02/25/2014 11:19AM

DQs and bombs - 'You can't stop what's coming'


I love my readers. Between comments on Twitter (@loomsboldly), various emails, and comments on drf.com, I get an awful lot of interesting things to write about – today I’m going to take on two such topics, both areas that drive many contest players crazy.

There was so much talk last weekend about the big, contest-changing DQs at Gulfstream, both Saturday and Sunday. Many players have theorized that a more fair way to adjudicate these inquiries would be to punish riders more severely, leave the results alone for wagering purposes, and only change the distribution in purse.

I worry that this is a solution that could breed more problems. Under such rules, what’s to prevent a jockey from “accidentally” racking up another horse to set up a potential score that could potentially be worth way more than the purse?  A professional bettor once told me, “If I knew for certain that a favorite wasn’t going to hit the board in the trifecta, I’d need to build an extra room in my house just to hold all the money.”

That said, I do agree with many of the same critics that there really should be more transparency and a much more clearly defined process for determining what’s an actionable foul and what isn’t – too often the decisions seem capricious at best and outright puzzling at worst.

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

The other issue I want to talk about today is more contest specific. Ever since the inception of tournaments, there have existed different versions of the following complaint: “I was doing great until the bomb came in late in the day and ruined everything.” Heck, I’ve said it myself.

Let’s take a look at some actual data. Objectively, I might have guessed that a cap horse comes in one of the last two races in a contest about 25 percent of the time. To believe the critics who’ve sworn off the popular $2 win/place format, you would think that a cap horse wins one of the last two races 50 percent of the time or more.

It certainly seems like an inordinate amount of contest results are skewed toward late-in-the-day bombs. But this is simply not so, says the proprietor of a well-known online contest site, “Our statistical analysis on all contests run in three years shows that a cap horse hits in either of the last two races in a contest approximately 10 percent of the time. The incidence of a cap horse hitting in any race is approximately 6 percent, based on our data.”

That means that only 1 of 10 times will a cap horse win one of the last two contest races. The other 9 out of 10 times, a saner result occurs. I asked our contest proprietor why it seems like it happens more often. He responded, “This is one of those things whereby those incidents are simply magnified when it happens, and you might have a small streak where it happens consecutively that magnifies it even more. But in reality, it's just part of the inherent volatility of horse racing and should be an accepted part of contest play for any regular contest players.  The stats don't lie.”

I’m curious what some of my other stats-/database-oriented readers – you know who you are – will have to say about this issue. Stay tuned.

Kevin Cox, the Brooklyn Cowboy, is one contest player who has given this issue a lot of thought. You might know Cox from either the “Horseplayers” TV show or his appearance in my book, “The Winning Contest Player.” Kevin enjoys playing the role of heel – both on TV and in real life – figuring that if people are thinking about him they’re not thinking about the contest they’re playing in. But in real life, he’s very philosophical as you can see from this recent comment, “As for bombs coming in and wiping people out, my favorite contest quote is from the movie “No Country for Old Men” – ‘You can't stop what's coming.’ ”

In other words, a winning player isn’t going to spend a lot of time worrying about the things he or she can’t control – be they DQs or crazy prices coming in. The winning player will either compartmentalize and immediately turn the page – if there is another race coming up – or perhaps indulge in a short pity party – up to 30 minutes of whining is allowed after the last contest race. After that, it’s back to business. Tomorrow, there will be another contest somewhere else and as the great author William Murray liked to say, “There’s always fresh.”