Reviewing hits, misses of Saratoga meet selections

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Categories: -The Daily Gazette, Sports

There is always another race. The Saratoga meet came to an end, and thus, the summer is over. But on the horizon are Belmont’s Fall meet, the Preakness and the Breeders’ Cup.

Each of these races bring with them another chance to handicap, weigh variables and analyze data.

Successes and failures each become data points against the collective set, and when it is going well, one can happily find himself lost amid the numbers. I found myself there at times this summer.

The focus going into this meet was to use computer software to find patterns of successful runners of the various distances, classes and surfaces at Saratoga in recent years. Finding these patterns did show a medium correlation to the actual outcome over the course of this meet, though not as much as it did in the models of years past. It could mean that this year was an unlucky one. I interpret it more likely to mean that while identifying these patterns are a valuable tool, more data is still needed to see the whole picture of the race.

In the latter half of the meet, I experimented with incorporating track-speed variances, race simulations, even the morning-line odds as new variables, each to varying levels of success. There are still variables and angles that I have yet to plot and test. The plan over the next nine months is to fine-tune the addition of those and other not-yet-determined variables and weigh them accordingly to generate a more precise rating system. Each type will be simulated against the last few Saratoga meets to verify their accuracy.

Another focal point of the offseason will be to become more precise at identifying false favorites. I tend to be a positive handicapper, looking for what talents an entry brings to a race to see who has the most “stuff.” It is just as important to identify when the talent does not match the race, or the projected pace, or date. Following the patterns this year did help to identify false favorites, but not to the level of accuracy that I would like.

The difference between handicapping for the public and handicapping for oneself is that when one handicaps for the public, he is on the same side as the reader instead of the competition. It is a subtle distinction, but it feels important. My goal is to help the reader make an informed decision in each race, and a great way to do that is to eliminate non-contenders. One of my top four picks won 75% of all the races this meet. One of my top two won 50%. That is a good start when trying to put a ticket together.

Another difference is that when I play races, I tend to be very picky about the type of race and the entrants therein before I even begin to handicap in-depth. And even after that is complete, decisions can be swayed at post time due to a pick’s value based on the tote. Here, picks are made two days in advance, and I found myself being anxious about weather reports on race days and worrying about late surface changes after print.

My rookie year of handicapping Saratoga has been a satisfying experience, and far more joy than frustration. I hope the meet went just as well for you. This year was an odd one to get started in, but it feels good to be an active part of the meet again.

The Saratoga season is brief and special, but it will be back next summer. There is always another race. And next year, I will get to attend again in-person. I hope to see you there!

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