Bettng 360 Ep 016: Horse Handicapping with Tony Kelzenberg and Derek Simon

Betting 360 Podcast - Betting From All Angles

On this episode of the Betting 360 podcast, US-based horse racing handicappers Tony Kelzenberg and Derek Simon compare American and Australian punting, while sharing various tips and strategies for getting an edge.

Tony has contributed articles for the Champion Picks blog and Derek focuses on speed rations (his unique take on speed ratings and assessments).

It’s another look at betting from a different angle.

Punting Insights You’ll Find

  • The major differences between Australian and American racing.
  • How to use the early speed advantage to get the edge.
  • Why the run of Secretariat would have been viewed differently today.
  • One way of betting the quaddie.
  • The general profile of a race that sets you up for success.
  • How to use statistics to determine your edge.

Today’s Guest:

Derek’s Closing Tip:

My ideal bet would be a horse with a high impact value that also can hold its own in terms of the odds, and is a reasonable price.  “

David: Hi this is David Duffield and welcome to another episode of Betting 360 where we look at betting from all different angles. Today has a special treat we’ve got two guests on the line. We’ve got Tony Kellsinburg and Derek Simon. United States based handicappers, Derek in particular focuses on looking at speed rations which is his take on speed ridings and speed assessment so he’s got some interesting views there. And Tony Kellsinburg has contributed to our website before and written various previews and reviews of American racing but he takes a particular interest in Australian racing as well so he’s well placed to take a look at the strengths and in some ways the weaknesses of American racing vs. Australian racing and vice versa. So let’s have a chat with Tony and Derek right now.

David: Hi Tony, I’ll start with you. Since you’re known to some of our readers, and some of our listeners. You’ve contributed to the blog before, but wanted to welcome you to the show, and how are you going today?

Tony: Having a great day. And basically I’m on vacation, because as a teacher I don’t work in the summers very much. And it’s been great to get even more into horseracing then in the past.

David: You mentioned you had a reasonable result today. But just to get started, you’ve got a pretty good insight into American racing versus Australian racing, you get a lot of our analysis that comes through, and yet you stay up late at night to have some bets on that. So what do you see as the major differences, between the way we approach racing in Australia, and the way you guys do it over in the US?

Tony: I would say the main difference, from just watching the races, that in Australia it’s very rare that you get something easily. If you’re going to be the speed, somebody’s going to try to get in your face, if you’re coming from behind they’re going to make you go around. You’re not going to be able to split horses usually pretty easily. In America, horses, my impression is that jockeys are told to run as the horses like to have them run. And once the initial order out of the gate is determined, then the first 200 metres, that’s pretty much what you’re going to see until at least towards the end of the turn, and then going into the stretch, and then everybody starts to improvise at that point. But I think that the Australian races, there’s just a lot more strategy and competition in the first half of the race.

David: Okay. And you’ve attended some of our webinars, and heard Vince Accardi speak. One of his influences was Doctor Sarton, and some other American speed handicappers. How do you apply that type of analysis into what you do?

Tony: When I, as a starting person. The basic premises that horses are best when they’re allowed to run in their comfort zone. So if you have an on speed horse, and they’re allowed to run on speed, on the rail, and nobody distracts them, that’s going to be their best chance for victory. So what you try to do, is when you match up the contenders and you say, which horse has the edge in early speed, and if there’s a horse that has an advantage, in early speed, they have a much likelier chance to win. And sometimes at really good odds, because maybe in their last race of two, they weren’t allowed to race in their comfort zone. So if you can catch the right horse at the right time, you can get a really nice payoff.

David: Excellent. We’ll get back to some of that just shortly. And also, yeah talk about some of the differences between the two countries, and our racing styles. But we’ve also got Derek on the line, Derek Simon runs, has his own podcast that we’ll link to in the show notes, so welcome to our show Derek.

Derek: Glad to be here.

David: Good to have you. And I’ve taken a look at the site, and most of our listeners would be familiar with speed ratings, and speed handicapping, but you talk about speed rations. Can you just explain that for the listeners?

