Saturday, July 3, 2010

You Finally Caught That Horse - Now What?

Horseplayers are an odd lot. They will play against their picks if they are alive to a horse, just to make sure they cash (aka "hedge"). They will play against their picks if they are not alive in the pick four, because they do not want to cash on their original picks while going three of four. They will bet against a horse because it cost a bunch of money in the past, being the only horse they did not have in the pick6 one day. They will bet on a horse because it made them a bunch of money in the past, by being a part of huge pick 6 or something. But none of these situations are as tough to judge as the phenomenon of "chasing a horse".

"Chasing a horse" is the single oddest thing we do as handicappers. There are many different reasons we do it. Maybe it is something we see in the past performances, such as a certain race. Or something the horse did in the paddock that caught our eye. Or maybe the horse is the offspring of a horse who we knew and loved from the past. No matter what it is, it is something that seems to go against the goal of finding the winner. If we continue to pick the same horse over and over, rationalizing that the horse is due, and we shall be damned if we miss out on it, we are undermining the handicapping process. But what happens if you stick it out, and the horse comes in?

This blog ponders this question because one horse I chased and chased and chased runs in the Firecracker Handicap this Sunday. His name is Orthodox. I first fell for this son of Pulpit when he ran third at Del Mar in the summer in 2008. He broke his maiden at Oak Tree on the grass and i decided then to bet him back in his next race. That next race was the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, where he held the lead until the far turn. But i kept the faith. He then went on the shelf until an allowance race at the end of February at Fair Grounds to begin his 2009 campaign. He won, controlling a slow pace to a gate-to-wire victory, but since it was a Monday, i could not wager on him due to other obligations. This win further cemented my "crush" and i continued my quest to cash with him.

After a brief fling with the Derby trail, and a bad race at Keeneland, I was beginning to lose hope, but i kept on. They entered him in the American Turf on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. I decided to make one final stand with him. He is a speed horse, and with the turf course being less than firm that day, i decided that he had a chance since the CD turf course leans towards speed the more moisture it gets. I bet him to win & singled him in the pick four. This is how the race turned out:

He paid $93.20 to win, and i went on the hit that pick 4 after some horse won the Oaks by 20+. He ran one more time after, but i could not bet that day due to a wedding. He finished 8th in a field of nine, and went on the shelf. So now we come today. Orthodox is entered for the first time since being injured in that last race. He drew the outside post in the field of 14. So do i bet him, even though i think he has, at best, a minuscule chance of winning? There is plenty of other speed, he is in the 14 hole and the works, while good, are nothing to write home about.

Imagine yourself in my shoes, having to make this decision. There are two main answers to the question: Either I bet him or I don't. If I do bet him, how much do I commit to a horse I don't really like, just because he rewarded my persistence? IF i bet a bit more than I should and he loses, i will be throwing good money down the drain. If i put a token $2 and he shocks by winning, i will be kicking myself for weeks on missing out. The flipside is to not bet him. If i do not bet and he loses, I will have not lost any money but i will feel bad about cheering against him. If I do not bet and he wins, I will have blown a big score because i didn't trust my heart along with my gut. What would you do? (respond in the comments below with your answer)

The answer to this question is more than just simply looking at the past performances and determining who is the winner. Horseplayers ascribe to make only rational decisions when deciding when to bet. Yet we play hunches, hot tips, stupid names, etc. on a daily basis. "Chasing" is not even close to rational, yet we do it because we let the emotional side of the brain in, and that is not a bad thing. We are people, not machines. We wouldn't be a part of this sport if we wanted something that had a fixed amount of variables. We live for the living, breathing, uncertainty aspect of the game. Good Luck Everybody!!


  1. Great post - I do it because I love to cheer for those I love - although I try to separate the heart from the mind as much as possible (only bet on Curlin in 3 of his races, for example).

    One of my oddities though is that I will include a horse who has previously knocked me out of big money - only because I don't want to be guilty of "fool me twice."

  2. If you don't think he has much chance of winning, I wouldn't bet. You're a great handicapper and should trust your judgement. It will hurt if he wins, but not as much as losing knowing you "knew better."
    The situation is different if you think the horse has a chance to upset in some way. Last night, one of my all time favorite mares, Muffin, was running in a stakes race. I haven't bet her in a while because her form has been bad. But last night I knew the favorite was vulnerable and I thought she might hit the board. She finished third and, thanks to a bridgejumper, paid $52 to show!
    Then of course I was kicking myself for not playing the exotics...