Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What Are You Good At?

As tax season races up on us, folks that have done well enough at the track or in a casino have to start looking at ways to cover some of the gambling winnings with losses. Keeping detailed records is an excellent way to be able to prove what you've been betting and how much. Another way is to run some simple reports with your favorite casino or on-line race book. How many of you knew that you could ask you favorite casino to run you a win/loss statement for the year? That's what part of the magic is for that player's club card that you use every time you sit down at a machine or a table game. In addition to the free rooms, shows and meals they offer you, they can also run you a calender year report of your wins and losses. Usually it's broken down by month, but at the end it's a neat little total of your aggregate wins and losses. The trick is that you have to be playing with your card, of course.

On-line race books, or advance deposit wagering, have much the same feature however much more detailed. This you can use to your advantage. I use BetPad, a link can be found to the right under my profile if you want to check it out. There are others, of course, as well: Twin Spires, TVG, etc., but BetPad is legal in MN and it works for me. When I printed out my won/loss for the year last year, I didn't do particularly well. I could have done a lot worse, mind you, but not as well as I thought I had done. This made me wonder if there was a way to look inside these numbers and see what races I was particularly good at handicapping and which races I was not. Sadly, though the information is broken down by day and race, unless you kept the PPs or programs, you don't know what the conditions of each race were.

Not to be deterred, I decided to look at this year's races from Tampa Bay Downs. As you all know we've been looking for a horse to claim there since the meet began, so I have each and every Past Performance from the beginning of the meet. I started with January 4th, however and printed out my Year to Date wagering activity from BetPad. Then I hunkered down in my home office for some spreadsheet analysis. The results weren't startling, but it was very interesting to see patterns emerge. There were most definitely patterns and they challenged some assumptions I had about races I thought I was good about figuring out and races that I was not good at figuring out.

I have always said that I NEVER handicap stakes well nor can I figure out maidens. I said that I prefer higher level claimers as opposed to the cheapies because their form held better. The numbers told a different story. Turns out that of all the maiden races I played, I made money on about 45% of them. Breaking it down even further, my winning percentage leaped to just under 60% when I only factored in Maiden Special Weight races. I will admit I was dumbfounded. Where did I get the idea that I couldn't figure out Maidens? In claiming races of $16,000 and over, optional claiming and allowance contests, I was dismal, with only 27% winners. I would have done better just picking favorites. But in claiming races for a tag of $12,500 or less, I was a solid 44%. In stakes contests, I was 3 for 4 with an ROI of +12% - really too small a sample size to mean anything except that maybe I wasn't so bad at stakes races as my dismal (0 for the last 14 Kentucky Derby's) Triple Crown track record indicates.

Also interestingly enough, I was able to breakdown my ROI by bet type. When wagering across the board, I hit on 43% winners. This sounds great until you look a little deeper and find that the ROI was only 8%. I would say it was too much chalk, but in reality, I think there were a lot of 3rd place finishes that pumps up the percentage, but eats away at the ROI. When I was a bit bolder, however, the story changes. When only betting to win and place, I hit at a very respectable 55% clip with an ROI north of 20%. This indicates to me that I bet too many across the board choices in 3rd place and that when I was more confident in my pick and went with it hard, the reward was there.

Exotics were a train wreck for me. Only 3% in the trifecta department; 9% in the exacta department; and only 10% with the superfectas. The ROIs were even more dismal. Fortunately not a lot of money was thrown at these wagers so the hard dollars weren't too bad, but if eliminated - or at least curtailed, my bottom line would have been more robust. I haven't yet looked into which type of races that I hit exotics on to see if there are races where I do particularly well with as with my straight betting.

The lesson I think I have learned is to play to my strengths and eliminate my weaknesses until such time I can do better. For the next few months, I will only be playing claiming races under $12,500 and Maidens (and the occasional stakes race) with real money. I will phantom wager the higher level claiming and allowance races and try different angles to see if I can improve. If not, no real money will go toward it and I can play to my strengths. I will bet win and place only and if there are a couple of races back to back that play to my strengths, I may play the occasional daily double (20% wins, but a -12% ROI so far this year). In May I will re-evaluate my numbers and see how I've done. Then I will KNOW if I learned the right lesson or not.

Take advantage of the data age and what your ADW account can do for you besides just booking your bets. Click on the Betpad link to the right or the Twin Spires logo above the TBA standings and check out what they have to offer. If you're already on an ADW, look beyond the numbers and put them to work for you. With a few clicks of the mousepad and some time for analysis you may be able to help yourself become a more profitable handicapper. I'll let you know about me in May!

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