06/17/2014 1:24PM

Fornatale: Looking beyond PPs for capped longshots

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Odds caps are considered a necessary evil in contests. The idea is that without them, tournaments skew too heavily toward the hard-to-find longshots that come in at times. The fact is, however, that sometimes caps aren’t enough to fix this, and a good contest player can take advantage. In Sunday’s NHCQ event, for example, only one of the top nine finishers didn’t have longshot Cristina’s Halo in Woodbine’s seventh race.

Cristina’s Halo paid $69 to win, which was capped at $42 for the purposes of the contest. It’s easy to make a case for many cap horses, especially with the benefit of hindsight, but looking at Cristina’s Halo’s bare form, it’s tricky to find her even after the race – until you look outside her past performances.

In contests, there can be tremendous value in playing horses who look ugly on paper – especially if you can find a genuine reason to like them. In “The Winning Contest Player,” Eric Moomey extolled the virtues of playing above-the-cap horses: “Select the horse that can separate you from the pack. If there are 10 horses in a race, they will not all be played the same. There are some that 20 percent of the people will play, and there are others that nobody will play. Can you make a case at all for that horse no one else will play? If you can, play it.”

Let’s dive deeper on Cristina’s Halo. The 3-year-old filly was making her seventh start. This was her first attempt in stakes company. She’d been competitive enough in nonwinners-of-two allowance races, but had never run a speed figure fast enough to figure to beat several of her rivals on this day.

Was there anything at all to like? There were two main factors that might have put a tournament player on to her. When longshots come in, often a change plays an important role. In Cristina’s Halo’s case, she was trying turf for the first time, and there was evidence that she might improve on the green. Her grandsire, Stormy Atlantic, is a known turf influence and a quick glimpse at the DRF Formulator breeding tool showed that Cristina’s Halo’s dam, Siwa, won two of five starts and posted a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure on turf.

The other factor requires a look at the type of race this was. Contest guru Ken Massa often encourages contest players to “fish in the right ponds.” In other words, there is a skill in identifying races that are likely to produce undervalued longshots. Maybe it’s okay in many races to stick to the mid-range or even to play favorites, but some races are ripe for the picking when it comes to bombs. Woodbine’s seventh race on Sunday was exactly one of those instances. It was a full field of 3-year-old fillies sprinting on turf. Each of those factors – field size, age, horse type, surface, and distance – hints at a possible longshot result.

Even though the field contained several contenders who figured to run faster than Cristina’s Halo, they were not so far ahead of the outsiders that a crazy result was inconceivable. Further evidence that a chaotic result was likely is that the third-place finisher, Sky America, went to post at 26-1 and was beaten only two lengths.

Even with an odds cap, there will be many times when the people who qualify in the all-mandatory, 12-race, win-place format will be those that nail the biggest priced winner in the sequence. This is just a fact of contest life, and it’s nothing to get too upset about. Even Sunday, fifth-place finisher Anthony Kite, who didn’t have Cristina’s Halo, missed qualifying by just 20 cents.

It’s foolish to merely stab at big prices like Cristina’s Halo at every opportunity – granted, you’ll win once in a while, but it will be hard to develop any consistency in your play. But if you can handicap the race card itself and choose your spots to play big prices, you’ll have a chance to finish way ahead of the game.

Mayhemily1 More than 1 year ago
Using formulator stats seemingly was a good spot to take a shot against the heavy presence of the Casse charge. According to formulator Casse numbers in turf sprint stakes (graded and non-graded) are 3/38. If you decide to play against Casse that eliminates 7 runners out of a 12 horse field leaving it down to five potential plays. In a contest setting not surprising many players took this opportunity to think outside the box.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Great to see you commenting on here, Emily. Excellent point about Formulator -- you can definitely use it to identify contest spots where you have a chance to come up with some big prices.
Dan Herman More than 1 year ago
Not sure if you cover this in your book, Peter, but I've understood that one should have one's own betting line. Odds represent the best guess, yet can differ in pure mathematical % compared to each other whether morning-line or via public. Anything that seems to be more than, say an $8-10 difference in the win pool based on my own comparison is worth a play.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Oh yes. We definitely talk about value line handicapping in the book -- you mean you haven't bought one yet? ;) Mark Cramer's work on the subject is indispensable. Perhaps I'll write a piece soon about how it can be used in contests.
BobbyPS11 More than 1 year ago
Good stuff Peter.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Tx, Bobby.
Robert Bertolucci More than 1 year ago
You guys are so smart can I have your autograph
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Robert, I don't really understand any of your comments but it's fun to see your name on here. As for my autograph, you can have it if you buy a book ;)
Robert Bertolucci More than 1 year ago
Am just messing around but chantel has a nice behind
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Since my wife is an avid reader of this blog I'll refrain from comment ;)
Robert Bertolucci More than 1 year ago
And I am the biggest long shot player out there
Robert Bertolucci More than 1 year ago
The reason you play it because you like chantel behind the horse was a pig
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
Good stuff. I have also found that another way to get on a horse no one else is on is to play above and beyond cap price. For example when cap is 20-1 and there is a 20-1 horse in race, a 24-1 and a 40-1 all things being equal the 40 to one gets ignored even though chances aren't that much different. I can't prove this of course but I think it's human element where people feel "cheated" in "losing" some of the payout due to the cap. Of course there are other logical reasons that come into play also is more on an observation. Even truer when cap is 15-1
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Yes, a few folks talk abt that idea exactly in The Winning Contest Player.
Roger More than 1 year ago
Peter, its very funny that you wrote about Cristina's Halo. I was down to 2 choices her or Skylander Girl. Of course i went the wrong way !!!!! A few Thorograph stats made her a very enticing play. Trainer Vito Armata ROI for synthetic to turf was 5.04 with 16% winners. Her Dams fastest race was an 8 sprinting on the Grass at 3yrs old . At 35-1 why not ??? This is one of those times i should have played 2 entries !!!! RC
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Ugh, those are the worst, so frustrating. I think all contest players feel your pain.
David G. More than 1 year ago
I found it comical that Mark Casse had seven legitimate fillies entered in that race and couldn't pull off the win.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
Yes, as I say all the time abt contests, multiple entries doesn't guarantee anything :)