02/25/2014 11:19AM

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

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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.”

Dave More than 1 year ago
I prefer contests where all picks must be locked in at post time of first contest race. But contests are about picking medium to high priced winners, that's the name of the game. Those horses are hard to find and as any experienced horse bettor knows, they're even harder to find late in the day when you're down and need to get back. Basically, luck is an element in non-contest horse betting, poker playing, and sports. There's no way to remove luck from the equation. But in a large majority of cases, in a large handicapping contest the best at picking winners are going to cash, and you're not lucking your way into a top spot by grasping in the final couple of races.
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
Also does anyone ever play a 8-1 shot with real money? From sounds of things people who do not like the cap contests never bet a 7-5 shot they didnt like. Do players reach for prices especially later in contests? Of course, but even then there are usually multiple horses to pick from usually (to say nothing of finding the race if its an optional race format). Neither of which are easy
Dave More than 1 year ago
It's always easy in hindsight to say that it was simple to come up with a late bomb. But contest races are usually fuller fields, so even if you want the bomb to come in you still have to choose among many horses who look mediocre or bad on paper.
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
Whatever format changes people want to dream up in the end the better players will still win. There is still a perception that good contest players are "lucky" and that with "real money" it would be a different story. Not sure whats up with all that.
Steven More than 1 year ago
How about 8 races at a better variety of tracks (SUN, EMD, DD, LRL & PARX) along with the usual CA, NY, KY, FL standards with 3 horse exacta boxes ($6 or $12 total depending on location)? Win/place is archaic.... Plus take into consideration the weather so there aren't any cancellations. It may not be popular to have SA, GG, DM and Fairplex because of the East coast time bias, but at least the races get run!
Dennis More than 1 year ago
I have a contest idea that I think many players would like instead of the standard dumb downed 2wp version. 5 plays at $2wp with no cap 5 plays at $5wp with 9-1 cap for win and 5-1 cap for place (50/30) 5 plays at $10wp with 4-1 cap for win and 2-1 cap for place (50/30) This creates much more strategy in how you play the game, and also gives you a chance to collect more money on the selections you're more confident in.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I must admit it sounds interesting but maybe a bit trickier to administer, If you get it going, I'd try it out.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
Along the same lines,whenever I lose by a nose,I wanna see the replay but when it goes my way,i just say,"thank you,Lord".Lady Luck is a fickle lover.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
You said it!
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
This kind of stat depends on what the definition of a bomber is . About 7.4 % of all the races in North America should be won by horses $24 &up. Based on a 15000 race multi-year multi-track multi-century multi-millennium random sample of DRF charts I did in the early part of this millennium :) 6% of far less than 15000 selected races seems reasonably in line with reality to me. See , I backed your play with hard evidence this time Pete . I'm not a one way street :) SR Vegas will vouch for me on that.... maybe :)
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Very impressive data, Jackson. . .I knew I'd find some quant help!
David Wallace More than 1 year ago
the issue is: if you look at almost any final results of a tourney and if there was a cap (or near cap) horse, all the top winners/qualifiers/advancers had that cap horse. So if you don't have that one cap horse that came in you lose that tournament. almost guaranteed. something inherently wrong with that type of structure
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I see no workable way around that other than building a big enough lead where it wouldn't matter.
Dennis More than 1 year ago
Ive suggested many times to contest sites that a different format like the one following would be much more realistic. 5 plays at 2wp with no cap win or place. 5 plays at 5wp with a cap of 9-1 for win and 5-1 for place (50+30) 5 plays at 10wp with a cap of 4-1 for win and 2-1 for place (50+30) This would be a true test to your confidence in your selections and the races we are forced to play. Many times I handicap a contest card and can only find about 3 horse that I am willing to wager real money on. It stinks having to get only 2wp on that one you love and then 2wp on some piece of crap you're just playing cause you have to.
1971 Whippet More than 1 year ago
Are there any tournaments that enhance the payoffs/limit the cap based on the timeliness of the wager/? If you wagered more than 30 minutes to post,no cap. In last 5 minutes, reduce the cap to 10:1 for win and 5:1 on place bets. Like that.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I have never heard of any such format and have no idea how one would administer it. Interesting thought though.
aoh mah More than 1 year ago
I think cap horses in the last two races could partly be attributed to racetracks carding inscrutable races to end the card.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I would have thought so as well and was surprised by the actual data.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
Tell the Brooklyn Cowboy that veteran tournament players will yawn if he starts any of his B.S. Am sure he is formidable handicapper, but I've been around a long time and around some of the best if not THE best handicappers and know that every dog has his day. I've seen Andy Beyer literally pull his hair out when things didn't work out for him. Have been around Jule Fink and Al "The Brain" Winderman.....................even they had their bad days. They were never intimidated. Mr Cox would be better served concentrating on playing the contest instead of trying to get into the heads of other competitors. And yes, Dq's are a part of contest life. I lost two tournaments when one horse at 8.50-1 and one at 16-1 were disqualified.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
LOL Chuck. I want to hear more Jule Fink stories! Wasn't he won of the original speed boys?
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
