After collaring me on the corner where I like to do business, the guys at the station asked how the #RJhorseracing handicappers were faring a year into our experiment in crowd prognostication.
“Boys,” I said proudly as I fiddled quietly with my cuffs, “I am happy to report that we are in the black.”
As amazing as that sounds — the positive return on investment, not me being rousted by the cops — that is precisely where we find ourselves one year after I invited readers to turn this column into an interactive forum where we could have “a robust handicapping discussion that will elevate all our games and help educate newer fans.”
Since then we have handicapped 94 races at 24 different tracks. Over that period we show a profit of $20.10 on a mythical $2 win bet on the handicappers’ top selection (two bets in weeks where there were ties for the top selection). That works out to a return on investment of $2.20.
(I have posted a spreadsheet detailing the group’s picks, as well as mine, online in case you want to check my math. One caveat: I eliminated the Breeders’ Cup races in November because I broke from our routine of focusing on one or two races a week by asking readers to pick in all 13 races. Had I included those, our profit would be a minuscule $2.10.)
That’s hardly a recipe to get rich, but it’s also pretty amazing when you consider that nearly all our picks are made at least 48 hours before a race is run, when things like weather, scratches and possible track biases can’t be factored in.
How did we do it?
For starters, we’ve got a core group of about 15 experienced handicappers with a range of different backgrounds and approaches who play along every week, as well as other occasional contributors. Essentially, we’ve created a human algorithm where the wisdom of the crowd carries us through races where some of us veer off course.
I think changing tracks each week also has helped us rely more on handicapping fundamentals and less on “inside information” and suppositions that can form when you regularly play one oval.
Probably the biggest factor has been narrowing our focus to just two or occasionally three races a week. That allows us to really zero in on the subtleties of each individual contest rather than having our attention spread over an entire card or even multiple cards.
I’d say the last point should be the takeaway for handicappers looking to improve their games. As my good friend and excellent handicapper Les Izmore is fond of saying, “Sometimes less really is more.”
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers this week are testing their mettle in the $500,000 Ohio Derby (Grade 3), a 1 1/8th-mile test for 3-year-olds at Thistledown (now known as JACK Thistledown), and the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, a turf mile for 3-year-olds at Canterbury Park.
In the former, the ‘capping crew is siding with Core Beliefs, third choice on the morning line at 5-1, over favored Flameaway (5-2) and Lone Sailor (3-1).
“Lightly raced, third to Justify and Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby and second to Blended Citizen in the Peter Pan last out after leading late,” regular Mas Yoshinaga writes of the pick’s attributes.
I agree that Core Beliefs looks tough, but I’ll take a shot with O’Kratos (12-1), boxing him in exactas with Core Beliefs, Flameaway and Diamond King (6-1). The Woodbine invader is 2-for-2 around two turns on the artificial Tapeta surface there and should get a good setup for his closing kick.
In the Mystic Lake, the corps will stand with Curlin’s Honor (5-1) over favored Captivating Moon (7-2) and Hardboot (10-1).
I like long shot Sniper Kitten (10-1). The Mike Maker trainee overcame lots of trouble to beat softer in his last race and looks ready to face stakes company.
Send me an email or follow me on Twitter if you’d like to get in on the action next week.
Ellis Starr’s Ohio Derby analysis
Off a strong win around two turns in February and following two months off, Title Ready won strongly with a career-best 101 Equibase Speed Figure before trying his hand in the Rebel Stakes one month later. Setting the pace for the first six furlongs, Title Ready eventually gave way to finish fourth behind Magnum Moon. After finishing fourth again a month later in the Northern Spur Stakes, Title Ready rebounded with a competitive effort in the Sir Barton Stakes on a sloppy track at Pimlico on Preakness Day. The race has turned out to be very productive as third place finisher Prince Lucky (who finished four lengths behind Title Ready) won the Easy Goer Stakes and the sixth place finisher won his next race. With good tactical speed and bred to run well at this 1 1/8th-mile trip as a grandson of Monarchos, Title Ready gets top billing to win this year’s Ohio Derby.
Core Beliefs ran the best race of his career last month in the Peter Pan Stakes. After battling head-and-head for the lead from the start, Core Beliefs opened up to a 2 1/2-length lead with an eighth of a mile to go and although outfinished by Blended Citizen was four lengths clear of the next horse. Earning a career-best 108 figure with that effort at the distance of the Ohio Derby, Core Beliefs is another who may be capable of settling into third or fourth early as the pacesetters battle on the front end before rallying strongly and must be respected as a contender to win the race.
Lone Sailor is likely to be last, or nearly so, in the early stages of the Ohio Derby just as he was in the Louisiana Derby in March. In that race Lone Sailor began ninth of 10 and continually passed horses, making the lead with an eighth of a mile to go before engaging with eventual winner Noble Indy to be beaten a head on the wire. That effort earned Lone Sailor a strong 106 figure, which he duplicated in the Preakness with a rally from eighth in the early stages to be beaten two lengths at the wire. Since then, Lone Sailor has been working in spectacular fashion at his home base in Kentucky, his two most recent workouts being the best of 64 and the best of 30 on the day. If able to navigate through traffic successfully, Lone Sailor could pass the other 11 entrants to win the Ohio Derby.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.