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The Circle Approach

If you want to get a room full of handicappers up in arms then bring up the subject of betting lines. One extreme will tell you flat out that you will never make a profit if you don't have a betting line. The other extreme will tell you it's a colossal waste of precious time to fool with the damn things.

The first group believes it's possible to out perform the tote board with their "true" odds. Their lines looks something like this:

Horse #2 is a bet at 5-2
Horse #6 is a bet at 7-2
Horse # 9 is a bet at 9-2
And so on.

They will tell you they've handicapped so many races that they've developed a sixth sense about the probabilities of racehorses to win. And they'll also tell you that no matter the amount of psychological pressure they're under objectivity rules and they can repeat the "true" odds coup d'├ętat time and time again. They rarely fool themselves.

The second group of extremists look at the tote board and decide on the fly which horse to bet (Derby Day ladies with fancy hats, Frisbee flingers, Hollywood celebs, etc. like this approach). They say things like, "I wouldn't bet that horse at 2-1 with your money. I'll take the 6 horse at 12-1". Their approach is dependent upon emotions, mostly. After a series of losses they might talk themselves into a 6-5 shot as an "overlay" just to get even ("By God, Bro Derek is a 6/5 overlay and will win the Kentucky Derby by 10 lengths. I feel it. It's a sure shot to get even").

There's a middle way. I call it the Circle Approach - maybe the Tao of the Circle Way would be more appropriate. In other words, take your pen or pencil and circle your contenders and you have a ready made "true" betting line. If you have 3 contenders then you bet the horse that's 4-1 or better. If you have 2 contenders then bet the "overlay" at 3-1 or better. If you have 3 contenders, say, and they're all under 4-1 then go for coffee or a beer, the race is a pass........and so on. To get the full bang for your buck it's a good idea to know what a legitimate favorite is, though. When a legitimate favorite shows up then do the coffee and/or beer thing again.

Doesn't that sound easy? All we have to do to make a profit is become very good at selecting contenders and playing the "overlays".

Here's the bad news. There's always bad news. Betting the Circle Approach - or any approach for that matter - will mean that you will have long losing runs. Most of the time you will be wagering on horses that are 4-1 and above. Enter mathematical reality. There's no way around long losing runs. In a previous post I said, "If you have a 50% edge on the game and your win percentage is, say, 25% then you must be prepared for 18 losses in a row! The equation is the logarithm of .005 divided by the logarithm of the probability of failure -log(.005)/log(.75) = 18.41, round it to 18. Once again reality hits us square in the face."

Well damn. We've circled back to the boring topics of psychology and money management once again. Handicappers who develop mental discipline (we must face the long losing runs with a winning attitude), a sound money management program (Kelly Criterion?), and good contender selection skills that are plugged into the Circle Approach will meet at the Positive ROI Promised Land by-and-by.

So circle your contenders this Derby Day and bet the "overlays". You just might end up with another Giacomo for your trouble. Or you just might end up with nothing. But at least you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you didn't fall for "low-price overlays".

Here's my line:
Jazil 30/1 ML
Sinister Minister 12/1 ML
Point Determined 12/1 ML
Barbaro 4/1 ML (Big underlay)

A. P. Warrior 15/1 ML
Cause to Believe 50/1 ML
Brother Derek 3/1 ML (Big underlay)
Lawyer Ron 4/1 ML (Big underlay)
Bob and John 12/1 ML

That's nine horses and that's 10/1 bottom price. Since I don't particularly care about picking "the" winner - I'd rather make money - I'll be betting more than one horse to win.

Circle away and good luck.