Pushing My Luck on the Preakness

(Photo: Tsutomu Takasu)

The dangerous thing about gambling is that you happen to win sometimes, just by chance.  The gambler is quick to take credit for successes, but can always find some external factor to blame for losses.

Case in point: my Kentucky Derby picks.  I picked three horses out of twenty starters: one to win, one to place, and one to show.  The horse I picked to win had some terrible luck, hurting his ankle and eventually finishing 19th.

The horse I picked for second, I’ll Have Another, ended up winning the race.  Bodemeister, my third-place pick, finished second.   A two dollar exacta-box on my top three horses would have cost $12 and would have returned $306.

I also picked a horse to finish last, Daddy Long Legs, and he indeed finished dead last.

So, like the gambler I am, I take credit for the good outcomes, and write off my horse finishing 19th as merely bad luck.

And, of course, that means I will push my luck on the Preakness, which goes off today.

I wish I had more exciting picks, but this time my algorithm likes the two favorites, Bodemeister and I’ll Have Another.  For third, I’d go with Optimizer.


Turned on the TV today, saw the Preakness was on... first thing I thought: "I wonder who the freakonomics blog is picking!" Thanks for sharing.

Kevin Yeats

... but did you undertake an involved statistical analysis looking at the horses' and jockeys' past records or did you just "like the name?"

Caleb B

Levitt: STOP POSTING THESE ON SATURDAY!! When the blog usually only posts Mon-Fri, I don't even check on Saturdays.

Now: this Preakness, chalk was so clearly better than the rest of the field that it was almost obvious that it was going to go 1-2-3 on the favorites. Now, the question is: will I'll Have Another have the stamina to take the Belmont or will another horse with more rest take it?

Johannes de Haan

What's your algorithm?


Just for the record - Preakness 2012:
I'll Have Another wins by a neck
Bodemeister places
Creative Cause shows

Optimizer runs 6th


this is excellent - more predictions and sports posts please!

Voice of Reason

Here's another topic I offer to you:

I've noticed that traditionally, gamblers only bet on who will win the race. Maybe people should look into putting bets down that a horse will finish in the top 3, or that you get paid by $.50 for 1st, $.30 for 2nd, and $.20 for 3rd, on the dollar. Maybe they already do this, I don't know, but it would seem like a good way to get people interested in the whole race if a horse doesn't have a shot at winning, but could come in top 3.


Do you think that this is similar to how people buy lottery tickets with random chances of winning? Many people may just choose horses by their name like Kevin said earlier.


There is an interesting argument to be made here. Since we are not entirely rational beings, we have this thing called "loss aversion". We tend to not make less rational decisions after we have lost (damn you hormones!). So, be careful Dr. Levitt. Rely on your rationality (or the data) and don't let your emotions get the better of you. The opposite is true too! We tend to become overly confident and dish out more than we usually would (Oh, I am on a hot streak right now (those don't exist, so don't let your brain fool you!)).

Also, how exactly did you decide on your picks? You should make sure that you hedge your risk well too. Just for thought, algorithms only work in a perfect world with perfect horses. But the world isn't perfect and neither are horses. Do you have an input for the probability of a horse having bad gas that day? Probably not :)