Archives for horse racing



The Thinking Person’s Guide to Betting the Belmont Stakes

It has been 36 years since a horse won the Triple Crown. California Chrome has a chance to make history today if he wins the Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown.

So how should you bet the race? California Chrome will be a prohibitive favorite, partly because he deserves to be based on past performances, and partly because it is fun and exciting to be able to say that you bet on the horse who won the Triple Crown. I can remember the specifics of very few horse races, but I still remember exactly where I was watching on TV when Secretariat won the Triple Crown because I had decided after the Preakness that he was my favorite horse. I was six years old. It’s fun to feel a connection to a champion.

Most likely, way too much money will be bet to win on California Chrome, for the reasons above. The more money that is bet on him, the worse the odds. I doubt that it will be a smart bet to play California Chrome to win. Read More »



My Annual Kentucky Derby Picks

I make public predictions about anything exactly three times a year: who will win each of the three Triple Crown thoroughbred horse races.  Other than that, I predict nothing.

The nice thing about making so few predictions is that by the time next year’s predictions roll around, no one can remember how last year’s predictions turned out.  My very worst year, I named with confidence the horse that I believed would finish dead last, when in fact that horse won the race!  Nonetheless, people still asked me for my picks the next year.

This year, I even got invited to do a live Q&A on the Kentucky Derby, which you can check out at Deadspin.

So who do I like this year in the Kentucky Derby? Read More »



Looking for a Long Shot: My Belmont Predictions

I whiffed on the Kentucky Derby and caught lightning in a bottle at the Preakness.

Let’s see if I can do it again.

All eyes are on Orb and Oxbow, the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Those two horses are likely to be heavy betting favorites in the Belmont. And according to my model, they look okay, but not attractive at the odds they will go off at.

Instead, my numbers suggest a trio of long shots are the place to put your money: Palace Malice, Overanalyze, and Golden Soul. Each of those horses should pay about 15-1 if they were to pull off an upset victory. Read More »



Redemption at the Preakness

I made a mess out of this year’s Kentucky Derby.  The worst part is that a bunch of friends placed bets using my picks, collectively losing a large stack of money.  

After the Kentucky Derby, I blogged about the misery, noting what a strange race the Derby was:

The race is 1.25 miles long and there were 19 horses in the race. Of the eight horses who were in the front of the pack after one-fourth of a mile, seven ended up finishing in back: 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th. Only one horse that trailed early also finished poorly, and that horse started terribly and was way behind the field from the beginning. In contrast, the horses who ended up doing well were in 16th, 15th, 17th, 12th, and 18th place early on in the race. Basically, there was a nearly perfect negative correlation between the order of the horses early in the race and the order of the horses at the end of the race!

Read More »



A Fascinating, But Costly, Kentucky Derby

My condolences to anyone who bet my picks in the Kentucky Derby.  Of the four horses I liked, the best finisher was Revolutionary in third place, but even that was unimpressive because he surprised me by going off as the second favorite in the betting.  Just be glad I didn’t post my picks for the entire day’s racing at Churchill Downs…the few friends I did give those picks to are cursing me today!

The Kentucky Derby was extremely interesting, however, from a statistical perspective.  Here is a link to the results chart for the race.  If you don’t study horse racing, it will just look like gibberish.  If you know how to read a results chart, you will see a remarkable pattern jump out of the numbers.  The race is 1.25 miles long and there were 19 horses in the race.  Of the eight horses who were in the front of the pack after one-fourth of a mile, seven ended up finishing in back: 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th.   Only one horse that trailed early also finished poorly, and that horse started terribly and was way behind the field from the beginning.  In contrast, the horses who ended up doing well were in 16th, 15th, 17th, 12th, and 18th place early on in the race.  Basically, there was a nearly perfect negative correlation between the order of the horses early in the race and the order of the horses at the end of the race! Read More »



Pushing My Luck on the Preakness

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.



Kentucky Derby 2012

Every year I post Kentucky Derby picks.

Every year they turn out to be terrible.

Every year I vow I will not embarrass myself again next year.

Every year two or three loyal readers email me and ask why I didn’t post my picks this year, so then I post picks after all.

So, against my better judgment, here they are.
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This Year’s Kentucky Derby Picks

Dubner and I have been thinking a lot these days about pundits who make predictions. The incentives surrounding predictions are completely skewed. If I make a wild prediction, and it just happens to come true, I have strong incentives to constantly remind the world about how my prediction came true. If, as is much more often the case, the prediction is wrong, it is likely to be quickly forgotten because there is typically no one else who cares enough about my failed prediction to go to the time and effort to continually remind others that I was wrong. Thus, even if I am rarely correct, it makes sense to make a lot of crazy predictions.

Which leads me, of course, to the Kentucky Derby. I’ve made Kentucky Derby predictions every year since we started the blog. Rarely have I been correct. But I did, many years ago, publicly and correctly predict that a 50-1 shot would win the race. I cannot tell you how many times I have mentioned that to people. I have been much quieter about the time that the horse I predicted would finish dead last actually won the race, although in its own way that is also quite a feat. Read More »