I was on a radio show about horse racing the other day and wound up talking about two topics, then somebody hung up on me.
Sometimes all a sports talk show host knows about horse racing is which end of the animal goes around the track first. This host knew more than most. And the callers were even more into the game, until somebody banged a receiver on a desk. Smart phones bounce. It must have been a call from work because that’s where most of the telephone receivers still are.
One topic of conversation was whether Uncle Mo can be beaten in the Derby.
My answer to questions about whether or not a great horse can lose is: Yes, of course. The answer to a question about whether or not a great three-year old can lose is: Yes, of course! The field is always greener on this side of the Derby fence, which is to say I’ll usually take the field over the favorite this far out. Uncle Mo is looking to start his spring Derby prep season at his leisure against some real carrot cans, the thoroughbred equivalent of tomato cans, soft foes easily toppled, featuring barely legal fields.
A caller seemed to think that this opinion had no place on the current landscape because as everybody knew, America needed a rallying point, a feel-good story from the heartland. This caller was of the opinion that Uncle Mo, even though he probably wouldn’t have any earthly idea what all the flag waving was about, could help to unite a people by winning the Triple Crown. This, then, illustrates one problem with a faceless response team, an anonymous legion of responders sending text messages and calling and emailing and tweeting and twiddling like the super heroes they wish they were: You stink. Signed, Adonis. Whereas the most reputable news outlets use anonymous sources on an hourly basis, and as we vote anonymously, and whereas a great idea or contribution needs no attribution in order to succeed, this remains true of some people raising the devil with fake names: You’re chicken. Or you’re a little nutty. And you never buy stuff off the internet advertisement sites where you complain anonymously.
Far and away the most discussed topic of the radio performance was my opinion of “value” bets in horse racing.
Try and try again, some things I can’t grasp. Here’s one in basketball. A common coaching tactic is to pull your players off the free throw line. I mean, have you ever? Pulling your players off the foul line means that you don’t want them to foul. But here’s a thought. Tell them not to foul. True, with the one-and-done charade in play on the college level, whereby guys play video games instead of going to class, maybe they’ve suffered hearing loss. But write it down. Stand quietly on the free throw line and d-o-n’-t f-o-u-l. Giving up an uncontested rebound makes no sense whatsoever.
Value betting is something else I can’t see. Before hearing radio questions and comments, I said that the chief thing I had against value betting was I had never seen one pay off. Once. Under any circumstance. Anywhere. In time immemorial. Ever.
Moreover, when I hear an “expert” on TV propose a “value” bet, I run a happy line through the horse, eliminating it from consideration.
One anonymous caller said he had made small fortunes on value bets.
Another said I was a numbskull for not being able to understand precisely the great aplomb that went into identifying a live value bet.
Ever the sportsman, I said I would give the premise of a value bet another run-through.
The expression “value bet” suggests a bargain, as foreign a concept as I have ever imagined at a horse race track.
Here’s the way I handicap a race. First I eliminate horses I don’t like. Degrees of likeability enter into the picture after the tossing and keeping aspects. Based on your skills, some races feel much more winnable than others. You have to trust your handicapping instincts. If you have none, go to the casino. Odds factor into how much will be bet. If I like more than one horse about the same, I’ll bet them all, or I’ll have a barbecue sandwich.
The search for value comes into play when there are higher-priced horses that seem as good as shorter-priced horses, correct? Short-priced likely winners can form “valuable” exotics.
In other words, the search for value is a tactic to be employed when you don’t like anybody, when you don’t exactly know what you’re doing, but have to wager anyway, when you can’t sit still, when you feel as though you’ll explode if you have to sit quietly and watch for fun as horses run around a track. So losing on all the “value” bets actually means you have a little potential, that at least you know what a tough race looks like.
Originally Posted on ESPN