Questions about two topics are adding up, meaning there could be more interest.
What’s it like being a famous horse race writer?
What’s a handicapper to do about odds?
Concerning the first one, two days before yesterday, I’m at the automatic betting machine trying to make an impression on an old screen without having to use something sharp, trying to turn a $50 voucher into some wagers.
One touch screen in the whole place responds promptly to a finger, the machine to my right, where a man stands putting in losing ticket after losing ticket after losing ticket.
Each losing ticket produces a dinging sound.
Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding, ten dings, fifteen, after a while the sound gets inside your head and interrupts concentration.
“All the scratches,” he said of the fact that he didn’t want to admit that he had been Trash Tipping, digging in garbage bins or crawling around the floor for nasty but good tickets.
Two minutes to post.
My machine is stuck.
The dinging continues.
And the guy places the dinged tickets in a neat stack.
Is he going to double-ding them?
“What’d you think about that Eclipse award?” a man behind me said.
Of course he had a beer.
“Nothing,” I said.
The dinger put in a ticket that clicked in the automatic betting machine, a ticket that was accepted; a winner.
Oh no, I thought, he’d never quit now, he’ll bring a stool to the machine. I leaned over and looked at his window. He had found under old cheese $6.20.
“You about done?” I said. “Please?”
He started making dings faster than ever, hopeful that the next accepted ticket would be for a winning Pick Four.
“What do you mean you think nothing about Zenyatta?” the man behind me said.
I said that if the horse didn’t care all that much about who won, why should I? Zenyatta won the Eclipse. Fine. Good. Great, even.
“You don’t mean that,” he said.
The horses had reached the gate.
Finally my voucher was accepted.
But I couldn’t “touch” the screen firmly enough to call up a track, a race, a type of wager, an amount.
“Zenyatta cared about who won the Eclipse,” the beer said. “Big time.”
I rapped the screen with a knuckle: nothing.
“How’d you get your job at ESPN anyway?” the beer asked.
“I know the owner,” I said.
“I’m emailing them about you,” the last of the beer said. “About your lack of professionalism.”
“I’ll pay you five bucks to use that screen,” I said to the Trash Tipper to my right.
“Okay,” he said.
“They’re off,” the track announcer said.
“You just saved yourself five bucks,” the dinger said, and the empty beer bottle laughed.
One of the horses I had marked ran second. Who knows what I might have bet, save for all the dinging and critiquing. I moved to the far corner of the joint. Faint dinging bore into my mind, just another afternoon in show business.
About the second question, what’s a person to do about odds?
Who sets odds?
The morning line is not always set by a proven handicapping genius. At a smaller plant, it might be set by a track employee with three jobs, PR being one, tidying up being another. It’s like a football line, a guess at how the suckers will bet. Speaking momentarily of football, Vegas was hit hard over the NFL conference championship weekend. Suckers love to bet the popular favorites. Good for them. Vegas could be on a mini-losing streak, as the opening Super Bowl line looks faint, favoring Green Bay by a couple and a half. If you like the Steelers, get the points fast. What percentage of the suckers will love the Steelers, 75, 80? Sometimes suckers find an acorn.
Getting back to horse race odds, sometimes, most times, idiots set them, half drunk trust-fund skimmers apt to slap $500 on the most obvious of nags. And sometimes fine handicappers and wisenheimers with information make the odds. Who said reading odds was predictable.
Odds can be con games, manipulated, with big bets being cancelled late.
Some “systems” are based on playing odds, not horses, anything to get around having to think.
People looking for “value” also play odds, not performances.
Value players are of the mindset that a 15-1 horse that should be 30-1 is more interesting than a 6-5 star.
You can’t play a horse because of its odds. But you can play an amount because of the odds.
When the suckers are occasionally right, you have to bet a little more, or a little more exotically. But when the bozos are in their bottles and tips sheets, when they’re oh so wrong, ten and twenty-spots loom large. Odds shouldn’t chase you off a horse, just sometimes off a sum. All you have to know is a little more than those who make the final odds, how hard can that be.
Originally Posted on ESPN