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The inside line on horse racing's 1-liners

Yes, we’re excited here in the Tuley’s Takes home office to have the NFL draft to bet on Thursday through Saturday. I’ll give my thoughts on that at the end of this column, but we continue to plug away with horse racing.

I was going over last week’s picks by my handicapping friends and me — we didn’t fare too well — and noticed a couple of times our horses had been scratched. So I shared an old racetrack saying: “They never scratch a winner.”

I got to thinking that I use a lot of these one-liners, and it could make an entertaining and hopefully educational column to do a glossary. So here we go:

“They never scratch a winner.” — This is said after you plan to bet a horse and then it gets scratched. It can also be in response to someone complaining that they wanted to bet the horse. It means the connections wouldn’t be scratching if they thought the horse had a good chance to win, so I’m happy they didn’t send an unsound horse to the post. I also see this as saving me from a losing bet and now having a freeroll on my next bet.

 “You can only bet the races in front of you.” — This is similar to the previous saying. It applies to all sports and basically means you shouldn’t waste time worrying about scratches or horses you wish were in today’s races (or players who are out of today’s games). Instead, concentrate on the current fields and conditions.

 “Pace makes the race.” This is the horse racing version of the “Styles make fights” saying in boxing and MMA. It’s important to always try to figure out whom the pacesetters will be and how fast the pace is likely to be. Will a front-runner be able to relax on the lead and go wire to wire, or will the race set up for a closer? This is especially important, at least in my mind, in determining whether a heavy favorite will be helped by the pace — and thus even tougher to beat — or become more vulnerable because of it.

 “Too fast.” — This comes from the movie “Major League,” when a bleacher bum says a fly ball is “too high” to be a home run. Yes, a horse often will bolt to the lead and set fractions like 21 or 22 seconds for the first quarter-mile, then fade in the stretch. But just like the “too high” fly ball ending up as a homer, the front-runner doesn’t get caught plenty of times. The key is getting high enough odds to make it worth the risk.

 “Speed figures are for lazy handicappers.” — This is one of my own. I understand that a lot of handicappers like to compare running times, adjusted for track conditions and potential biases in previous races. This became easier when Beyer Speed Figures gained popularity in 1992. Other speed ratings also attempt to adjust for all kinds of factors. When people ask me which horse has the best speed figures in a race, I tell them: “Just look at the tote board. I’ll lay 9-to-5 that the horse with the best speed figure is the chalk.” If you’re going to bet the horse with the best figures, you’re probably just betting the favorite and likely betting an underlay.

 “Bet the overlay.” — Race and sports bettors know an overlay is when a horseplayer or team has odds to win that exceed the true odds. If a horse is going off at 10/1 when it should be among the favorites, you bet it. The same thing if the chalk should be odds-on but you’re getting better than even money.

 “I’m having a very good day.” — This is from another movie, the classic “Let It Ride” with Richard Dreyfuss as Jay Trotter. Good days can be few and far between, especially if betting long shots like yours truly. I’d argue that chalk bettors are just as likely to have losing days without the upside. But when you have one, it’s always fitting to say, “I’m having a very good day.”

That’s a good start to the glossary. I would love to hear your racetrack sayings and the handicapping lessons they represent. Feel free to share some by sending them to me at tuley@vsin.com or via private message on Twitter @ViewFromVegas and we’ll include in a follow-up column.

As for picks this week, I’ll again be posting an extra “Tuley’s Thoroughbred Takes” for April 22-26 at VSiN.com on Wednesday morning with my top-value picks each day as well as some from my handicapping friends.

 

Take on NFL draft

With the lack of sports to bet on the last month, it’s safe to say this week’s NFL draft is the most analyzed ever, certainly from a betting perspective. And I get it. I’m sure you’ve heard bookmakers say how they’re not too crazy about booking the draft because of all the information out there. Nevada’s Gaming Control Board requires books to stop taking bets 24 hours before the draft, but with the information continuing to flow, it does appear the books are giving away free money.

Sharp bettors have already pounded the weakest lines out there, with the recreational bettors grabbing what they can. If you haven’t already made your bets on the draft, you have to decide whether you’re willing to lay really bad odds. That is to say, bad odds compared with what was available before. I guess some will say they’re not bad odds if you cash. Let’s look at some examples.

One of the most popular props is the Over/Under on the number of quarterbacks drafted in the first round. A check of Circa Sports’ odds Tuesday morning had Under 4.5 with the Under juiced at -780 after it was -870 on Monday. (For the curious, the Over 4.5 is %plussignW5.) The consensus is that the four first-round QB prospects are LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Utah State’s Jordan Love. It seems like easy money. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone make a case for Washington’s Jacob Eason (whose Over/Under draft position is 55.5 at Circa), Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts (58.5) or Georgia’s Jake Fromm (74.5). While quarterbacks are overvalued and some team could reach by taking one of these in the first round, I’ll pass on the Over as the number still appears too cheap.

The other skill-position props are also juiced pretty high at Circa. Over/Under 0.5 running backs has -180 on the Over and %plussign5 on the Under, while Over/Under 5.5 wide receivers is -190 on the Over and %plussign5 on the Under. The RB prop probably comes down to where you project Georgia’s D’Andre Swift to go. His personal O/U is 31.5 at Circa and 32 at William Hill, so if you like Over 1.5, the better bet is probably the Under on Swift. The conventional wisdom is that there are six first-round WRs, so that’s likely to keep getting steamed higher.

One long-shot prop does looks tempting: “2 Players From Same School Drafted Back-to-Back in Round.” The No is at %plussign`0 at Circa with the Yes at -1000, but I’ll probably still pass. Yes is priced so high because many mock drafts have Ohio State’s Chase Young and Jeff Okudah going Nos. 2 and 3 to the Redskins and Lions, respectively. However, even if the Lions trade the third pick to a team wanting to jump up for a QB, so many Alabama and LSU players are expected to go in the first round that back-to-back picks from the same school are quite possible later in the first round.

As for individual player props, the one I’m liking best is Justin Herbert Under 5.5 -120 at William Hill. Early last season, the joke was that Miami was “tanking for Tua.” But recent reports have the Dolphins liking Herbert more and more due to a similar upside with fewer injury concerns, and they pick at No. 5.

Good luck however you bet the draft. Even if you’re just making paper bets, it’s a productive exercise for all of us to test our brains with something besides horse racing.

 

 

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