Finding Focus

Charles Carroll

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For the past year or so my company’s Web site, DesertSea.Com, has run a quiet survey of handicappers to try to get a feel for what we handicappers are doing and how we view the sport.  The thing that prompted me to create the questions for the poll was the original “Go Baby Go!” TV ads with that psycho-chick jumping around at the rail as if her piercings were buzzing.  That, and everything we were reading about the NTRA’s ad campaign being the forefront of their attempt claim their fair share of the 21 – 26 age group–putting themselves in direct, head-to-head competition with every other sport and leisure activity on the planet, from basketball to wake boarding.  This campaign came from their own survey, which showed that thoroughbred-racing fans tend to be older, raising the panic that this is a “dying” sport.

I should say from the outset that the DesertSea.Com poll is very unscientific.  Participants are not chosen at random and, if they get to the Web site at all, it is probably because they have a commitment to handicapping, and speed handicapping in particular, so results like “Speed” being the primary handicapping focus of 55% of the respondents is no doubt colored by those biases.  Also, since this is Internet-based, there is probably a greater representation of individuals who use the Internet for both obtaining data for handicapping and for placing bets.

One of the survey questions became of particular interest to me a few weeks ago when I turned on my own Internet betting account for the first time.  That question involved where handicappers do their betting.  Our survey allows handicappers to enter as many locations as they use (and over half entered more than one), so the results can be interpreted as indicating what percent of the time handicappers use various betting facilities (rather than how many handicappers use each).  Here are the results for where horse race bettors place their bets:

·        At the track   46%

·        Off Track – Non-casino   25%

·        Casino Race Book   7%

·        Phone   12%

·        Internet   10%

If you have been paying attention for the past several years, these figures are probably not a big surprise, but they say a lot about the horse race betting industry and bettors.  The tracks have gone from being virtually the only game in town (originally competing only with illegal bookies for the horseracing dollar), to less than half of what had been their complete monopoly.  Those of us who love the sport and do not want to see it dwindle are always full of advice to the tracks for marketing.  What is patently obvious from these types of figures—which are not showing percentages of all leisure activity dollars, or all gaming dollars, or even dollars split between tracks and Indian casinos—this represents internal competition for the horseracing-dollar only—is that tracks are competing very poorly.  Why is that, when they are the ones with the horses?  Why is it that you know—and they don’t?  Or, more cynically, could it be that they do know; yet the economics have changed such that they are less interested in competing directly for the on-track patron’s bets?

I think as soon as I have a chance, I’ll add a sub-question to the poll that may be more relevant to us as handicappers.  That would be:  “Of all the places were you make bets, where do you fare best?”  I have personally used all of the above locations except “Phone,” and, after turning on my Internet betting account, I had good reason to stop and think about this recently.

Early on, I had a great run at the track—I mean, literally “at the track.”  More recently, since the advent of major simulcasting, my game has changed dramatically and I have done consistently better when I have traveled to the simulcast facility, which happens to be at a track, but more often than not, without live racing.  I go to Las Vegas at least two or three times a year and bet in the casino books.  By far—given the current state of the tracks (and even though I love live racing)—I prefer the atmosphere and treatment in the Las Vegas books above all competing venues.  Even though I rarely do as well there as in the “Off Track – Non-Casino.”  Why do I not do as well?  The old cliché:  FOCUS.

When I started going to Las Vegas expressly to bet horseracing, major simulcasting was not available in my home area and I was in deep focus the whole time.  I did very well.  Now when I go to Vegas, the availability of simulcast signals is not unique; I have friends there; my wife and I go to shows—focus is not exactly finely tuned.  I usually carry my computer, handicap a little, make a few bets and do okay—but nothing compared to when it was like a journey to Mecca for total immersion in horserace betting.  When I now prepare to go to the “Off Track – Non-Casino,” I still have that type of focus.  My style has always been just a tad hyper.  When the track was the only game in town, I handicapped well in advance, then “walked a route,” from the paddock, along the rail during the post parade, to the odds displays, then sometimes to the windows; over and over, for every race—whether I actually placed the bet or not.  Now I completely handicap two cards in advance on the computer and have printouts of options that I may use.  Then I have one or two additional cards on the computer for use while at the simulcast facility.  These are usually in different time zones so that I get a full day’s “play.”  (Sort of sounds like “work,” doesn’t it.)  While I’m there I spend my time on strategies of relating my odds line to the moving target of the public’s.  I may be a little frenetic, but I’m focused.  I do Okay.

Then, there is the other 22% that I have just recently joined.  That is phone and Internet betting—which by implication means from your home or office.  I believe that phone betting has been available to me without committing a felony for a number of years, but I’m not positive, because I never was moved to look into it.   My bets are odds-based and unless I can see the real-time odds, I knew I could not possibly do as well as I could at the simulcast facility, so I just kept driving there.  Then the Internet changed everything by making real-time odds possible.

Now I can sit at home and download a day’s racing cards to display on my screen or print out on my printer.  I export the data to use in my own program to create my odds lines.  I can watch the public odds in real-time through a live data link with the same company that allows me, in turn, to place my bets with just a few clicks of the mouse.  I can even watch the race itself in jerky motion on the computer screen or, depending on the track, maybe in sync on a big screen with my dish and TVG.

There’s just one little thing I haven’t worked out in this scenario:  FOCUS.

I was very excited the first day I had this all set up and operational.  I felt like it was the dawn of a new era.  I handicapped the pee-waddle out of two cards.  I had killer odds lines ready to take on the crowd.  I made several $2 and $5 bets just to test the system.  It worked like a dream come true, while I waited for the 6th and 8th races of the second card.  I lost a couple small bets and won $11.20.  Then I remembered to turn on the dripper for the flower garden.  I went out to check the irrigation of the field; the stinking gophers had burrowed through the ditch bank and it was leaking, so I had to get a shovel.  My wife was going to the city, which is 160 miles round-trip, so I checked the oil in her car.  When I got back to the computer, both races had been run and I had missed a $28 horse and a $42 horse respectively.  Before I do much more betting from home, I believe I’ll do a little work on “Focus.”


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