08/13/2007 3:20PM

Hot and Cold


A couple of people have written to say I was testy or worse with fellow panelist Jim Mazur at Sunday's Siro's seminar. I thought it was all in good fun, and Jim is the one of nicest guys on the planet, so I'm sorry if it came off that way. And hats off to him for tabbing Classic Pack ($29.60) as his "West Point Pick of the Day" on Sunday's card. While I realize I'm in a minority on the issue in dispute, I will dogmatically continue to insist that a "Who's Hot/Who's Not" approach to handicapping can be a dangerous path if followed blindly.

I flared up after hearing one handicapper after another say in recent days that all of Todd Pletcher's horses are automatic bet-againsts because he's winning at closer to 15 than his usual 25 percent at the meeting, or that excellent trainers such as Tom Albertrani and Shug McGaughey were "unplayable" until they won their first race up here (which they both promptly did) and similar hot-n-cold trainer angles. This is a game of opinions and we're all allowed to have different ones. Mine is that this kind of short-term analysis is completely misleading the vast majority of the time.

You will find winning and losing streaks in the course of any trainer's year and these are almost always a matter of random distribution rather than a trainer either laboring under a supernatural hex or suddenly discovering or forgetting how to train. If anything, I think you are probably supposed to go exactly the other way: A guy who's temporarily winning a lot probably has his horses ready to win some races at the right level and will find it harder to repeat when those horses step up next time out. A guy in a slump is still eligible for those conditions, and may even drop his horses a little below where they belong just to get back into the win column.

Also, whatever value you think you're gaining with an opinion that someone's running "hot" is likely to be neutralized by the lemming mentality of bettors, who routinely overbet anyone who seems to be on a good roll.

It can also be dangerous to ascribe every winner to a clever training move as opposed to sheer luck. Example: On Friday, Mike Hernandez won with a first-time starter and many hailed the victory as a brilliant put-over by an old-school longshot specialist. He is a very good trainer, but there's a big problem with the theory he had suddenly caught fire or done something canny: The race he won could have been timed with a sundial, receiving a winning Beyer Speed Figure of 45, the lowest in at least five years here for any 2-year-old race. It was a race with five other first-timers and two who had already proved they had zero ability. The most heavily-bet of the firsters was scratched at the gate. None of the others, including the winner, was any good, and if the Mike Hernandez firster had run in any of the dozens of other races for New York-bred 2-year-olds in this or any recent year, he probably would have finished off the board. Instead, he will be cited for years as evidence of his trainer's prowess at cleverly preparing ready-to-win firsters, and some bettors will be playing all his horses now that he's hot.

Those poor misguided souls, of course, scored out Sunday -- when Classic Pack, trained by Mike Hernandez, won the West Point at $29.60.

