10/03/2007 1:44AM

The Emerald Project


Now that it's over, I have a confession to make. For the last few months I've developed a secret, after-dark, weekend Internet habit: I've been using my NYRA Rewards account to play the pick-four at Emerald Downs.

My aesthetic reasons were that I'm fond of Emerald, an unusually player-friendly and well-run track; that I like playing one small track as a counterpoint and refreshment to my NYRA action; and that Emerald is a fun and relatively easy track for an outsider or novice to handicap because it has a largely self-contained horse population with few shippers.

My venal reason was that the Emerald pick-four pools are small enough, usually between $5k and $15k, that I thought by spreading out on multiple tickets in a pick-four market dominated by small caveman tickets, I might be able to scoop some pools.

It had been fun but only marginally profitable, because while I'd had some nicely overlaid payoffs, I hadn't taken down any full pools or monster payoffs. But that all seemed like it was about to change last Sunday, closing night of the meet.

My best prices won the first two legs, at $21.40 and $13.60, leaving me alive 3x4 into the last two legs. I made it through leg #3 with an $8.60 winner, and when I saw the pick-three payoff for those first three winners, I figured I had to be just about the only person alive for 4-of-4: The one-dollar payoff for those three winners was $2,952.20.

I never saw pick-four probables to the four favorites I had covered in the finale's field of eight, but off the $2,952.20 pick-three, I had to think it was coming back around $5k to the 6-5 favorite in the finale and half or the whole $15k pool with the others. It seemed like a no-brainer to bet $100 win savers on each of the four horses I didn't have in the finale, since they were 11-1, 26-1, 31-1 and 40-1.

So the 6-5 shot wins the last race of the meeting with the 40-1 shot second, and I'm pretty sure it's a good result since the pick four of a $2,952.20 pick-three into a $4.40 winner has to pay more than the $4100 I would have gotten if the 40-1 shot had won, right? Wrong. The pick-four payout was a dismal $1,037.20. Yes, the races 7-8-9 pick-three had paid $2,952.20 and the races 7-8-9-10 pick four had paid $1,037.20. Thanks to my (in retrospect) idiotically extravagant hedge savers, I had turned the whole proposition into less than an even-money affair.

How did that happen? Well, turns out I'm not the only person who likes the pick-four more than the pick-three. The pool for the 7-8-9 pick-three was only $3,790, so there was exactly one winning $1 pick-three ticket sold. The pick-four, however, had attracted a closing-night pool of $18,641, so there were $13 worth of winning pick-fours sold.

Live by the volatility of small pools, die by the volatility of small pools.

--I was looking at an old past-performance file that Dan Illman posted over on his Formblog and stumbled over a neat little piece of historical trivia: What's the connection between the sixth race at Woodbine on May 14, 1995, and the result of last Sunday's Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont?

In that race 12 years ago, a N2L allowance for a $24,400 purse at a mile and a sixteenth, Smart Strike beat Langfuhr by 1 1/4 lengths. Smart Strike is the sire of Curlin and Langfuhr is the sire of Lawyer Ron.