I met Mr. Fink at Hialeah in January 1961( and yes he was one of the speed boys). Was fresh out of college and wanted to be a trainer. I had been playing the ponies since 1957 at old Jamaica and Belmont. I went to work for John Nerud in Sept '60. One day I climbed the stairway next to the box seats and stood watching an up and coming race. There were four or five men in the box seats with large artist sketch books that had result charts pasted in them. Had no idea who they were. Did not know what an edge they had with the result charts. In those days the Form and the Morning Telegraph did not contain the volume of information that players have today. Being rather young and innocent, I asked one of the fellows why they had the result charts ( from various tracks)? Got an earful about the edge over the public by knowing what the conditions and purses were in races run at the various tracks....in addition to a more complete description and trouble in the race. That got me on the road to what has been happily a successful fifty years as a bettor and owner. I was in Mr. Fink's employ for the balance of the Hialeah meet and learned as much as they were willing to tell me. It was a different time. It was a time when you could cash bets at truly overlaid prices because fewer people had access to so much information. Still, it's days like today that keep me going.........TO THE STARS in the 1st at Gulfstream. A nice exacta....... and the super (which I seldom play). "Tune in for the next thrilling episode."........................Chuck
Ron Rios More than 1 year ago
Why don't online tournaments (that have mandatory races) use a point system instead of the dollar figure. In that format it shoudl be about every race predicting which horse will do the best, not someone with 2 or more entries playing a longshot and winning a tournament. A point system like, 5 points for win, 2 points for place, 1 point for show, would be fairer, don't you think?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I don't really like this idea, Ron. Contests would become too much about picking short priced winners in the format you suggest. At least for my taste. But I admire your creativity.
Todd Saunders More than 1 year ago
transparency would be nice, and hearing how stewards decide these matters, considering that it is our money (the bettors/gamblers) on the line, would seem appropriate. but it seems to me that the best way to remedy the situation is to ask the rider to use their hands more and the whip/stick less. it appears that a great many of these fouls or instances occur down the stretch when the outcome of the race is very much in question, when horse may be starting to tire, and will react to getting hit left or right. i know this is a hot button issue, and in europe and overseas they have addressed this quite thoroughly. in the end, i believe less fouls will occur
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
It's always fascinating to me to see the difference between here and the UK -- where it's nearly impossible to get DQd. And your points about whip rules make a lot of sense to me.
Ron Rios More than 1 year ago
Pete, why don't online contest award a point system for wins, place, show (like 5-2-1)? Wouldn't that would be fairer? Break the ties by $ money mythical money earned. Its not like we get to keep the money online contest (most that is). After all its about handicapping races and predicting what you think is going to happen, but being in contest where people have mutiple picks and picking crazy longshots does become frustrating...
long_shot_alert More than 1 year ago
I don't get your concerns about the possible consequences of doing away with dqs. For them to play out a dishonest ( somewhat suicidal) jock would first have to be in position to severely foul the favorite and if hehas to be in the number still have enough horse to get there - sounds like he should be the favorite. If he doesn't need to be in the number, how does a rule change effect anything? You can take the favorite out now and if you don't finish in the money only the jock can be punished. Plus, a jock's punishment isn't limited to losing his portion of the purse; he's also eligible for days. And the more time she pulls it the greater the penalties are gonna get. Before it got to that though I think the other jocks in the room would mete out their own justice. All this considered, I think your fears are misplaced.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
You make some good points, for sure! I think more research needs to be done on the topic. I am always worried about the Law of Unintended consequences when sweeping changes occur but I'd be eager to see more data.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I should have pointed out I was not envisioning a horse having to commit a foul AND be in the number. To do what I am talking about, they'd just have to interfere with one horse, presumably the favorite. That's a lot more realistic than what you're describing.
long_shot_alert More than 1 year ago
What prevents that scenario from playing out now?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Again, a fair point. I guess I just worry about the lack of consequence of fouls on betting. I feel like it should really be examined more fully and isn't quite as simple as some people would have you believe.
gene cahalan More than 1 year ago
I find that it's helpful to identify races that are more likely to produce Bombs.Large fields,turf races and maiden special/ claimers are a good place to start.For example the 6th at GP on Sunday was the first race in my contest and before I could even grab a beer..bombs away in turf MSW.Another turf Bomb later also at GP.The final race had 7 down the hill and an evenly matched field..no chance for a bomb
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
For sure, you have to handicap the races as well as the horses. . .and yourself as well.
Russ Jenkins More than 1 year ago
I like the idea of $2 win/place wagers, but you are locked in to your bets for the whole card as soon as the first race goes off, and the 'payoffs' would be based on the morning line....that way there's no "well, i had no idea this horse would be so overlaid/underlaid". You could have substitute picks made before hand for any late scratches. That way, if you like a longshot late in the card, you like a longshot late in the card, but you wouldn't be picking it simply because it's the only way you 'get home' in the contest.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting wrinkle. . .I think personally I'd love to play in a contest like the one you're describing. Though I suppose the flaw is that it becomes a contest a bit more reliant on one's ability to find the bad morning line in one sense. Still, I'd play.
mikey More than 1 year ago
What about the cap horse everyone is chasing after 5 races and a zero score.They bet some nag at 30 or 40-1 and then play for real after 2 cap horses.Pick and pray puts a stop to this.Handicapping in not a game of darts.These horses are few and far between in pick and prays.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Strike two, Mikey.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
"Pick & pray"is my way...& it can pay.