Of Betting Lines,
Belmont and Booze
As a serious handicapper, you must think that your opinion is better than the general public�s opinion, at least in certain situations. Otherwise why play? You can�t beat this game in the long run unless you�re better than, say 97% of your fellow players. It takes a healthy ego to place yourself in the top 3% of your group. If you can�t do better than the public, who loses the track take plus breakage, you may as well take up canasta.
The public�s opinion of any race is reflected in the betting pools. Generally, the win pool is taken as a proxy for the public�s estimation of each horse�s chances. A horse with 50% of the win money wagered on it is considered to have a 50% chance of winning the race. A handicapper�s opinion is best expressed through percentages also. A betting line is an estimation of the probabilities of each horse winning a given race. You give the #3 horse a 33% chance to win, which converts to 2/1 fair odds. You give the #7 horse a 20% chance to win, which converts to 4/1 fair odds, and so on.
Once I�ve made a betting line, I like to think of an analogy: Imagine you have a jar filled with 100 marbles. Each horse has one or more marbles coinciding with its percentage chance of winning. If you check out my betting line for the Belmont Stakes below, Point Given got 28 marbles, Balto Star got 22 marbles, Invisible Ink got 16 marbles, etc. Now, these are magic marbles, and they change color according to whether the horse is an overlay or an underlay. Underlay marbles are red; overlay marbles are black. Needless to say, in most races, most or all of the marbles are red � that�s the nature of the game.
Once you�ve assigned your probabilities, chance takes over. As I�ve said before, chance accounts for 75% of what happens in the average race. So, you reach in blindfolded and pick a marble � that�s the winner. It could be Point Given with 28 marbles. It could be the Buckle Down Ben with 2 marbles. If the horse on the bottom of your betting line wins, that doesn�t necessarily mean that your betting line was wrong. After all, you were saying in advance that this horse had some chance of winning. Lady Luck just happened to favor his marble. Even an event with a 1% probability will happen now and then. In fact, you never really know if your betting line for any individual race was correct. You can only track the performance of your betting lines over time. Do your 2/1 horses win about 33% of the time? Do your 5/1 horses win about 16% of the time?
Anyway, excuse me for rambling on about the theory behind betting lines. Being more of a "why" guy than a "what" guy, this sort of thing interests me. If you ask me who won the last race or what I had for dinner last night, I�ll usually draw a blank. But if you want to talk about the reasons behind causal phases or post position biases, there�s a topic I can dig into.
The "what" for this week would be the Belmont Stakes. Here�s my betting line for tomorrow�s 133rd running:
Point Given looks like a tough, superior horse and may well win as a red-marble underlay. But the Belmont is well-known as favorable to fresh longshots and improving quality horses. Balto Star is fresh, talented, reportedly training well, and should be advantaged by an unpressured early lead. Can he go the distance? At 15/1, I�m willing to find out. Invisible Ink is a quality horse who may come into his own soon. I�m guessing that Monarchos is a bit beat-up and not well-suited to the surface or pace requirements of this race. And you can�t throw out A P Valentine, but the odds won�t be so generous as they were at Pimlico.
As always, it depends on the track odds, but if the morning line is accurate, this will mean win bets on Balto Star and Invisible Ink, and a place bet on Balto Star. I�ll wheel the overlays top and bottom to the top two favorites (probably Balto Star and Invisible Ink to Point Given and Monarchos), and box the overlays (probably Balto Star and Invisible Ink).
Not to be outdone by Churchill and their mint juleps, Belmont Park has announced that the Belmont Breeze is the official toast of champions for the 2001 Belmont Stakes. (I don�t know if that means it will also be the official toast of champions for the 2002 Belmont Stakes � the trouble with traditions is they take so dang long to become traditional.)
Anyway, this delightful concoction was created by Dale DeGroff, head bartender at Manhattan's Rainbow Room/Windows on the World. Says Mr. DeGroff, "One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak. I wanted to use a spirit that has significance in New York, so I chose rye whiskey. New York has always been a big rye town, and it was one of the first spirits to be distilled in quantity in America, by none other than George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. I wanted a drink that would appeal to a wide audience, which can be difficult with rye. So, I introduced another flavor to cut the strength and bite of the rye. I chose Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry and finished with a combination that is the base of the most popular drinks in the last 10 years, cranberry and citrus."
Here�s the recipe:
� 1 1/2 ounces Seagram's 7 (or good, blended
Shake the first six ingredients with ice, then top with half 7-Up and half club soda. Garnish with fresh strawberry, mint sprig and lemon wedge, and drink after you make your bets, not before.
In my ongoing quest to promote alcoholism and deepen the stereotype of horseplayers as half-drunk losers, I plan to inaugurate special mixed drinks for all kinds of races. The third race at Hollywood, a maiden-claiming $32,000: the Harvey Wallbanger. The fourth race, a two-year old $50,000 claimer, the Goose Joose. You get the idea.NC
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