15-Apr-2006
Bacon and Turf Betting, by Kevin Depew

Great Bacon summary, thank you.

Sometimes it can seem that Bacon and others (Cramer, Mark not Jim) are suggesting that the professional turf player is simply looking for "THE overlay" in the race, as if races are broken down into two categories - those with an overlay that the turf player can choose to play or not play, and those without an overlay that the turf player must choose to pass in order to maximize the slim potential for long-run profitability. If only life were so simple.

The reality, at the track as in markets, is that a race may contain many overlays. The task is to choose which overlay to play. This is where many turf players fall short. And this is where speculation at its finest enters the picture. What if there are three or four overlays in the same race?

Bacon's advice to always be thinking differently from the public, at first sounds quite reasonable and almost facile, but it might be just a bit more complex. Someone asked me not long ago, what is the best way to learn to handicap a horse race. I’ve thought about the question for a long time because I'm about to start "training" my 9-year-old son in horseracing degenerateness.

I came up as a horseplayer the hard way - absorbing all the nuggets of conventional wisdom and accepted tenets of handicapping as handed down from one generation of losing player to another. Lord, it was expensive. How nice if someone educated as a speculator at the track would have passed along some of the lessons I paid so much money to learn? Well, the truth is I don't I think it would have helped all that much. At least it wouldn’t have helped me.

Haruki Murakami once wrote that, "If you read what everyone else reads, you'll think what everyone else thinks." Thinking what everyone else thinks is quite comfortable. Most of us prefer it even as we generate advertising campaigns that say each of us should "Think Different" - the irony of a marketing campaign exhorting all of us to buy the same product, therefore uniting us in our thinking different-ness! If there is a secret to professional turf betting, or speculation of any kind, maybe it is hiding somewhere between Bacon and Murakami. Yes, if you read what everyone else reads, you’ll think what everyone else thinks, but understanding what everyone else thinks is critical to choosing a different path.

Bacon is at once dismissive of the public’s goal – finding the secret to winning at the track, the foolproof method that involves the least amount work – but he is sympathetic too. I think that his sympathy, Bacon’s cry - “He has no right to lose so much. It's almost as if he did it on purpose!” - is a profound insight. It is a necessary relationship between the winning individual at the track and the public at large. That sympathy keeps them playing, and as long as they are playing, the game can continue. Hurt them too much, or let sympathy descend into pity, and everything falls apart.

Everyone hates a winner, maybe it brings too close to us a sense of finality and conclusion - a reminder of the ultimate finish line we will confront; truly we will all be winners in the end. Hope, on the other hand, springs eternal, and losing affords the public an endless amount of hope - the next race will be better, there's always next year, tomorrow's a new day, hope for the best.