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The Dark Horse

It's All In Black and White (and Red)


I've been following, studying, and watching horse racing for a long time. Sure, I'm a huge fan of the sport, the majesty of it all, and of course THE HORSES; and I'd be lying if I said that wagering on the horses wasn't a part of my experience. For some background, my horse racing experience all started with going to Canterbury Downs with my dad as a kid. For years, and all the way through high school and college, my dad and I would develop spreadsheets to decipher the most obscure patterns to try to give ourselves an advantage at the track. Performing statistical analyses on horse racing has stuck with me all through these years. This statistical analysis and handicapping are my favorite aspects of the sport; whether I am actually wagering 'real money' or not. 


So what's the purpose of this blog then? (I'm glad you asked) I performed a thorough statistical analysis of all of my wagers over the last three-plus years (well since 1/1/2010 to be exact). I wanted to know where my strengths were, which types of wagers I win most, and where my best ROI exists. Now to qualify this, I only used data that I downloaded from my ADW and these stats do not include wagers actually made at the track. However the total number of wagers is statistically significant and I feel that the stats on the wagers made on site at the track would closely follow suit. Now I may not be as good or as thorough as others, but this analysis which I am about to share with you certainly opened my eyes. I now know, historically, where I have won big, and where I should just stop putting my money. I have consulted some very good handicappers with these results to help validate my self-analysis and I hope you enjoy this report!


(WARNING: This report is lengthy and may cure insomnia)


To explain the charts a little, there are three columns for each slice of data. BETS WON represent just that. The percentage of those kinds of wagers that actually won. BETS w/ PROFIT are bets that actually turned a profit. For example, if I wagered $5 on an exacta and it only paid $4.20, then that would represent a bet won, yet it was not profitable. The return on investment (ROI) is represented as a percentage. -100% would be a total loss, 0% would be break-even, and +100% would be doubling my money. 


First I did an analysis of the kind of wagers I have made. You know, bets to win, place, exactas, doubles, pick 4's etc. Whenever I would lose on exotics for extended periods (repeatedly finishing 2nd and 3rd for example in typical Sorenson style), I would get extremely frustrated for always being so close. I finally gave up on exotics when my friend BSM challenged me to bet to win only. And sure enough, when that happened I was hitting more winners! But was I making more money?


(Now, in these reports I will not reveal the 'N' as I would rather not reveal how much I am (or am not) playing, but remember this is three years worth of data.)
















The answer to this question is a resounding NO! It is quite apparent that even though I was winning the same amount of win bets as exactas, I was losing money on win bets and profiting on the exactas! Take a look at the ROI on daily doubles! WOW! And the Pick 4's... well they are off the charts. Why the heck wasn't I playing these bets more often? For what it's worth, the 'N" on the win/show and place/show wagers is extremely small. My record on pick 5, pick 6, and pick 9 wagers is, well, bad! (really, really bad)


(Let me qualify something, sure I may do well on my own Pick 4's, but ask Brian and Scott...whenever I join others' tickets, they LOSE!)


OK, So then I decided to generalize the wagers a bit more and classify the wagers in this slice:









At the highest level, I lose money on all straight bets and profit on exotics. Apparently it didn't really matter which exotics I played, the profit was just there. However one thing did jump out at me. When I box the verical wagers, I make a profit; and when I attempt to ladder or key the veritcal wagers, I lose. Interesting. I had always thought that straight bets were more profitable, at least for me. Clearly that is not the case. Joe DePaolo and I had a discussion at the 2011 Breeders' Cup regarding the profitability of exotics (and beating the take out rates). All the way up to when I did this analysis I thought I was right and he was crazy. Joe, you were right!


Now here is another interesting slice. I took a look at ROI based on how much was wagered in any one bet (total stake). Yes a strange way to look at it yet I was curious.