Derek: Yeah you mentioned Doctor Sarton, and to a certain degree this is similar to that. In that I’m really not looking so much at speed, as I am the energy distribution. And that’s why I use the term ration, and I think speed figures with the speed rations go very much in hand. But you know Tony was talking about the fact that horses have certain styles, certainly in the US that is true. And knowing what the requirements of a certain race are, I think is very very important. And just to give an obvious example, races on the dirt in America, typically are going to stress the ability to be able to run early. If you’re running on the turf of course, you’ve got to have that late kick. And so knowing how horses ration their speed, and can ration their speed, because some horses are just not that adaptable, I think is very very important. And that’s what speed rations are about, and you get some idea as to how a horse, again distributes that energy, gives you a great idea as to whether they’re going to adapt from different surfaces, and how they’re going to run on the day.

David: And so what is the difference then? So if you’re looking at pure speed data, and whether a horse is, has a lot of early speed or late speed, how is that different to what you’re talking about in terms of speed rations?

Derek: Well let me give you an example. Okay if you look at, you know probably one of the most famous American races is the Belmont Stakes, it was won by Secretariat. And I often laughed at this, because if that race were run today, and people saw this horse out there on a lead, in what was it, 45 and one fifths of a half, it was I believe sub109 for 6 longs. It might’ve been a little bit over that, but it’s right in that area. And considering that they’re going 12 for longs, you know the fans would’ve just been hitting the roof. What is this horse doing going crazy fast. What people miss about Secretariat in 1973, and this is to take nothing away from the horse, but that meet was incredibly fast at that time. It was a 30 day meet, they set five track records during that time. And so time in itself is not good enough, speed figures are not good enough, because those speed figures, whether you look at it for the final time, or the fractional times, are still going to be fast. They don’t tell you that Secretariat was well within himself for that entire race. They saw my own speed rations, and I’ll talk about the early speed rations which measures early energy dispersion, that’s the lower the figure the faster. And a -15 just to give a framework for it, is extremely fast. Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes was a -6, that’s not that fast for a horse at that level, and again the nice thing about the speed rations is they work at all classes. And so, it gives you an ideas as to how a horse is exerting the energy that he’s got, you know and as a horse like Secretariat, of course is very very fast, but you still want to know whether they’re in their comfort zone, out of their comfort zone. And Secretariat was well within his comfort zone for that Belmont Stakes, despite of how fast it was.

David: So what do you consider to be, is there a difference in importance between early speed versus late speed? And how does that vary depending on, you know track, distance, or even the likely speed of the race?

Derek: Yeah it’s, you know obviously the early speed is going to be more important on dirt. It’s going to be more important in sprints. The problem with early speed, and I kind of disagree a little bit with Tony here, in that I think that it is tremendously over bet in the United States. When I look for races, where there’s a clear early speed advantage, 9 times out of 10 the tote board’s going to tell me who that horse is, because it’s going to be bet. The late speed I think because it’s a little more hidden is, certainly got more par in mutual punch, and of course very very effective in route races, races on the grass, and so forth. Where you don’t get those, you know those really fast internal times.

David: So just to touch on that then. You mentioned that it’s over bet, what options do you have there? I know that you mentioned the tote board as well, are there many avenues for you guys to place bets, or are you really quite restricted?

Derek: You know, very much restrictive I think in terms of other countries. There are so many situations where I wish I could lay a horse, that’s not possible for the most part, legally in the United States. And so you’re kind of stuck, I mean if the tote board if reading 3 to 5, or 2 to 5 or whatever, and that price has been too short, there’s not a lot you can do, other than look for alternatives. And it’s one of the things that I will say, that I think it’s made the American game a lot tougher. In that you see a lot more betting on favourites now. Favourites win at a higher percentage than in years past. Part of that is due to field size, but also there’s that real focus on speed figures, and the kind of data that American bettors get. And so it does make the game a little bit more difficult, in the sense that you’re constantly looking for the over laid price. I know you have to do that to a certain degree anyway, but I think the American game really stresses that.

David: And Tony, just to bring you back in for a moment then. What would be your focus, is it mainly win betting, or are you more of the exotic betting, like such as exactors and the like, or what do you focus on?

Tony: Well, I’m going to introduce Derek to a new term. And it’s going to be called the Quadie, the Quadie’s a pick four. And I’ve been having some really good success with the pick four, because what you can do, is you can pick a horse that’s an outsider, and you can pick a horse that’s a logical favourite type like Derek just described. And you can make a really really reasonable ticket between $18 and $24, and you don’t have to hit it very often. If you hit it, you know 1 time out of 20, if it’s the right one you’re going to break even, if you hit it twice out of 20 you’re going to have a really nice profit. So that’s really become my bet of choice in the last 3 to 4 months.

