01/14/2015 10:37AM

Fornatale: The case against awarding points for show


One frequently asked question from new tournament players is, “Why are show prices excluded from typical contest formats?” It’s a good question. After all, there’s something to be said for rewarding longshot players whose horses run third – and as we all know, longshots run second and third a lot more often than they win.

I started researching the issue fully expecting an answer something along the lines of “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” The first person I spoke with was NTRA vice president Keith Chamblin, and he didn’t fully dismiss the notion.

“In the early days of the [National Handicapping Championship], tracks were looking for guidance, and we suggested a win-place format due to the fact that other tournaments in Nevada and elsewhere were using it and using it successfully,” the NHC contest director said. “The contest software and hardware were in place and working – no easy feat – and it made sense to use a format for the final that we had been suggesting to the early adopters who were holding qualifying tournaments at their tracks for the first time and throughout the year. Over the years, there have been tweaks, and none more noticeable than this past January, but the win-place component has remained unchanged.”

I was curious about the reasoning behind the initial decision to use win-place as opposed to win only or win-place-show. I approached two of the smartest tournament players out there, Bill and Paul Shurman, to get their opinions.

Bill Shurman elucidated why win-only contests can be very difficult for players. “I think there was/is a desire not to just be win only,” he said. “No one feels good about handicapping well but getting nothing for it when your horse doesn’t win but comes close. The gap/payoff between win and place is large and meaningful, although place prices are often big enough that you can piece together a winning total with the assistance of some placings.”

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Bill Shurman doesn’t see the same issue in the difference between place and show prices.  “The gap gets a little less so between place and show,” he said. “I think where using place feels like a good balance, using show feels less important or unnecessary.”

Paul Shurman came to a similar conclusion from a different angle.

“The reason why show isn’t used is the same as why the cap for place is lower than the cap for win,” the 2012 NHC Tour champ said. “If the cap for win and place was the same, then a person would be doubly rewarded ($84 as opposed to $64) for hitting what could have been just a stab in the dark.”

Avoiding over-rewarding players for one winner comes into play in the decision to use win-place over win-place-show. “In a win-place-show contest, you could be rewarding someone triple for hitting with a stab,” Paul Shurman said. “Even if you make the place and show odds cap the same, as is the case in the [New York Racing Association] contests, you are giving someone a triple reward for hitting with that same horse.”

Still, it would be nice to find some way to reward players whose longshots fire and hit the board. “Of course, you would love to be rewarded with something when your 35-1 shot comes in third,” Paul Shurman said. “The problem becomes, what if it comes in first?  I'm sure in theory something could be devised to make it more reasonable. Maybe making the cap for third less than for first or second or lowering the show cap if your horse wins as opposed to coming in first or second, but then it gets too complicated and unwieldy.”

I was impressed. I came away from talking with Chamblin and the Shurmans convinced that the win-place scoring system really is the optimal one for mythical-money contests. How much would the inclusion of show payouts really matter anyway? Bill Shurman summed this up succinctly.

“My guess is that if you ask people whether they would have done better over time had win-place contests been win-place-show contests, almost every person would say yes,” he said. “I also think nearly every one of them would be wrong.”