Whoa. Apparently there is a rather large ROI when the total stake of the wager is greater than $20. Well that does make a little sense as most exotic wagers, especially pick 4's, do cost a little more per wager. I wonder what it means when the wagers between $2 and $10 are losing money?


I also wanted to see how I performed at each track. As you may know, Arlington was my home track for years and therefore had the highest sample of wagers.






















Can it be? Can I be THAT bad at THAT many tracks? The results are astounding. Apparently I should just stick with Churchill and (the soon to be defunct) Hollywood. The Colonial ROI is skewed because of one large score on a very small sample size. I'm not that far off from break even at Hawthorne, Meydan, Fair Grounds, and Keeneland. My performance at Arlington is very disappointing considering it is the track which I know the most about.


I took another swipe at a track by track analysis, this time looking at exotic wagers only.


















Well that sure changes things a bit. Again, throwing out Colonial due to the very small sample size, my performance is a little better at some tracks. And again how about Churchill? Sick. Canterbury is a minor loss even though I won 50% of my wagers there.


Finally, I took a very different slice of the data. I wanted to know how I performed when I handicapped races versus when I just did an 'impulse' or 'hunch' bet. Those bets are defined as ones where I did not handicap the race at all using a racing form, followed someone else's picks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), or just decided to throw a few bucks on a horse or two while watching TVG. These results are amazing.






Whoa. Only 9% of 'impulse' bets turned a profit. Amazing. Still, I know I'm a better horseplayer than this. I have to be. C'mon now I've been following this sport for 25 years!


So when I removed all of the impulse bets all together and re-ran the analysis, this is what I found: 

  • - Exacta ROI - jumps from +30% to +54% 
  • - All exotics ROI - jumps from +24% to +40% 
  • - When I box verticals ROI - jumps from +29% to +52% WOW! 
  • - Keeneland ROI - jumps from -7% to +16% 
  • - Hawthorne ROI - jumps from -1% to +7% 
  • - Arlington ROI - jumps from -4% to +6% 
  • - Daily Double ROI - jumps from +74% to +97%


There were improvements in MANY other categories as well!


So here are the lessons learned:

  • - It's time to focus on wagers that are more proftable. For me they are doubles, exactas, and pick 4's. This can be dangerous. I must not change when I would normally use or not use these wagers. Rather I must...

  • - Avoid straight bets for now. Yes, there is a time and a place for each kind of wager. Different wagers exist for different situations. However, in three years I have been unable to turn a profit on a straight wager.'s time to do something different.

  • - And on all that is holy, STOP IMPULSE WAGERS! It's a serious detriment to ROI.

I have many people to thank for helping me with this analysis, and you know who you are. I realize that, as my friend Stats Master E says, there are infinite ways to slice the handicapping pie. What works well for me may not work that well for you, and vice-versa.


Well there you have it.  I thank you for your patience reading through this report. What do you think of this analysis? Do you keep a wager log? What is your ROI? How would you have done this differently? Let me know!


Part II of the series can be found if you click HERE.





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Older Comments about It's All In Black and White (and Red)...

