02/24/2009 3:04PM

More Sex


You're going to start seeing a lot more sex in this space, but don't get too excited: I'm only talking about a language error I just found out I've been making for years.

Gender I always thought the words "sex" and "gender" were interchangeable, and I often opted for the latter in describing races for fillies, writing things like "running against her own gender" or "restricted by gender." But Teresa Genaro, a high-school English teacher and author of the excellent racing blog Brooklyn Backstretch, brought to my attention that the words in fact have different meanings. "Sex" refers to biological and physiological differences, while "gender" tehnically refers to behavioral and cultural roles assigned by society. Thus, races are restricted by sex, not by gender.

I feel sheepish (rammish? eweish?) for perpetuating this mistake because I'm usually the nitpicker on this sort of misusage. Two of my pet peeves: The use of "decimate," which people routinely use to mean "devastate," when it actually means to reduce by 10 percent. In racing, people often say a race is "decimated by scratches" when a field of 14 scratches down to 6. Another is "the lion's share," usually invoked to describe any simple majority when it really means 100 percent. It's actually an ironic phrase, because the lion doesn't "share."

Oscar --Perhaps the best-known handicapper in the country these days is not a horseplayer but a statistician: Nate Silver, who until a year ago was known mostly for his development of some of baseball's hottest number-crunching sabermetrics, such as QERA (Quick ERA) and PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Comparison Algorithm.) Then Silver broke through to a wider audience when he took on the 2008 Presidential elections, using reams of voter data from past elections to produce what were by far the most accurate predictions of the election season.

Last Sunday, though, Silver's stock tumbled after he tried his hand at predicting the Oscars. In the five big awards, he got the three cinches right ("Slumdog Millionaire", Kate Winslet and Heath Ledger) but whiffed on the other two. He had rated Mickey Rourke 71 percent to win the Best Actor award that went to Sean Penn. More glaringly, he said that obscure longshot Taraji P. Henson was better than 50 percent to win Best Supporting Actress, an award that, as largely expected elsewhere, went to Penelope Cruz.

Silver, who seems like a smart and good-humored guy, wrote a self-deprecatory morning-after mea culpa, questioning his model and assessing his performance, that's worth a look even if you haven't seen a movie since "Seabiscuit" came out. His thoughts on learning from mistakes and developing predictive systems, apply to horseplayers as well as film buffs.

I'd love to see Silver try to come up with a Kentucky Derby line.

--A commenter on the last post pointed out the weird betting action on Enter Acting in Sunday's 7th race at Aqueduct. The hapless maiden had been beaten 68 combined lengths in his four statebred maiden-claiming starts and figured to be at least his ML price of 20-1 or higher in a similar spot Sunday. Then he suddenly went from that neighborhood down to 7-1 in a single flash, reflecting a single win bet of around $5,000.

Three It's inconceivable that anyone expected the horse to show spectacular improvement and he didn't, running 7th, beaten 37 lengths. Here's an alternate theory on the big bet: Enter Acting was #3, as was Tiger's Frolic, the 3-to-10 favorite in the 6th race at Gulfstream in the same time window that day. So maybe the bettor or teller entered the bet for the wrong upcoming race.

If so, at least the bettor with the wrong ticket didn't get an unpleasant $6500 surprise: Tiger's Frolic, like Enter Acting, ran 7th. So if the bet was a mistake, the bettor may still not know it.