Traversing The Travers
Nowadays, most of my handicapping is of the computer variety: compute this, compile that, yadda yadda yadda. Frankly, that�s the way I like it. But it�s fun to get out the Racing Form and the colored pens and have at it. When I paper-and-pen handicap, I still have a goal and a method. The goal is to create a 100% betting line. Here�s the method, as applied to The Travers, running Saturday at Saratoga:
Eliminate the non-contenders. I tend to do this mechanically. One of my favorite methods is to take the highest two of each horse�s last three Beyer numbers and average them. That gives you a contender number for each horse. (If a horse has only one ratable race, that�s the number. If he has only two ratable races, take the higher one as the number.) Cross out all horses but the top five. (Include any horses tied for fifth place.) In the Travers, it works out like this:
A P Valentine 103
It�s much easier to deal with five or six horses, and my studies show that the non-contenders will beat you only about 13% of the time. Remember that you still look at the non-contenders to see if they affect the pace scenario, but they aren�t bet on.
Check the pace. To me, pace is a non-factor unless there are one or more horses with high need-to-leads. Need-to lead is a whole �nother topic, but I�m referring to horses who habitually get out front early and can only win on or near the lead. The two scenarios I look out for are: 1) A race where one horse may get out to a relatively easy lead and go wire-to-wire, and 2) A race in which two or more horses figure to contest the early lead. This leads to a more complex analysis of who wants to be in front and who has the ability to be there and what will happen when and if these horses push for the lead.
In the Travers, the pace scenario seems simpler. E Dubai should get out front. It seems likely that Free of Love will be close behind. Point Given will make his move somewhere after the half-mile pole. The danger is that E Dubai could run away with the race. He�s definitely got the early quickness. And Jerry Bailey absolutely has the intelligence and ability to ride the right type of race if he�s got enough horse.
What�s Each Horse�s Story? At this point, I look over each contender�s pp's and look for fitness patterns, interesting situations, etc. I try to summarize my opinion of the horse in one or two phrases that I write down next to its pp's.
E Dubai looks like a "could be any kind" horse � we haven�t seen his ceiling yet, so we don�t know just how good he is. He just may be good enough to hold off Point Given and win this race.
Volponi is the other question mark. Again, I don�t think we�ve seen this horse�s ceiling yet. I also find it interesting that he left the turf last time and had an absolute break-out race. Maybe he�s been needing the surface change to show his real stuff. Normally, you�d worry about a bounce, but his bullet breezes indicate that probably won�t happen. Did Volponi get brave against lower-class competition, or is he a talented horse who is just starting to strut his stuff? I�m not sure, but the very question means I have to give him some chance of victory.
A P Valentine worries me because I have a feeling he�s capable of surprising, but he hasn�t shown enough for me to make him a serious contender. Free of Love and Dollar Bill seem like marginal contenders to me.
Point Given is obviously the most-likely winner. He has the ability to dominate any race, and he may well dominate the Travers. You have to look hard to find flaws: his barshoe, his travel-time. Those factors will loom large if he loses, but right now they look pretty small compared to his talent.
Apportion the 100 Percentage Points Among the Contenders. So, I take out my 100 percentage points and divide them among the horses. I�ll give the non-contenders in this race 2% each � even the worst horse in a race has some chance of winning. Of the six contenders, I divide the remaining 94% like this: Point Given 45%, E Dubai 22%, Volponi 14%, A P Valentine 7%, Free of Love 3%, and Dollar Bill 3%. This division of percentage points is partly intuitive and sometimes inaccurate. (You don�t have to be right all the time, just enough of the time to make a profit.) I just give each contender some of the percentage points and shift them around until they feel right. Since I only consider betting horses with a 12% or greater estimated chance, the betting line ends up looking like this:
Make the Value Decision. Once you�ve got a betting line, it easy � it becomes a simple value decision. Point Given will definitely be an underlay � no win bet on him. E Dubai will probably be underlayed too. Depending on the track odds, my bet will probably be Volponi to win, and then play him top and bottom to the two favorites (Point Given and E Dubai). E Dubai may be worth a bet if he gets ignored by the public just a little bit.
Money isn�t usually made in publicity races like this through brilliant handicapping. It�s made by ignoring the racing media and handicapping the race pretty much the way you�d handicap any other race. The media will cause Point Given to be overbet. That means one or more other horses will be underbet. If I get lucky and Point Given loses despite his ability edge, there may be money to be made. There may even be some bettable exactas with Point Given on top. If the most likely outcome occurs and Point Given wins, I�ll move on. Point Given is a great horse, but a bad bet in this race. This isn�t meant to be slanderous � most horses are bad bets. Bad bets win every day. But they shouldn�t have your money on them.NC
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