Chatting at the track with … David Aragona

DRF analyst and NYRA morning line odds maker David Aragona stands in the paddock at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs on Saturday
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DRF analyst and NYRA morning line odds maker David Aragona stands in the paddock at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs on Saturday

David Aragona is what one might call a numbers and rhythm guy.

As a dual major in computer science and music at New York University, Aragona found a way to work in both music – Carnegie Hall, specifically – and horse racing before settling on horse racing. 

“I use very little of either one these days,” Aragona said, chuckling, about his two majors.

He currently works for the Daily Racing Form as a TimeformUS analyst, in which he basically analyzes races to suggest horses and things to watch to the public. He’s also the linemaker for the New York Racing Association tracks.

That has Aragona wearing two hats. For one, he’s trying to hypothesize the public’s favor for each horse in each race. For the other, he’s trying to help the public see things it might have overlooked. He said he is always careful not to have one spill into the other.

Recently, Aragona discussed his career and life with The Daily Gazette.

Question: Can you tell me a little bit about your background? It didn’t start in horse racing, did it?

Answer: Horse racing’s always been a hobby for me. I grew up going to the races with my dad and my uncle when I was a kid. I’ve been coming here since the late ‘90s when I was 11 or 12. Always just enjoyed the handicapping side of the sport, and once I got out of college, I was doing other jobs, but always handicapping as a hobby. And I didn’t know a lot of people my age who were into racing, so I started a blog basically doing what I do now, writing about the races. I kept it up for a few years, got a little bit of a readership, and eventually some people in the industry noticed what I was doing and got an opportunity. I guess it kind of snowballed and got to where I am now.

Q: How do you handicap a race now, and has that changed over the years?

A: The process has changed a little bit now that I have to do the morning lines. The first step for me these days is looking at a race from other people’s perspectives to try to figure out how they’re going to bet it, because the whole goal of the morning line is to try to figure out what the public is going to bet, not necessarily what I like. It’s a two-step process these days, whereas before going in a little bit later in the process to see what my opinions would be, how I could beat the public or the chalk, that sort of thing. I still like to do that, but it’s a little later in the handicapping process.

Q: Is the morning line supposed to add up to a certain number?

A: Yeah, I try to be pretty disciplined with that. People call it the points you add up. It’s based on the takeout and what the odds add up to. I try to stick to it and stay within five or six points of the target. I try to make all the lines add up to that. When you start to go away from that, you’re getting to a point where real-time odds can’t ever match what your line is, so I’m always trying to get my lines to match up what the public bets – it’s hard to do.

Q: How often do you look at that and self-critique?

A: I started doing the morning lines in 2018, and that summer I was pretty diligent in doing record-keeping, just to make sure I was doing a decent-enough job at it. I had a whole spreadsheet set up where I would have real-time odds for every race, the morning line, and I’d do a correlation to see how aligned they were. It took a lot of record-keeping back then. The results pleased me enough that I kind of stopped because it’s time-consuming. I try to stay on top of it to make sure they’re pretty sound.

Q: How do you choose which races you put on your blog or in the program?

A: My handicapping philosophy is trying to find those horses I think are going to fly under the radar a little bit or have an angle, or I feel like their chances of winning are going to be better than what the public perceives. It doesn’t always end up that way; sometimes I land on a horse that everyone ends up liking. That’s not ideal. I try to pick horses that I think will just fly under the radar and offer some value.

Q: How did the Carnegie Hall job happen?

A: I had a little computer programming experience. I ended up doing a some web development later on, [and] I’ve always enjoyed music; always studied it in college. Not that I’m a great pianist or anything like that, but I studied piano a little bit, and just wanted to do something in that field, so I found the opportunity at Carnegie Hall. I mostly worked on their website while I was there. It was pretty neat. Got to attend some concerts and just be in that environment. It was cool for a while. Crazy time for the four years I was there because I was doing that and blogging about the races every night, trying to maintain both of these passions. But I eventually had to choose one.

Q: When there’s a dark day, how do you spend it?

A: I try to get outside, obviously, because I spend so much time behind a computer screen that I have to get away from that for a few days. I like to go out to eat, sometimes a little hiking.

Q: Is TimeformUS basically devoted to the pace of the last race?

A: The Timeform [past performances] basically started as this idea of a more modern product that had a different orientative display. If you look at it, it’s a lot more colorful and not so much focused on raw statistics, but tries to make it easier for novices to digest. A big component of it is new ways to think about speed figures by taking account not just of the final time of a race, but how fast the interior fractions are and build that into a number at the end, then subtracting or adding to the number at the end based on how the horse ran, relative to what the race shape was. It’s trying to look at a race from different factors than conventional products.

Q: With your music background, what do you like listening to?
A: A huge variety. I really like classical music and opera, so that really checked the box for me [working] at Carnegie, I got to see a lot of that. I like to go to the operas at the Met in the city sometimes. All sorts of stuff. I love older rock, folk music – Joni Mitchell, I love her – Radiohead, I could go on and on. 

Q: You’ve seen so many races, do you have favorite horses or do you just try to keep it performance-driven?

A: I used to let myself be a big fan of horses before I had to do this for a living, because you have to stay a little more nimble when you’re writing about this stuff. You don’t want to constantly pick the same horse over and over again because the public is going to get tired of that. There are some I’m a big fan of. I can’t wait to see Jackie’s Warrior run [in the A.G. Vanderbilt]. You do let yourself get attached to some of them, but from the handicapping side, I do have to put those biases aside and figure out who’s the right one to pick based on the factors today.

Categories: At The Track, Sports

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