Tuley's Takes on life and horse racing

Cooped up in the Tuley’s Takes home office, I continue to have cabin fever. I know you are feeling the same as we’re confined to our homes without our regular sports menu to keep us entertained. And my sincerest sympathies to those who have contracted COVID-19 or whose loved ones have been affected.

There is a silver lining — besides the fact that income tax returns aren’t due Wednesday, instead pushed back three months to July 15 — as hopefully we’ve taken time to reflect on the important things in life like our health and our family.

A dose of self-reflection is also a good lesson for our gambling life. It helps to objectively recap what you did right during a particular gambling session, whether it’s a day at the track or a session at a poker table or a weekend betting sports. This is something I’ve preached long before the pandemic. It’s why I usually start these columns with a recap of how my published picks fared the previous week. 

Critics like to complain when I’m on a hot streak that “you never write about your losses,” but my first response is that it’s not my fault if I have no losses to report. But seriously, I believe I have been fair in owning up to my losses weekly, including the slumps everyone eventually goes through. It’s important to understand the difference between being the victim of a bad beat and making a bad pick.

It’s equally important to acknowledge when you get lucky with a winning bet and not just assume every winner was due to your handicapping prowess. You can learn as much from avoiding the bad habits you might fall into after a lucky win as you can from your losses. 

I’ll use a Texas Hold ’Em poker analogy to illustrate this. Let’s say you’re chasing a straight and hit it on the river card. That’s a win, and you’re congratulating yourself on a great play. However, it could lead you to carelessly chase every straight draw that comes along. Sure, you’ll eventually luck into hitting more straights, but it’s unlikely those wins will make up for all the pots you lose plus all the hands when you recklessly put a lot more chips into hands that you eventually fold when you don’t fill your straight.

So analyze all your gambling sessions. That’s also why I’ve been recapping the daily picks in my “Tuley’s Thoroughbred Takes” picks columns each Wednesday through Sunday on VSiN.com. Sure, we want to brag about the winners, but we also want to be honest about our losers. Were we wrong about the chances of your horse in today’s race? Was the race run the way we expected, or did we get that wrong too?

I like to look back at the winner of the race and see what I missed. A lot of times you’ll hear people at the track or in a racebook, usually after a long shot wins, say something like, “I wouldn’t pick that horse even if they ran this race again.” It’s true that sometimes you can’t figure out why a horse won even after the race. Sometimes horses just improve out of nowhere. It happens, but I don’t think it happens as much as some people claim. If you’re objective, you can usually find some clue that was overlooked.

Let’s check Saturday’s $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes as an example. It wasn’t a graded-stakes race, but it became arguably the biggest horse race in the country that day as a prep race for the Arkansas Derby on May 2. 

The No. 2 horse, Thousand Words, trained by two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert, was the 5/2 morning-line and post-time favorite. I came up with No. 7 Flap Jack as my value play at 20/1 on the morning line (went off at 45/1). As I wrote in “Tuley’s Thoroughbred Takes” and said on Ron Flatter’s podcast, I thought a lot of speed horses would set it up for a closer in the 1⅛-mile race. I liked that Flap Jack had captured his first career victory in late-running fashion in the Arlington-Washington Futurity and thought a repeat of that run would fit perfectly in this race. Flap Jack had subsequently had a subpar sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct, but I was perfectly willing to forgive that performance since 3-year-olds are often improving at this time of year. It was also likely to help my price, as I knew bettors would flock to the so-called top contenders and bet them down — even though Thousand Words, No. 1 Basin and No. 8 Taishan had similar blemishes on their records.

When they ran the race, Flap Jack was sitting a few lengths off the pace, as he had in his previous races. But he didn’t respond when his jockey asked him to run around the final turn and had nothing left in the stretch. My second choice, No. 6 Shoplifted (went off 17/1), showed more of a closing kick but got up for only fifth place. I thought I had the race pretty well handicapped, but my horses just weren’t good enough on this day.

No. 3 Mr. Big News won at 46/1, prevailing by a half-length over No. 12 Farmington Road, who was 6/1 and the pick of Rampart racebook assistant manager Duane Colucci in my column. Believe it or not, I had considered Mr. Big News as another long-shot play, and when you look at the past performances, you’ll believe it. 

Mr. Big News and Flap Jack were almost mirror images on paper. Both had just the maiden victory followed by a clunker (sixth and fifth place, respectively) in their first stakes race at long odds (44/1 and 51/1). The Brisnet PPs had similar notes on each: “Drops in class today,” “Sharp workout” and “Poor Speed Figures.” The only reason I can give you that I chose Flap Jack over Mr. Big News is that he broke his maiden against winners, while Mr. Big News beat only other maidens. 

I’m not against betting two horses to win the same race if I think I’m getting enough of an overlay. But in the long run, echoing back to the poker analogy, you’re just killing your overall odds so much that you can’t overcome them even when you do win.

While I was disappointed in my losing wagers, I thought the result vindicated my approach with the long shots. You don’t cash $267.60 exactas and $1,205.25 trifectas like Mr. Big News topped by betting the chalk (or the $524,966.50 pick 5 at Oaklawn Park that you might have read about over the weekend).

So I’ll continue picking my long shots. I understand this approach isn’t for everyone, so I’ll include picks from my stable of handicapping friends (Ed Sehon and Colucci had multiple winners last week) in the Tuley’s Thoroughbred Takes columns each week. So check VSiN.com every Wednesday through Sunday morning for updates.


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