.

I love the sport of thoroughbred racing. As an animal lover, I often find myself conflicted over some of the negative aspects of it, as well as the areas crying out for improvement. Despite that, my passion remains strong. I love the equine athleticism displayed in every race run regardless of level. I love the beauty, grace, and talent of the thoroughbred. I enjoy the ability, discipline and fierce competitiveness of the riders, pound for pound as strong as any athletes in the world. I love observing trainers play the claiming game and develop stakes performers. I enjoy the auctions, pin hooking, and the feel of the racetrack, almost everything. I love the gambling aspect and especially the misunderstanding that playing the horses is not a game of skill. I remember when they used to say the same thing about poker.

There are many idiosyncrasies in the sport of kings. We recently spoke about leaving the door open by leaving one horse out in an exotic wager. We all know what will happen. Another is not playing a horse you like, they almost always win. How about the day you stop playing a horse you have been following, fun watching everyone else cash isn’t it? There are also things that come with experience and observing the game over time.

When I listen to some of the opinions being offered on social media as well as the two major horse racing networks, TVG and HRTV, and even on Network television when they cover our sport, I can’t help but ask myself, do these people actually bet? Many times I am sure they don’t. They can’t be. Many of the wagers “suggested” offer no hope whatsoever for long term success. I don’t know the criteria for continued employment for a public handicapper but judging by the longevity of some, I can assure you it is not the one thing that matters, which is beating the game or winning. What makes it worse is many of these people are not making the bets they are encouraging others to make. That doesn’t sit right with me. While it isn’t my habit to encourage anyone to bet a horse, I have done so on occasion, never without wagering myself however.

There is a huge difference when you actually wager than when you just opine. Monopoly money doesn’t count nor do opinions not backed financially by the person offering them. Fact is you do things differently when you are not actually betting. Why anyone would listen to someone who doesn’t actually make the bets they offer is beyond me. That’s like saying I don’t like money and don’t need any but if I did I would bet this combination. Is that who you want to be guiding you? It would also be remiss given we have seen corruption at many levels of the game we love to not at least point out the possibility exists if someone is giving out bets they aren’t making, are they actually making other bets? I don’t think that helps the transparency the game needs. Don’t bother arguing that so and so gave out the winner and didn’t bet as I am not impressed, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Who knows what they would have done or actually bet if they were using their real money?

When you are opining without wagering you don’t do what you would do if you were actually wagering. That’s a fact and if you argue it or don’t understand it I would say you aren’t a player. Anyone who bets horses with regularity knows that and has learned it. There is an old saying around the racetrack: “Scared money doesn’t win.” Players also know this is often true and it is no coincidence. When you are playing with case money you do things differently.

If you go though the past Saturday’s racing form on Monday morning you will see tons of picks made by quite a few public handicappers. You’ll be hard pressed to find a winner. Most have what sounds like good reasoning behind them but they rarely find their way to the winners circle. If they do the price is usually short. The same holds true for the racing networks and even the mainstream networks when they carry our sport. Following these types of picks which more often than not aren’t played by those making them can make you a millionaire, if you’re a billionaire that is.

Many of these people are very knowledgeable about the game, they just aren’t good handicappers, or bettors. If you are going to follow someone’s opinion and wager recommendations’ don’t you want it to be someone who is actually betting their money and is impacted by the outcome?

Back in the summer of 2013 a handicapper on TVG gave out a pick 6 play that cost $80.00. The ticket hit and paid 53k or thereabouts. I knew the handicapper didn’t play the ticket, instinctively I guess. I can usually tell when I read the posts or hear the analysis whether I am listening to an actual bettor. In that case I knew I wasn’t and some other people on social media must have sensed the same thing. While the analyst accepted congratulations the question arose whether he actually played the ticket. Instead of answering right away they played it Lebron James style and said they would reveal that the following day. That pretty much confirmed my opinion that he did not make the bet. He didn’t. There were many people who felt it didn’t matter as he gave out the winning ticket. I disagree, monopoly money doesn’t count even if the broken clock theory applies. If you don’t bet your money how do you call yourself a handicapper? The internet is loaded with people willing to give you their picks even though they wouldn’t bet them themselves. There is nothing wrong with following an opinion more informed than your own but are those the ones?

It was widely reported back in the winter of 2013 that DRF and HRTV handicapper Brad Free hit a 41k pick 6 on a $20.00 ticket. He actually made the bet. Nice job and nice little score. He closed it out with 4 consecutive singles. Does anyone know if he posted and gave out the ticket prior? If so kudos to him and his followers, if not things that make you go hmmm.

Not everyone out there is giving out horses and not betting them or worse betting others. Take Aaron Veracruyse for instance. He goes on HRTV every week and gives out price horses I believe he bets.

Opining and discussing is one thing, but giving out horses is another. If you give out horses your money should be where your mouth is. If you say things like “I’m taking” or “I’m using” you should actually be betting.

There are plenty who do indeed put their money up. Take Zenyatta John of He sells a reasonably priced sheet and if you follow him on Twitter there is little doubt he bets the horses he gives out. He sweats out the photo finishes and absorbs the tough beats and celebrates the wins. There are others like him as well.

When you have these handicappers who always give out short priced horses, often more than one in a race and every race on the card, they can’t possibly win. If you know that going in why follow these types of handicappers? Not everyone can be a good handicapper and money manager and it takes both to beat the game. It also takes a lot of time and sacrifice. I try with a lot of these columns to help people do just that but it is not for everyone. You can still enjoy and prosper at the sport we love. If you are going to follow a handicapper there are really only two rules you should set. One, make sure it is someone who bets what they give out, and two, make sure it is someone who knows how to beat the game and can do it. Otherwise just pick a number.

The news was not all good in the Sport of Kings this week. Apparently Wise Dan suffered an ankle injury which looks like it will prevent him from going for the three peat in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. That also probably costs him any shot at horse of the year he may have had. Disappointing at the least but he really gave so much for so long.

Readers will recall how we wrote about Crown Queen months ago and pegged her as a future major stakes winner. She did not let us down and took the QE11 at Keeneland over the weekend. This rapidly improving half-sister to Royal Delta should be even better at 4.

I hope you all enjoy the new web site. We tried to make it state of the art and user friendly at the same time. We will be rolling out all the features in the coming weeks. In the interim I welcome your thoughts and comments.

High 5

The High Five goes to Dan at Danonymous Racing this week. Dan has been so helpful in getting this column started and developed I can’t thank him enough. Racing can use more Dans for sure.

Low 5

I love Tom Amoss as a trainer and horseman however he takes the cake this week. While guest hosting on TVG this weekend Tom said Lasix was an enabler and not an enhancer. While a nice try at semantics, come on Tom.

Horse to Watch

Queen’s Prize has yet to run in the states but trainer Christophe Clement has been trying to find the right spot. When she gets in she can run.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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