Mike D More than 1 year ago
*** I think the rule is a good one and I kind of wish that every handicapping writer that called himself a professional handicapper was forced to abide by it. ****** NW, Good rule, indeed--and excellent, honest post. I think you're saying that a winning at the track requires not only science (Beyers, sheets, etc.) but also art. A little luck helps, too. I think Mr. Blog would agree.
nw More than 1 year ago
Mike: In answer to your question, in large takeout situations (over 17%) , from a purely quantitative standpoint, I have never found a reliable betting advantage. (Which doesn't mean that the bets aren't beatable, as Mr. Blog here and people like Ernie Dahlman seem to have proven) In low takeout situations such as London betting exchanges, I have found you can quantitatively find a consistent advantage given the 3-5% takeout, and makes me wonder if we will ever see pools like that in the US. I have found that there are anomalies that can be exploited in the Win, Place, and Show pools but I have a rule about what I think you are getting at. The rule is to claim success in beating the game you would have to find a quantitative method that offered enough plays in pools deep enough and you would have had to actually bet enough actual money on them to earn the equivalent of a living. According to that rule my answer is no. I think the rule is a good one and I kind of wish that every handicapping writer that called himself a professional handicapper was forced to abide by it. It would lend an important perspective on their opinions.
Kenny Mac More than 1 year ago
Hi Steve, As a follow up to my earlier question regarding the high exotic takeout rates, I have to give credit where credit is due. Nyra is ultra competitive as far as Win, Place, Show(15%). And possibly the lowest takeout % around for Daily Doubles, Quinellas and Exactas(17.5%). I really enjoy the blog, thanks.
Kenny Mac More than 1 year ago
Hi Steve, As a guy who grew up in NY,(Moved away over 10 years ago)watching the likes of Angel C, Jorge V,Fell and Cruguet, I do love NY racing. However in trying to squeeze out a profit over the long haul, I find the takeout on exotics of 25% to be extremely taxing. So I generally take my gambling dollar to SoCal(20.68%) and my favorite Kentucky(19%). I know you've commented on this issue on numerous occasions in the past, but is there any talk by the current administration about possibly reducing the exotic takeout in the near future?
Mike D More than 1 year ago
*** NW says: In response to Mike_D, I looked at over 5000 Pick 3's at NYRA tracks from 2002 to 2006. In cases where the favorite won the 1st leg the average payoff was 233.28 while the parlay average was 184.52 for a premium average of 26%. In cases where a non favorite won the first leg the average payoff was 769.85 while the parlay figure was 631.97 for a premium of 22%. I don't know that this information really clears the picture at all. I will say that in looking at over 30,000 Pick 3's in my own study, I found no reliable bettable advantage based on odds rank that could overcome the large takeouts the wager normally carries. ***** NW, I call a 5,000-race study definitive. It's interesting to me that your study finds catching the favorite in the first leg of a pick three is as good or better than catching a longshot (in terms of the premium on the pick-three payout over the three-horse parlay payout). Good stuff. Thank you! Apparently, you have a comprehensive database and Affirmedian computer programming skills to crunch so huge a sample. Which makes me wonder: Have you by analysis ever found "a reliable bettable advantage that overcomes the large takeouts" in ANY kind of horse racing wager?
mike k More than 1 year ago
LOL-- You're the LAST person I thought my Emerald pk4 tickets were in competition with!! The second favorite in the pool (#3 horse, R. Frazier) was paying $1600 for $1, the rest were pretty juicy, and there were 2 horses that would've paid 3 of 4 (amazingly, both about $330 for $1). It's still fresh in my mind since I was alive to the two favorites. Nevertheless Steve, and I think I speak for all the locals, please stay away from our pools next year.
C More than 1 year ago
Not to pile on Stewart, but usually, the last leg (often the day's finale) has a full field, so I'd guess that would be more of a 'spread' race for the public. It depends on the sequence though. One thing I have noticed is that longshots will help you more in the first leg than any other... even more so in the P6. That's because the public can see the tote board (not playing 'blind' to the odds) and the majority lose their nerve when it comes to using longshots (?). It's as if they suddenly don't trust their own handicapping anymore. I don't get it... you either think the horse has a chance or you don't. I've never understood what the public has to do with it. If that first winner pays in the $35 (or $20 for the P6) range or beyond, you'll hear a lot of people swear up and down that they'll never be influenced by the tote board again. Of course, most of them will chicken-out and fall into the same trap next time. The rest are quickly replaced by a new wave of self-doubters. As P T Barnum said, 'There's a sucker born every minute'. Steve, I enjoy 'slumming' as well. SoCal is not a very appetizing diversion from NYRA, especially with their artificial surfaces. It might be worthwhile to give your blog readers a heads-up about your next bush track of choice. Otherwise, we'll be sharing many of those pools and nobody wants that.
David More than 1 year ago
Steve - will you be able to provide us with your insights regarding the big stakes races at Keeneland this weekend? Thanks!
Mark More than 1 year ago
Glad to see Steve dipping into Emerald pools. I have a hard time understanding why so many players turn their nose at anything that is not NY or CA. With just some basic track knowledge, there are often full fields and profits to be had at tracks like Remington, Lone Star, La Downs, Tampa, Hoosier, Hawthorne, Sam Houston, Retama, Delta, Colonial and many others. Of all things, a couple of us found several great plays at Indiana Downs this summer.
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
It looks like we're all going to say in unison, "That rings a bell!" Your "hedges" - due to "extravagance" & the unanticipated low P4 payout - became your main bets. Your P4, for the same reason, became your hedge! I've done the same thing, unwitting, on occasion. It's embarrassing, but it's always funny, afterwards. And my "closet" track is the Meadows harness track outside Pittsburgh. The running commentary provided by Harness Hall of Fame member Roger Huston & his cohorts (include someone who sounds like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons!) proves that it is not mandatory, but merely OkellyDokelly, that racing announcers must be dullards. There are other reasons to zero in on the Meadows; give it a try. The Pick One payouts are enormous.