Jim Mazur More than 1 year ago
Steve: I wrote you an email Monday to your drf mailbox but am not sure you're even looking at that mailbox. The gist of the email was basically that I was amazed at the reaction to the Sunday seminar. I didn't detect anything surly or offensive with your comments. The purpose of the show is provide a forum for various handicapping viewpoints. Hopefully not everyone will be on the same page. That would make for a dull time. By the response on the blog it appears like you stimulated some lively debate. I'm happy to have such a loyal following even if they are a bit defensive! To be quite honest, I would've loved to have debated the Pletcher scenario as it relates to hot/cold trainer patterns a bit more but knew we were on a 30 minute time line. Some other time perhaps... Anyway, enjoy the rest of the meet which, hopefully will include some nice cashes at the window. All the best to Andy and the "Classic Harvey Pack." Jim Mazur
jim More than 1 year ago
Boy, that Mazur guy is a class act. Such nice comments for you even after the way he was treated on Sunday's show!
toddsincharge More than 1 year ago
It's just a reason to not play overbet horses. It doesn't metter how good you think English Channel figures, he's not a good win bet. Same for the favorite in the first race Monday. Most people are going to be better off in the long run without sending it in on huge favorites. Any reason is valid. Trainer's not winning a high percentage, extra sixteenth of a mile. Any reason to avoid those horses.
C More than 1 year ago
Let me just clarify my earlier post. Horseplayers have a tendency to confuse trainer intentions with 'high' percentages. If a trainer uses a certain angle 400 times over a year and loses 332 times (17% winners), I don't think he'll ever say "Gee, that angle is really working out for me-- I think I'll do it more often" at any point during that run. Hence, when a trainer is adding blinkers (even at 23%), it doesn't automatically mean the horse is well-meant. He's usually adding the blinkers because the horse has been dull or not focusing for the entire race. The stat is likely meaningless. Races are independent events. Many players assume that a 20% stat implies they have a 20% chance of cashing a winning ticket by betting on that horse. What happens when every horse in the race has some kind of "20%" angle working for them? It still comes down to handicapping... no statistical shortcuts are going to produce winners in the long run. C
RichP More than 1 year ago
I agree and disagree. Pletcher is never an automatiic throwout and he certainly hasn't forgotten how to train. But you don't have the take the kind of defensive positions in multi race bets that you've had to in recent years when he was winning at 25%. I look harder at his horses, and If there is a negative I'm not afraid to throw his horse out. In previous years his horse had to have several knocks before I would eliminate him because I got tired of tearing up pick 3 and pick 4 tickets because I had eliminated an over bet Pletcher favorite and watched the horse win anyway.
C More than 1 year ago
Hi Dunque, You make some good points. Dutrow may think Prado fits a particular horse well. Then again, is there a horse Prado doesn't fit well? My only point was that all horses have different quirks and what worked for one may not work for another. Keep in mind... 17% winners equals 83% losers. Ever since DRF started posting stats, 15-18% became the unofficial threshold for success among HANDICAPPERS. I wonder if TRAINERS feel the same way. If a trainer is 17% with route-to-sprint runners over a 2 year period, are they going to subconsciously emphasize that number as much as the public? I'm not so sure. Let's say you're a trainer and over a 2-year period, you send out 200 route-to-sprint runners and lose with 166 of them. Is that a great angle for you? That's 17% winners. You're probably going to lose count unless you're keeping careful records. Even a record-keeping trainer is not going to shoot for a certain angle just because 34 out of 200 previous runners won... 34 won, but 166 lost. Not a slam-dunk from his point-of-view.
Steve Davidowitz More than 1 year ago
I have been involved in some similar disputes over hot and cold trainers through the years and I do disagree somewhat with Steve Crist's interpretation as he stated in this blog. I also believe the issue is important enough to lay out some thoughts on the subject in this specific, widely read context. So forgive me Steve, but. . . While I believe there is no BLACK and WHITE automatic formula to be implemented to take advantage of the hot trainer; or any similar formula to play against the cold one; there are very important exceptions that a discriminating, observant player can and should heed. A few examples: * When there is an illness in the barn, as suggested by a previous blog respondent and the horses are losing, you have ample reason to understand why. * This can be extended to include a trainer's cold streak accompanied by some known personal issue that has been documented in the press. * When the trainer who is cold now, has run through most of his conditions at the previous meet (as hinted in reverse by SteveC). * When the trainer has had similar cold spells at this track at this time of year, which can be just as important as a currently hot trainer repeating his or her success at this track at this time of year. * When the hot streak is accompanied by a switch to a better rider, or involves a series of good claims, or any reasonable set of facts that help to explain the strong early showing by more than one horse. While it is unwise to expect such short term positive and negative trends to persist to a point where the trainer is an auotmatic play or automatic play against, the evidence is just as important as any other trend in progress. It is equally important to note when any high profile trainer (who is losing races) because the negative trend from such a high profile trainer often is linked to low odds unsupported by current events. Conversely, a trainer who comes in with a sharp runner or two who rarely attracts much action may be hinting at special preparation for the majority of horses in his barn. If the price is right his horses may deserve benefit of doubt. In the case of Mike Hernandez and his low speed figure winner in a pitiful maiden race---the positive point about that was: Hernandez had a winning record with longshots at Saratoga and this was such a pitiful race that he might have deserved more benefit than doubt at the odds being offered. At low odds however, Hernandez' previous winning success with longshots at the meet would not have been sufficient cause to play this horse with any gusto, although he still could have been included, rather than excluded, among others in multi race exotics. Personally, as stated earlier, I believe that it is a winning idea to treat short term trends as serious information, to the same degree as a temporary but definitive track bias. (That does not mean when a front runner wins the first race we have a speed bias. But it does mean that when there are good clues that a bias really exists, it is folly to wait for three days of substantiation before we join the crowd in betting on it's existence. At the bottom line, I respect Steve Crist's handicapping notions more than most public spokesmen for the art of handicapping and I especially appreciate his running commentaries in this forum as a good window to peek through at the best race meet in the world. (I look forward to being there (and at Siros) on Friday, the 17th. . .All the Best/Steve Davidowitz
Chisox More than 1 year ago
Steve, I totally agree with you on your streak analysis as well. I also think "C" hit the nail on the head when he said some use this data as a shortcut and as we know there are no shortcuts......those who do the work will be rewarded. Now, if I only practiced what I preached.......
Reyen More than 1 year ago
Steve--leave'em alone!! We want that kind of money/plays in the mutuel pools. We are here every day trying to separate the feeble-minded from their money.
Brian More than 1 year ago
You forgot to mention Bobby Frankel right now is around 2-for-20, numbers I can't ever recall him having at any meet. His horses Monday not only ran poorly despite tote action but none of them ran a lick. But Bobby's day wasn't as bad as Linda Rice's. She had two live horses in turf sprints (one maiden, one stakes) full of run in deep stretch and both cut off. The second was even DQ'd from 3rd to 5th for cutting off a clearly beat favorite. In the 9th, her horse got a good trip and finished well-beaten 4th.