I generally like my angles to have a 40% strike rate or greater. There are a couple of things that cause inconsistency in horse racing. One of them is your hit rate, the other – which also defines your Kelly advantage – is your odds.
Derek: Consistency is what I strive for in almost everything I do. I have some angles that are a little bit focused on longer prices but that is not my preferred method.
Dave: Just to get on the same page here, when you talk about angles, could you give us an example? It would be nice if you just put out a half dozen of these solid angles of yours but I know you have earned them, worked at them, and probably won’t do that. But give us an example of what an angle might be comprised of.
Derek: A good example is that I have done my own pace figures for a long time. I call them Speed Rations, and they are a little
bit different than traditional pace figures in that they measure energy disbursement.
Think of the old Tom Brohamer stuff. It is somewhat similar to that but there are some major differences. My late speed rations in particular. If they reach a certain threshold, and I cannot really say what the best late speed ration is – I wish it was that easy – but I look for superior late speed rations.
I am talking about a minus five (-5) or greater – the greater the figure the better – that gets me real close to profitability. I like to start with something that has some merit in and of its own, especially if it is a single factor. I feel if you can do that you can always add additional factors to get to profitability.
If you start with that complex rating, like the BRIS power rating or things of this nature, it is really hard. Where do you go from there? If you look at form, it is already in the rating. If you look for recency, it is already in the rating.
I cannot actually speak for the BRIS Power rating but you understand my point. It is a complex rating that considers all this stuff and it is really hard to go forward from there. I prefer to start with something simple and then add some factors to it.
Most of the angles that I have are like 5 factors and certainly no more than 10. It is pretty limited. The factors can be somewhat complex but they are still pretty straightforward.
Dave: In other words you are building a set of “If-then” statements and the horse has to qualify on all 4 or 5 of these?
Derek: Correct. And also on that subject I am not into fine lining stuff. I used to get a kick out of reading some of these old magazines, like American Turf Monthly – I am sure you can relate to this – says the horse had to have been beaten by 14 3/4 lengths or less in the last race. You know damn well that they found a horse that was beaten by 14 3/4 lengths that paid big and that is why they used that.
I do not believe that, I use base 5 with most of my stuff. Is it the most accurate? Probably not but it makes the math a little easier.
Dave: Explain what that means. Base 5?
Derek: For instance when I am looking at days it is very common for me to look at the past 25 or 50 days. Would it be better at 30 or 60 days? Possibly but I do not really care. I feel that if you have to be that close with your optimization, your method probably is not good anyway because a day should not really matter. We have rules because you want this general criteria out there but I am not totally concerned with having the very best, it just has to do the job.
Dave: I can respect that but specifically in terms of days since last race, I might disagree, because we have all been trained that one of the key points of time measurement is 30 days. The trainers have read that book too.
Statistically, horses off 31-35 days win more races and produce more return than horses coming back in 12-14 days.
Derek: Here is the funny thing about that though because I have seen those studies too. But it is my contention and this is where some of my stuff may be a little bit unorthodox in that I think it depends on the other factors you are looking at.
The classic example I always use is form. So many angles, methods or even handicapping techniques, have a form element and recency becomes a part of that.
Let us say you want a horse that finished in-the-money in the last race. If that in-the-money race was 600 days ago, I would contend that the form does not even matter at that point.
So giving a horse credit for form when you are not looking at the recency aspect, does not make any sense.
When it comes to layoffs – especially superior form in the studies that I have done – is when a horse is in great form, I want that recent race because I want that form to count. As those days start to drift out the form no longer matters.
If you are looking at just straight ability and you say the days do not matter, I would generally agree with that for most of my stuff. When I talk about those late pace rations that is a form criterion and I feel like the recency is very important. That has always proven to be the case with my tests: They do not work if I go out too far.
Dave: That is very logical. I want to go back to something you said because it is not something I have actually thought about consciously but it makes perfect sense so I might learn something here.
What I heard you say was that with days since last race, the characteristics that will blend together with recency are different than with layoff horses. In other words what you are really saying is that we have two spectrums or two subsets of data. To think you are going to build a system that goes horizontally across those two types of horses is folly. Did I make sense with that?
Derek: Absolutely. Let me tell you why I came around to that view point. We all read the old books. I remember the old bid-hung angle.
This is the idea that a horse makes his move to get into contention and then hangs. In certain instances that is positive, in certain instances it is highly negative. When it is positive is when a horse is fresh – and let us say they are just getting back into racing – they have been off for a while – maybe it is their first start ever – and they make that bid and hang move. It is a sign of a horse that can probably progress.
If a horse has been in great form – let’s say it has won 3 or 4 races in a row – then it bids and hangs that is usually a sign of deteriorating form.
That is a great example of the same factor but two different scenarios. One instance it is positive and the other instance it is being negative. I absolutely think that is the case and I think that is a big mistake that handicappers have made.
I do not want to give anything away here but I will tell you that some of my most effective angles are looking at very quick turnarounds because a) the form is relevant at that point and b) people have been conditioned to believe that coming back quickly leads to a bounce which is another thing in terms of the balance theory.
We hear that a horse has to be off so many days because it has this tough race, so basically you start the form cycle all over again. It is not so much that you are preventing the bounce you are just coming back with (basically) a fresh horse again. There are a lot of things in racing that I think you hear that when you actually go about testing it – especially when you start testing multivariables – it just does not hold. So the recency factor to me is huge.
Dave: It is actually not even part of my handicapping anymore so I may need to revisit that. When we started our conversation today, it started with the idea that you were looking for ways to improve your spot plays. I made a suggestion to you about looking at negative spot plays on low odds horses
Derek: Yes. That is something that has always intrigued me. I believe to get better in life you have to be honest in your assessment of yourself and your abilities.
About Derek Simon:
I love numbers and analysis and have been able to parlay that into an exciting career writing about two of my greatest passions — business and sports.
In addition to working as a freelance financial writer for Newsmax, The Motley Fool, Investopedia/Forbes, Beacon Equity Research and Investor Concepts (among others), I was also the editor of Small Cap Insider, a monthly newsletter highlighting investment opportunities in the small cap sector.
Currently, I am the editorial director for US Racing where I contribute written, audio and video content and oversee a team of talented and passionate writers.