I'm still interested in knowing if there is a quick way to download the surface, class, and condition without searching each race manually in Equibase. Ideas?
No doubt GQ. I've said it before, I am in the red for sure, but I'm hoping that now that I know where my strengths are, I can change it!!
Chris, I love the fact you had the DISCIPLINE not only to record your statistics, but hopefully you learned that MONEY MANAGEMENT can make or break you. Nice post. It takes guts to own-up to ones ROI. Something you'll NEVER see any of the TVG or HRTV on-air personalities do.
  • Capper · Could agree more, Gary! Those folks would be down about 95%. Even though there is value in playing multirace wagers due to the takeout being spread over multiple races, I think TVG baits people into bets they really have no business playing. · 1606 days ago
Well said mgq!
This is something that doesn't take too much extra extra effort for people to track & it can be a real eye opener. It can really help point out your strengths, weaknesses and which track you should focus on. Well done.
There are an unlimited number of factors. The whole point is to find what works for you!!! Obviously I have found what works for me....
There are many that would disagree with with us, Dark Horse, but I think it's important, too. Though sometimes I think I put too much stock into that and not enough into other factors.
I think that is smart, crank, surface and distance are very important!!!
It's not the connections I get stuck on; it's the horses themselves. I also tend to put a lot merit into distance and how they have (or have not) performed at whichever track is in question.
It is called horse racing... not jockey racing or trainer racing... LOL... I tell people this all the time.
I have stated over and over, that in order to be as objective as you require to be to win, you have to handicap the past performance, NOT the horse's name nor any of its connections. The HORSE does or does not..No one else.
Today I learned that I evidently handicap better when I'm looking at a race in which I am not familiar with any of the entrants. Easier to be objective.
"I wonder what it means when the wagers between $2 and $10 are losing money?" From my vantage point it means you're cutting corners (scrimping) and in doing so are eliminating the wagers that would have been winners as proofed by the statistic of 40% roi when investing $20+. GL to you. Nice article.
I do lose more bets than I win. However, I will be focusing much more on ROI like you said Diego.
"ANY comptent handicapper/wagerer, in relaity (unless you are our resident liar), loses more bets than they win...It is ochestrating those investments when the odds in your favor outwit the crowd that make up the difference long term. " So true TV..
Its very frustrating for me to watch people bet on horse racing. I will never understand how people can make a bet when the odds just arent there for you to make any money and I'm not talking about random people just having a good time. Its the Handicappers even on this site that will bet 100 bucks just to make a profit of 50 on a race. Thats just a bad wagering.
The other thing you have to remember though is that much of my negative ROI is due to impulse wagering. I had a friend who said not to count any of that at all!!!
I have a good friend who is a pro gambler, mainly football, and he has said the same thing. Learning how to bet is just as important as learning how to handicap.
a good friend was hired by a Carribean racing venue to study wagering and found, like in the North American community, on any given day fully 95% of people wagering on the races, lose more than they win. That statistic has held up to repeated evaluation. It was his conclusion that it is the wager creation weaknesses that were at the root. As he was often fond of saying "They teach this game backwards. NO person should even try it until they had the gambling side of the equation down pat and only THEN try the handicapping side."
If you are having failure with straight bets, your evaluation proceedure is not up to snuff. There are many computer based programs that will hone that phase of your game. NONE of them however, have a short learning curve. Many programs are available right here for free.. I would suggest Val4 to start...It uses Trackmaster dowloads, is fairly easy to learn BUT it takes practice.

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 (Whoa - it's me - the DARK HORSE)
Greetings and welcome to my "dark" blog!  I have been a fan of horse racing since I was about 12 years old.  Growing up in Minnesota, my dad would take me and my brothers to Canterbury Downs and I would practically beg to go every weekend!!  I made my first "big" score there hitting the win, place, and exacta in the same race at age 14 (pulled in $84 with horses named Railroad Red and Racers Dream!).  I even had a poster in my bedroom of Lost Code winning the 1987 St. Paul Derby!
While finishing school in Chicago, I spent every possible moment at Arlington Park with my dad.  We took the time to develop computer programs (on the ever popular Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS) to try to find patterns and handicap races more accurately.  My dad taught me a lot about handicapping races, paying particular attention to class moves!

Since then, I have become more involved with horse racing each passing year through a variety of different media-based roles. Once deemed the "second best racing ambassador in Chicago" (hey I've been called worse), 
I now reside in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USA and will be covering many different aspects of racing - in my unpredictable DARK HORSE STYLE!  
My favorite tracks are:
Del Mar
Kentucky Downs

Some of my all-time favorite horses include: 
Feel free to contact me anytime and I will respond! 
Twitter: @GoDarkHorse <---Preferred
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This blog is eternally dedicated to the memory of Tim "Tiznow" Reynolds.

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