Levitt as Horse Bettor: Eh.
In addition to its Freakonomics Poker Portfolio, James Altucher at Stockpickr.com has also posted a Freakonomics Horse Racing Portfolio, thus creating indices in honor of two of Steve Levitt‘s greatest passions.
FWIW, Levitt’s picks the other day on the Kentucky Derby weren’t terrible. One of the two long shots he liked, Hard Spun, placed and paid $9.80. On the other hand, the winning Street Sense was one of two favorites that Levitt said he “wouldn’t touch.” Oh well.
I learned a long time ago not to put my money on Levitt as a horse bettor. When I first visited him in Chicago for the New York Times profile I wrote about him, we spent half a day at Maywood Park, a trotter track. There weren’t any live races there that day (they’d rented it out for a paintball tournament), but it was a better alternative than an OTB.
Levitt had handicapped a Pick 6 (at a California track, I think, but I don’t have my notes handy so I can’t say for sure). He bet about $500 on 250 $2 tickets, covering a lot of alternatives. It was a weird day of racing. There were a ton of scratches, especially on the long shots that Levitt favored, which meant that those bets got transferred to the favorites. And then the favorites kept winning.
After the fourth race, Levitt still had a bunch of potentially winning tickets but he didn’t look very pleased. Then another favorite won the fifth race, and also the sixth. Sure enough, Levitt had won a Pick 6 — which is usually cause for raucous celebration — but he was the grimmest looking Pick 6 winner I’d ever seen. And no wonder: His winning ticket, after you subtracted what he bet, was only worth about $300. When I reminded him of this the other day, he said, “I haven’t seen a Pick 6 in three digits before or since.”