jtim11 More than 1 year ago
simple you do win-place and show format and you still maintain the $64 per race cap Win 20/1 Place10/1 Show 10/1 a horse that pays 48.60 23.20 10.20 that player gets only $64 bucks done
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That's a very intriguing idea to me. . .PTF
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I got this GREAT addendum to this piece from Ken Kirchner, who was part of the decision to not include show mutuels at the dawn of the NHC: "Left unsaid in your last blog about why the NHC is $2 win/place: I was tasked in 1998 with writing the business plan and putting together the format, rules, etc. for the NTRA. One of the first moves, after getting DRF’s full support from Steve Crist, was to hire Jeff Sotman as Tourney Director. Jeff, Keith and I worked very hard to find the original host (MGM and Will Hall), and to put the format and contest fundamentals together to get the NHC going. And Sotman’s attitude was – we’re not rewarding guys for show betting. And if you knew Jeff – can you imagine him supporting show betting!!! And so it was win/place."
William More than 1 year ago
Apologies, my last comment, which I accidentally cut off when cutting/pasting. One key piece that's missing is the validity of show as a legitimate handicapping contest angle (more in live-money venues) when playing into bridge-jumper show pools. I get that online contest venues, in particular, will look for races with deep fields, but I find it interesting that Bill Sherman is OK dismissing show payouts when he entered nearly 100 NHC qualifiers in 2014 (including many w/multiple tickets). Meanwhile, if you look at Paul Sherman's Jan. 10, 2015 entries on NHCQualify.com, within his two tickets that day he made only 2 (of a possible 24) plays on a favorite-type horse (3-1). Otherwise, the tickets are rife w/double-digit horses, including 5 @ 20-1 or more and 7 more @ 10-1 or more. So summarily dismissing an $84 winner (your reference above, re: capping place payouts at 10-1) as a "stab in the dark" is potentially a dig at a player who maybe spent the time and had the stones to play a horse at inefficient odds. To be sure, in a contest this summer I got 29-1 on a horse listed at 8-1 morning line in a 12-horse field that had every right to win and did so be more than 2 lengths going away. That's not a stab, IMO. THAT is handicapping, so why should I be penalized for making the correct call regardless of the odds? I love when players dismiss show payouts, implying that it's not really "handicapping," or that handicapping is about "picking winners," whereas multiple tickets, and hedging "more logical" bets on one ticket with long-shots or outright bombs on the other is good handicapping? Look, I'm fine w/just win-place payouts "as is," but if we're talking true "handicapping," then players should be rewarded if they spend time handicapping real-money wagering pools as part of their strategies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't believe Paul was using "stab" in a pejorative sense there at all. He was just making the point that bombs are valuable enough without giving players extra extra credit for them. In any case, tx for your thoughtful post(s)!
William More than 1 year ago
In short, I think your piece is compelling, but a bit of the response leans toward dismissing the real merits of contest long-shots, whereas in spots, a show wager might produce extremely lucrative returns for a player nimble enough to recognize inefficiencies in the real wagering pool. I chuckle when I hear guys like TVG's Rich Perloff lament how he doesn't play contests anymore because he lost in one when some player hit a bomber. Well, I'm figuring Mr. Perloff and every other player could have ponied up on that same long-shot, but didn't have the reason or the stomach for it. Who's fault is that? I won a contest earlier this year primarily because bettors dismissed a logical 8-1 ML horse who was sent at 29-1. Is that the player's fault?
Ron Rios More than 1 year ago
Yeah I agree, there would be no point in handicapping if show was allowed in mythical betting, just play long shots… look at last Saturday NHC contest, you had show prices worth just as much as some of the winners across the board… it should be about pick winners
derby1592 More than 1 year ago
There is no right or wrong on this topic. Every format has its advantages and disadvantages and I agree with most of what you, Paul and Bill said. My suggestion has always been to put a cap on the total win/place payout instead of separate caps on win and place. The reason caps were put in place was to prevent someone from winning the contest with just one bomb (particularly late in the contest), which happened a few times back when there were no caps. With that in mind, it makes no sense to me when a 50/1 shot gets beat by a nose by a 7/1 shot and the payouts are $40 to place (capped at $22) on the 50/1 shot and $17 to win and $8 place on the 7/1 shot so the person who came up with a 50/1 shot that only gets beat by a nose gets hit with a cap while the other guy does not and actually gets a bigger total reward ($25). By capping the win/place total at $64 rather than the each win and place payout separately, the person with the 50/1 shot would get the full place price (as long as it did not exceed $64). This would still preserve the original intent of the caps and better reward people for finding bombs that run second. The reason I bring this up with regards to the idea of contests also paying for show is that by setting the an overall cap for the win/place/show total rather than separate caps for each really simplifies things and still rewards those who can find longshots that hit the board (and also gives a bit more to those picking shorter priced horses). You could even keep the cap at $64 (it would just get hit a bit more often). Of course, the main argument against this is that it could even further reward picking longshots but, if you think about it, it might actually do just the opposite since shorter priced horses are more likely to hit the board than longshots and now you are rewarded with the extra few dollars each time you hit the board with a shorter priced horse, which could really add up over the course of a contest. Anyway, that is my idea. As I said, no format is perfect. I look forward to seeing all three of you in Vegas next week. Cheers Chris
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great, thoughtful stuff, Chris. as always. . .see you soon!