David: And what about you Derek, is there a focus or are you, depending on the race and the circumstances as to how you want to bet it?

Derek: Yeah the circumstances mean a lot. And you said something David, you had a list that I happen to see, and I’m going to actually quote you on this, and you say ‘if you don’t know your edge, chances are you don’t have one’. This is my big problem with betting the horses on bets which have really taken over American racing. The picks, the pick three, the pick four, the pick five, when I talk to handicappers that’s typically what they like to bet. My only problem with it, and Tony does a lot more in-depth, so I don’t mean to throw him in this net here. But my only problem is you don’t know what your expectation is. And too often I see these plays returning less, you know people always talk about well they return more than a straight parlay, and that’s why there’s value, because you know the take is much less over these 3 races. But I’d like to point out to people, you don’t get to pick your races. You know if you do a sports parlour you’ve got to pick your teams, you’ve got to pick the parlour that you’re doing, you don’t in racing. And too often, you have these sequences where you have one race where you’re covering with multiple combinations, which really starts to cut in to your ROI. And so I’m not a big fan of those kinds of races. I really like bets where I can figure out what my expectation is, it helps me in terms of how I bet, and all that kind of stuff, and so win betting absolutely. Exact betting, typically we can get real pays on that, daily doubles to a certain degree. But really I think win betting is kind of the forgotten bet out there, all these exotics have come around, but win betting to me still offers some of the best value.

David: Yeah I’m sure a lot of the everyday punter probably doesn’t stake them particularly well either. Because you talk about a sports parlour, well normally if you’re talking about the spread betting, you know it’s basically, toss the coin a fifty-fifty chance. But with these other bets, they’re probably just grouping a bunch of horses together, and you know one might be a 30% chance, and one might be a 10% chance of winning. But they’re staking it as if they’re an equal chance.

Derek: I totally agree with that, yep.

David: So what would be the ideal race for your set up? I know you’ve got the speed rations, the speed ratings, you also do a lot of data base work. Is there a certain geographical area, race distance, speed profile of a race, what are you looking for? I know you wouldn’t give away absolutely everything, but just in terms of the general profile of the race that you’re looking for.

Derek: No it’s a good question. And one of the things that I think is underestimated in racing, you know we’ve heard of the long shot favourite bias, well I think there’s another bias, and maybe called the winners bias. People forget sometimes that the game is about who’s going to win the race, and there’s some horses that just simply don’t like to win. And for me it comes down to having as much data as possible. I had a guy talking to me just this morning, about a race at Saratoga, where it’s all a bunch of first time starters, and he thought he saw value. It’s like okay, but that’s pretty much where it ends. It ends with a thought, because it’s really really tough to try to get data on that stuff. So whenever I have more data, then I have ways of racing, it could be rating races that get me some obvious how bet-able, if you will the race is, those are the kinds of races that I’m looking at. I’d love to see horses bet are over rated, the reputation horses are great. We had the Triple Crown of course here in America recently, and Orb I thought was getting way too much press. And of course Orb fell apart in the Preakness in the Belmont. And the Preakness in particular was a very profitable race for me, because the Orbs fans were out in droves. And so situations like that are always great to find. When you have a horse that is, you know basically a reputation horse, bet more than his talent would otherwise indicate.

David: And how often would you be betting? because I’m not that close, or that keyed up on the US racing scene. But obviously in Australia there’s 3, 4, 10 meetings a day, what about in the US, how often do they race, and also how often would you have that ideal set up where you’re actually betting?

Derek: Yeah we have so many races in the US. And the American turf rider Jim Quinn, once noted that people have not adapted very well to simulcast wagering, to the ability to wager on all these different tracks. And I think that’s true. What I’ve tried to do in the last few years, is really come up with more automated method. You mentioned the data base testing, that’s very very important to me, because when you track your records, when you have statistics, you can determine your edge, and it makes it so much easier. I just totalled up my July stats, I believe it was 7 plays a day. Tony would probably know how many tracks are running, I mean, what is it Tony, it’s got to be like 20 something a day? I mean there’s a lot of them out there. So there’s a lot of opportunities to bet.

Tony: Yeah if I may interject, I think that’s the biggest problem with the American game, is they allow too much simultaneous racing. And it hurts the field sizes, and we would be a lot better off if there’d be like less racing, you know share the wealth a little bit. That’d be my suggestion.

