Other Side of the Coin: It’s Biases All the Way Down

Each week of the 2023 Saratoga meet I will be writing about one Pick 5 sequence which I feel could pay big. Less about handing out picks, I’ll be discussing why I think the sequence is ripe for a windfall and how I am structuring an efficient ticket around a contrarian approach. These spots are what make horse racing the best wagering game out there.

There’s no better feeling than being on the other side of the coin, so let’s dive in with Week 5. The Late Pick 5 on Saturday, August 12. Which will be seeded with $100,000 by NYRA after last week’s “off-the-turf” debacle. 

Speed Bias

If you haven’t been capitalizing on the speed bias at Ellis Park, one way or another, know it’s not too late. Often the most lucrative opportunity to utilize a speed bias is not finding the horses who will get the lead on that track, but betting against the horses who were aided by the bias in their next start. Four out of the six entries in Saturday’s $200,000 Saratoga Special (G2) won their only race on or near the lead at Ellis. Of the two who did not, Haul won at Belmont on a speed-favoring day with inflated Beyers. That leaves Lasso, who ran a 33 Beyer beating a sorry bunch on debut in June at Gulfstream. 

Stakes Race Bias

There’s another bias in this sequence we can exploit. I’ll call it the stakes race bias, but technically it is an availability bias. Due to heightened coverage of the horses involved, the public brings a similar understanding into stakes races. We know the headlines and we know how “impressive” the top horses’ latest victories were because that’s what experts (writers and talking heads) have been telling us. This can corrupt the handicapping process due to an interesting phenomenon called the availability heuristic. Mental shortcuts commonly used to simplify problems and avoid cognitive overload, heuristics are used every day in handicapping. Casa Creed and Annapolis will be the most heavily-used horses in multi-race-wagers because of the availability heuristic, which leads us to rely on current or easily recalled information instead of processing all relevant information when faced with a choice. We judge the likelihood of an event based on how easily we can recall similar events, and if we can vividly remember instances of that event, we deem it to be more common than it actually is. 

Casa Creed and Annapolis beat Ice Chocolate last out. When was the last time a horse like Ice Chocolate returned in triumph against the tow who beat him? Most can’t recall. Bettors will over-rely on Casa Creed and Annapolis, ignoring other handicapping information like the fact that Ice Chocolate suffered the most troubled trip.

How I’ll Play the Sequence: 

50-cent Pick 5 

4 x 1 x 1 x 7 x 4 = $56

Race 7 Turf 5 1/2 Furlongs The $150,000 Galway for 3YO fillies

#2 Beauty of the Sea (10-1)
#6 Redefined (6-1)
#7 L J’s Emma (12-1)
#8 Love Reigns (5-2)

Race 8 Dirt 6 1/2 Furlongs The $200,000 Saratoga Special (G2) for juveniles

#1 Lasso (15-1)

In the Saratoga Special, it’s the same old song and dance we see year in and year out compounded by the Ellis Park phenomenon. In juvenile races, bettors tend to overvalue one strong race, ignoring the fact that young horses often take giant steps forward or backward from race to race. Ellis’ speed bias has been huge and often blinding, as runners are awarded big speed figures and big late pace figures when only the forward horses are doing any running in the stretch. 

No better time than now to take a swing with Lasso. Visually, he impressed me, even though the number is slow. The extra distance will help him, and he should be able to work out a perfect trip from the rail behind five forward-minded foes. Here’s my note from his lone race: broke well, rated, steadied keen behind horses, veers in then out in FT, tips out 7p and monsters home, barely being asked.

Few will be using this horse. 

#6 Rhyme Schemes (4-5) on the other hand will be singled by many. Can’t blame them. He ran a 94 breaking his maiden last out. Three horses have come back to win their next race from that field. But note this: six of the nine he beat regressed, and each of the next-out winners did it on or near the lead at Ellis Park aided by the track bias.

If I make it through this leg alive, will that be enough to ensure a big score? Sadly, with the size of the fields at Saratoga, it will not. We can easily overcongratulate ourselves on sticking it to an odds-on favorite, but we need to be sure we find separation elsewhere when we are working with a 10 x 6 x 7 x 10 x 10 sequence that surely will be riddled with scratches… 

Race 9 Inner Turf 1 Mile The $500,000 Fourstardave (G1)

#7 Ice Chocolate (8-1)

The Fourstardave is headlined by the Kelso exacta, Casa Creed and Annapolis. Right behind them in bettors’ minds and the morning line is Emmanuel. Bettors and experts see horses like this and think more of them than what they are. Don’t get me wrong, they have won legitimate grade one races, but horses like this carry inflated expectations into races based on fractions of a second and perfect trips. Spending more time handicapping races that you know others will get lazy with can give you an edge, and it is exactly what makes playing multi-race sequences that cover graded stakes so appealing. These horses will be serious underlays.

Let’s talk Casa Creed. In the Kelso, Annapolis and Ice Chocolate had much more difficult trips than he did. I also argue that the last race was his race. Making his fourth start in the Fourstardave, each year prior Bill Mott targeted this race after giving Casa Creed a break. Before the Kelso, the 7-year-old let Mott know he was ready to run and as a good trainer should do, he entered him. I only see him stepping backward after that effort. 

Emmanuel won the Poker not because he was the best but because the other horses either didn’t fire or had bad trips.

Annapolis is more difficult to make a case against. And if you like him, then single him. For me, he simply is too attractive to not take a shot against.  Give me Ice Chocolate.

A sprinter for the majority of his career, this will be the first time he goes two turns in two consecutive races. After taking a blow and having his lane pinched, he found himself in the back until the top of the stretch where he had a lot more to show but no daylight to do it. His price will be right, and he is the only one with value who I am interested in. Single.

Race 10 Dirt 1 Mile Alw 50000s 3YOS & up

#2 Forrest City (6-1)
#3 Order of Magnitude (8-1)
#4 What’s up Doc (8-1)
#6 Cicciobello (9-2)
#7 Chileno (12-1)
#9 Memphis (8-1)
#10 Ice Road (8-1)

Race 11 Inner Turf 1 1/16 Miles Alw 95000N1X 3YO & up statebred fillies

#2 Waterville (7-2)
#5 Lady Jasmine (12-1)
#6 Solib (4-1)
#8 Robyn and Eli (20-1)

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