We’re wrapping up our second week since sports betting joined the rest of the world in getting turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. We should be coming off one of the biggest weekends of the year with the first two rounds of March Madness and should be handicapping and betting the Sweet 16 this week, but instead we’re coming off a week in which the only thing giving us a sense of normalcy here at the Tuley’s Takes home office has been horse racing.
We’ve had a few winners in our “Tuley’s Thoroughbred Takes” pieces at VSiN.com from our stable of handicappers, but mostly chalk. I would like to pause for a moment of silence to mourn the loss of Patrick McQuiggan, the South Point’s house handicapper, whom I was planning to include in the coming weeks. However, he died in his sleep last week at 64.
We appreciate our loyal longtime readers who have been along for the ride. I know horse racing has fallen out of favor with the younger generation, but we’re happy to educate the newbies. For true beginners, I would direct novices to my “How to bet on horse racing” story at VSiN.com.
For a deeper dive, you could check out books like “Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing” by Tom Ainslie, which I read when I learned the game 30 years ago, or more modern texts like “Handicapping 101” by Brad Free or “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies” by Richard Eng.
Here in “Point Spread Weekly,” we’re not going to reinvent the wheel. A lot goes into handicapping horse races: speed (how fast a horse has run before), class (against what level of competition each horse has raced) and pace (how today’s race will likely be run). And that’s not even including things like breeding, jockeys, trainers, racing surfaces, workouts and other factors. I want to give my takes on some basic concepts to educate newcomers but hopefully also to give veteran horseplayers another view to help with their handicapping. Maybe this will be the start of a new book called “Handicapping 201.”
Take on parimutuel
The first thing I hear newcomers say confuses them about horse racing is that they don’t get the odds they see on the morning line or even the price at the time they place their bets like they get in other sports. That’s because horse racing’s betting system is parimutuel (French for “wagering among ourselves”). That means the final odds and payoffs aren’t determined until all the bets are taken and the track takes its cut and divides the rest among the winners. It can be frustrating to bet a horse when it’s 10/1 on the board and then watch it get bet down to 5/1. In sports betting, if you’re ahead of the crowd, you get a better price. That doesn’t happen in horse racing (except when betting futures, a topic for another day). The other thing that makes parimutuel betting different from regular sports betting is that the house is actually cheering for us to win, as it gets its percentage regardless yet knows we’re likely to re-bet our winnings (called “churn), which leads to more handle and more takeout. This is also why some racebooks have offered rebates to bettors and why it’s easier to get comped drink tickets at racebooks than at sportsbooks, where the hold is much lower. So there is an upside to parimutuel.
Take on morning line
You’ve all seen morning lines, the odds widely disseminated when people talk or write about big races like the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup Classic. Again, those odds aren’t set in stone. They’ll change once bets start coming in and up until the horses break from the gate. This takes place on every race at every track around the world, but bettors have many things to keep in mind when looking at the morning line. First, I advise you to take them with a grain of salt. Just like opening lines in football, basketball, baseball and other sports that will move quite a bit during wagering, the morning line is just the starting point. It’s also important to note that — just like a bookmaker trying to set a line to balance action and not necessarily the oddsmakers’ opinion of which team will win and by how much — the morning linemaker isn’t predicting the winner of the race but trying to predict how the public will bet. It’s often one person’s opinion, so it’s far from infallible. The best way to battle the morning line is to make your own odds for each horse, just like setting your own lines in other sports, to try to come up with each horse’s true odds of winning, and then compare your assessment with the odds leading up to the race.
I know “PSW” readers love all this esoteric discussion of handicapping, but you prefer it when we try to put it all to practical use. So here’s a pick for Wednesday afternoon.
Gulfstream Race No. 9 (5:07 p.m. ET)
Tuley’s Take is long shot No. 2 Extra Extra (20/1 morning line). This race is at 1.5 miles, the length of the Belmont Stakes, which we don’t often see here in the States. So we’re not sure whether any of these horses, even the favorites, will be able to go the distance. That’s enough of a reason to take the longest shot on the board ... but there’s more! As discussed above, we’re not guaranteed of 20/1, but I put this gelding’s chances as much closer to 10/1 because I see him as the speediest of the speed horses that can steal this race wire to wire. The other obvious speed in the race is Vegas Kitten (7/2), but Extra Extra has shown quicker fractions and had a bullet work this week, so I’m confident he’ll set the pace. Most horseplayers avoid speed horses in turf route races because we’re used to seeing late runners win these races, but we’ve seen plenty of times when a horse bolts to a big lead and never gets caught. Again, with no other horses having raced this far, that improves our chances that Extra Extra might be able to just gallop around the track. I’ll be betting No. 2 to win and place, plus an exacta box with all other runners in case another long shot runs second ($2 exacta box on 2 w/all costs just $36 if all 10 entered horses run).
We’ll have more horse racing picks for Wednesday and through the weekend at VSiN.com.