David: Just while I’ve got you then Tony, you sent me through a list of what you see as the differences between the way we do it in Australia, and the way you guys do it over there. And you know it’s definitely, it’s the same industry, but a fairly different game. So in Australian racing it’s primarily handicap racing, whereas aren’t a lot of the races in America weight for age?

Tony: Yeah. Basically the racing secretary of each track will have a scale of weights that’s nationwide, and then they slot older horses at a certain weight, and then younger horses at a lower weight. And then they will give allowances if a horse has not been successful in 3 months or 6 months, they will get a few pounds off. But it’s not the top to bottom rank the field handicap racing like you see in Australia.

David: And what about the racing style? one of the things that you mentioned in Australia, the ideal scenario just in general terms, is that a horse has some tactical speed, but then has a kick, you know a good finish. Whereas in American racing the early speed can be really valuable.

Tony: Yeah. With America, when you say early speed, especially in the top class mile races and sprint races, the speed has to go inside 45 seconds to keep the lead. So if you have a horse that can get a comfortable lead, in say 45 and change, and Derek could probably speak to this much better than I, that’s what you want. You want a horse on the lead, that doesn’t have to be sticking his neck out, trying to keep his head in front of the second horse. If you pick a horse that’s going to make the lead but he can’t make it easily, then he’s not going to be around in the last 100 metres.

David: Derek did you want to add anything to that? You mentioned the early speed importance?

Derek: Yeah, the only problem with early speed is gotten a little bit tricky. I think because racing’s so global now. A lot of the American jockeys, especially with the advent of all-weather surfaces, have kind of adopted that UK style of racing, which is to race early. And various seasons when you’re on a front runner, you want to go out grab the lead and then relax. Too many riders now, I remember in his book or biography of Ramon Dominguez, talks about the fact that he likes to let the horse go out there and run, and then kind of settle into its own pace. So many riders ride that way, that it becomes difficult sometimes to take advantage of early speed. Probably a lot of your listeners are familiar with Rachel Alexandra, and so many people, after she ran in the Woodward of a 3 year old, were saying well that gutted her, you know she can’t run anymore, that’s what did her in, that’s why she didn’t have a good 4 year old campaign. But if you look at her 4 year old campaign, they were purposefully I believe, tried to take the speed out of her. I’ve always said I think it was because they were looking down the road at a match with Vinyata, and they wanted to be able to match that horse late. And with so many horses, when you take away that speed, you’re taking away such a valuable weapon. And then you wind up getting a lead yeah, but you’re running in a 48 or a 50 for the opening half mile, and it just doesn’t cut it. So that’s the tricky part, is just because you find a horse that should dominate, that should have an early speed advantage, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will.

David: So Tony, just to expand on that. One of the things you’ve mentioned is that, you see the tactical side of things, and the way the jockeys assess a race, pre-race, and have a plan as being relatively sophisticated in Australia, and much less so in the US.

Tony: Yeah. The thing is that what we’ve heard about some of the American jockeys is kind of what Derek just spoke to. That they don’t necessarily ride the way that they should ride the horse. If the horse needs to be on the lead, and free on the lead, get him out there. Maybe it needs to be in 2nd place, one out one back, put it there on the speed. There’s a real famous horse named Ford Larned, he won our Breeders’ Cup Classic in November of 2012. Pretty much whenever that horse is pushed to the lead, and gets clear going into the turn, he’s a beast. And he’s won some really important races. But every time they have tried to make him more tactical, like they just did in the Woodward, excuse me, in the Whitney at Saratoga, he’s off the board. It’s not his game. And I think you kind of have to know how your horse fits, and then in addition to that, I think the Australians are better at seeing who they have to beat. And make it a game plan around the horse they have to beat. I think that’s less of a concern in America, this is my observation, I don’t speak with a lot of American jockeys but I think that’s, that’s what it looks like to me.

David: So Derek not to speak of Australian racing. But in the US do you think that the jockeys are prepared enough, smart enough, tactical enough to actually have a real plan, as to how they can give their horse the best chance of winning the race?

