The Beauty, Science, and Inconsistencies of Handicapping

May 26, 2019

Last week’s Preakness Stakes is officially in the books as we await the fabulous Belmont Stakes, the always intriguing 12-furlong marathon 3rd jewel of the Triple Crown.
The Preakness was deservingly won by War of Will who sat in a perfect trip. After breaking alertly, he was well in hand, saving ground perfectly then methodically advanced leaving the far turn. When the rail opened up, Tyler Gaffalione took command and War of Will responded greatly and then held his way to the wire.
Ahhh, perfection, so nice but as we handicappers know, it simply doesn’t always work that way.  Simply look no further than War of Will who had won 3 straight rather convincingly coming into the Louisiana Derby. He was greatly supported at the window, but broke poorly and took a very bad step which resulted in him finishing 9th in a field of 11. Then of course, in the Kentucky Derby he was full of run and about to pass the leader as they turned for home, but was forced out, blocked and never recovered, finishing a disappointing 8th.
In the Preakness, as a Handicapper, if you remember my column, I had War of Will selected 4th in the field of 13. We handicappers after going through our process must be decisive and release our analysis.
Ironically,  in the Louisiana Derby, War of Will was my defining top choice, but he had calamities burn his chances.  In the Preakness Stakes, there were 26 professional handicappers who offered their opinion and analysis in the Daily Racing Form and only 4 selected him on top.  He went on to win, paying a rather generous $14.20 at the window.
Thirteen horses were entered, and with the beauty of handicapping, guys like me go through the process of elimination, and then ultimately as I mentioned, need to be decisive.  We handicappers all have different flavors and approaches, but the one thing that is widely consistent is the science of the sport, which is especially pronounced in the Graded Stakes Races.
Speed ratings as essentially important, simply said, a horse running a consistent Beyer of 95 is simply faster than a horse who’s running consistent 65’s or 70’s.  That’s only one factor, of course, there are too many to mention here. The resume of a horse is obviously essential, those that prove themselves to be consistent in Grade One fields, are Grade One horses.
The legend that is Harvey Pack once said “Never ask a horse to do something he’s never done before”  I get it, horses eventually stay within a class, perhaps throughout their career, like a Claimer is a Claimer, some higher, some lower, and then you have horses that show continuous improvement. Obviously, it all starts with their debut, do they run for a maiden tag? or in a much richer and in fact “classier” MSW?
We as handicappers bury our heads in the facts and the science. To me, pedigree is essential too, as are the percentages and consistencies of the Jockeys and Trainers.  Consistency is reliability, We all have our favorite Jockeys based on their raw talents and abilities, but winning percentages are what they are, they are irrefutable. If a jockey is winning consistently at 20%, then he’ll win 20 of every 100 he runs, and when he misses, very often he’ll finish 2nd, 3rd or 4th and still provide mutuals for your pockets.
Handicapping at times blitzes logic, because of the myriad things that can happen during a race. Also, we are dealing with animals, and even though they are wonderfully trained, pampered and loved, they are animals, and on any given day, they simply may not be in the “Mood” to run, make sense?
In the Preakness Stakes,  as much as I have great respect for many fellow handicappers,  I tip my hat to those that were decisive with War of Will, there were many worthwhile facts that simply contributed to his chances. The final Odds mean nothing to me because as a handicapper and bettor, I’m betting against others, I like that.
that is the essence of pari-mutuel wagering.
Of course, having the ability to recognize over-lays and under-lays is imperative towards making smart window decisions and the profits you seek, but I will never allow others to affect my ways. I will always lend an ear to intelligent analysis and opinions because at times you simply can’t cover everything and  something important can be overlooked, we’ve all been there.
I feel the Preakness was a bizarre contradiction to the fascinating science that is handicapping.  As we all know, Everfast finished 2nd, closing in rather game fashion after sitting 11th at the 3/4’s mark.  How did this happen?  Even more so, why did he go off at 29-1? As I went through my handicapping process, the meter in my head calculated he would go off at 80-1 or worse.  Obviously, I was wrong, but for him to gain the $300,000 2nd place purse to me was just nuts. Yes, he raced in various graded stakes races, but his race times were substantially slower than many in the field.  Horses in the field like Bourbon War, Signalman, Bodexpress had defeated him by 15+ lengths, he was only 1 for 10 lifetimes earning only $134,805 in his eleven lifetime starts.  So I dug for reasons to like him or his chances of hitting the board, and the only competent reason I came up with was his rider switch to Joel Rosario, because yes, it does make a difference. Even so, I wouldn’t have bet that horse in this field using your money.
The Preakness was just nuts. Other than War of Will, the 3 horses that filled the SuperFecta ( Everfast, Owendale & Warriors Edge) simply were very tough to come up with and in doing so you needed to eliminate Improbable, Bourbon War, Anothertwistafate , Alwaysmining ( who had won 6 straight races coming in).  You needed to have numerous poor efforts, bad trips, a Jockey falling off a horse at the gate ( Johnny V of all people) a perfect recipe for a huge payout.  The exacta was insane, normally a 6-1 winning over a 29-1 would result in a $300.00 exacta, maybe if that much, but this one paid $947.00. Are you kidding me? The Triple, a robust $4,699.80 for a 50 cent ticket. The Super paid $51,924.00 for a dollar wager. Ridiculous, but it could have paid more.
Regardless of handicapping ways or angles, no competent handicapper could have come up with this exacta. Those that hit it, congratulations, my guess is that you wheeled War of Will and you had an extremely fortuitous result, good for you. Or perhaps, those that loved War of Will and absolutely adore the skills that Joel Rosario possesses, you took a shot and were rewarded handsomely. Good for you,
We can all use racing luck, it will always make the game more interesting.
Stay tuned for my Belmont Stakes analysis which will be published a few days before the big race.

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