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Track Tracts

Does More Dope Just Make Us Dopier?
by Gordon Pine

Information, statistics, facts � the modern world throws it at us at an ever-increasing pace. Blizzards of data swarm us at the racetrack. But does all this dope [information, especially from a reliable source � Webster�s Dictionary] really help? Or does it just make us dopier?

A large number of behavioral studies indicate that giving experts more information doesn�t seem to improve their judgement. One particularly relevant academic study by Paul Slovic involved eight handicappers, who were given 5 to 40 pieces of information they considered important in picking winners. The increased information did not improve their results one iota. As it turned out, their confidence level increased with the amount of information, but their win percentage did not. Overconfidence when making predictions in an uncertain environment is common. Apologies to any licensed headshrinkers among my readers, but clinical psychologists are among the most egregious bumblers. In one study, they believed their diagnoses were correct 90% of the time, when they were actually right only 50% of the time.

If there is one common trait I�ve noticed among serious handicappers, and I don�t omit myself, it�s an abundant quantity of ego. Go to one of those handicapping conferences and talk to some experts � you�d think it was a convention of neural surgeons with the amount of strutting and ego-bumping that goes on. We all think that we�re smart or industrious enough to be part of the small minority of handicappers who make a profit from the game. Actually, just the fact that we�re diligently trying to improve our handicapping skills means we have a decent shot, because a large portion of the crowd doesn�t work at it at all. Unfortunately, intelligence and data alone won�t get us there � as shown above, more information doesn�t mean better results.

David Dremen in his book Contrarian Investment Strategies: The Next Generation has an interesting rule for stock market investing that also applies to handicappers: "Respect the difficulty of working with a mass of information. Few of us can use it successfully. In-depth information does not translate into in-depth profits."

Studies show that when predictions are easy, experts tend to be better forecasters than the average joe. However, when predictions are tough (for instance, handicapping), experts will do no better than average (and often much worse), but their confidence level will be unjustifiably high. In other words, experts tend to be great when you don�t need them and useless when you do. Remember that when you look over the picks for the Derby next week.

"Experts tend to be great when you don�t need them and useless when you do. Remember that when you look over the picks for the Derby next week."

So unless you�re one of those rare virtuosos who can juggle multiple factors under ever-changing circumstances and correctly evaluate the situation most of the time, it would be wise to restrict the amount of data that you look at. Become an expert in one type of race. Become an expert in one type of handicapping. Use trainer stats and throw away your Form, or vice-versa. Using both probably isn�t helping. If you use multiple methods or sources of data, consider trash-canning some of them.

This is also where handicapping programs can come in. A well-designed handicapping program can juggle infinitely more factors than you can, always treat each factor objectively and appropriately, and always know what factors are important in each context. Just don�t fall into the trap of looking at a computer printout with 67 different predictors that show 67 possible outcomes for each race. A computer program should have some kind of bottom-line opinion or it�s worthless.

Look for simple factors that the public is under-betting. After you�re done handicapping, think about the race for a second. Usually your opinion of a race can be boiled down to one sentence. "The favorite is vulnerable." "The rail is fast." "Anybody can win this race." Whatever your opinion of a race, it�s a good idea to write it down before the race. Then make your bet reflect your opinion. If the favorite�s vulnerable, use the other contenders in exactas or tris. If the rail is fast, bet the horse likely to get the inside trip to win. If anybody can win, a shotgun approach of boxing longshots in the exacta can work.

Use undervalued factors, not complicated factors. If the scenario we imagine will win the race for us is complex, there are too many things that can happen to make the plot unravel. And, though it might be hard to believe, it�s likely that we�re more confident in our judgement of complex situations than we should be. NC

Copyright �2001 NetCapper Inc. All rights reserved.

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