Derek: (Laughs) You can get me into trouble here. No, in a word. No Tony’s exactly right, and I’m so glad he brought up the case of Ford Larned. Because, which I have the stats in front of me, I actually commented on this once before. But when this horse gets the lead, in fact like he’s never won, put it this way he has never won a race, when he has been worse than 3rd at the first call. And he typically wins, if he’s on the lead or very very close. This constant attempt to try to rate this horse is just, mindboggling to me. And the ratings of the fractions aren’t that fast. That’s the other thing. I mean so many times, and I know Tony you can relate to this, you see a horse that has speed, you think you can clear, the jockey decides to get clever, and race the horse off the pace, goes wide into the turn. In other words do pretty much everything wrong that you could possibly do. I have heard, that in Australia you actually have to file your race plan. I wish that were true in America, because there are so many different subtle style changes, and some very style changes that make a huge difference in the result of the race. Obviously if you have a frontrunner let’s say, that you decide you’re going to take off the pace today, that leaves the other frontrunners to be accounted for, that you have to account for as a handicapper. And of course it also changes how you might view the frontrunner the speed taken off the pace. So it’s one of the most frustrating things when it comes to style, because there’s really very little accountability when it comes to that.

David: Yeah, you mentioned the filing a race plan. It’s more if it’s a change of tactics, so you know if a horse is typically an on speed type, and for whatever reason they want to go back today, they need to inform the stewards. And the stewards have their own, someone with them that helps them with speed maps. So they’ve got an idea of how they should settle, and so if it’s likely to be different to that, the connections, the trainers, or the owners are meant to inform stewards. Doesn’t always work out the way they’ve actually informed the public, but I think it’s better than nothing. Tony I just wanted to touch on breeding, it’s not an area we look at very closely, accept occasionally for a staying race, or a middle distance, or a further race. Maybe if the horse hasn’t been tried over that distance we might look at it, but really it’s not an area that we place a lot of emphasis on. But I know it’s an area of interest for you, so just run through how you see breeding being a factor, again in Australia versus the US.

Tony: Yeah. I think there are 3 scenarios where it’s useful. The distance with the stable, is you know obviously for people that follow Australian racing it’s really important. If you have a first time horse, that’s making its first start, and there are certain sires that are better with first time starters. And it’s typically they have a lot of success with 2 years olds. Let me just give you an example, and it’s kind of comical in a way. I was playing Australia last night, and there was a race for horses that just turned 3, and there was a horse named Charge Missile. And he was 33 to 1 in the American pool. And I knew that Charge Missile was really good with first timers. And he also had a good barrier trial. So usually you have to combine barrier trials with pedigree, you just can’t do one or the other, you have to really have both. And unfortunately right after I made my $2 win place on him at 33 to 1, it was announced that he was the market mover. And so then that knocked the odds down from 33 to 1 to 6 to 1. But he still won, and he won well. And so I think if you can use the breeding, to kind of give you an edge on what first timers to consider, then it makes the process less of a random number generator.

David: Okay. Derek just to finish up then, tell us how you use impact values in your assessments?

Derek: Well I kind of use a combination. I use the impact values, I also came up with an odd face impact. But others have done this, it’s no secret it just subtracts the odds out of the equation. And really what I’m looking for, is again the combination of a factor that’s going to win more than the random chance would otherwise dictate. And also the profitability is a huge thing. Because if you look at certain factors like speed for example, it’s going to have a great impact value, but because it is so over bet in the United States, because it’s a number, it makes everything nice and easy. It’s one of those things that generally you can’t make a lot of money on. So again for me, it’s a kind of combination of the two, I’m looking for something that’s going to buck the odds, and I’ve also said too that I truly prefer shorter price horses. And I know a lot of people, they go up to the track and they want to have a big long shot. But I’ve pointed out that the problem with that, is then you introduce another variable, which is price variability. And that can be really really tough, because you’re already going to get more losers, so you’re going to have a chance of more losing streaks. And now you’re throwing in the price variable that can also vary, so it’s just another way to loose. So if I were to look at my ideal bet, it’d be a horse with a high impact value, that also can hold its own, in terms of the odds, and is a reasonable price, you know 3 to 1 is great for me, if it’s a horse I really like.

David: Excellent. Alright we’ll leave it there for today guys. The premise of the podcast is betting from all angles, and I think we’ve done that today, to take a new look at things for our Australian audience. So really appreciate you giving up some time to come on the show today.

Tony: Thanks for the invitation.

David: Thanks Tony, thanks Derek.

Derek: I appreciate it , thank you.

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